Channel rescuers accused of manslaughter in migrant deaths

Dec 19, 2021, 3:36 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2021, 6:28 am
FILE - A damaged inflatable small boat is pictured on the shore in Wimereux, northern France, Thurs...

FILE - A damaged inflatable small boat is pictured on the shore in Wimereux, northern France, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021 in Calais, northern France. The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has received a manslaughter lawsuit for failure to help in the tragic capsizing last month of a boat in the English Channel that cost the lives of at least 27 people trying to reach Britain. The manslaughter lawsuit, filed Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 by the French humanitarian organization Utopia 56, accuses the maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea, the Regional Operational Centre for Surveillance and Rescue of Gris-Nez in the Pas-de-Calais and the British Coast Guard of not doing enough to prevent the deaths. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

(AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

PARIS (AP) — The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has received a manslaughter lawsuit for failure to help in the tragic capsizing last month of a boat in the English Channel that cost the lives of at least 27 people trying to reach Britain.

The manslaughter lawsuit, filed Friday by the French humanitarian organization Utopia 56, accuses the maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea, the Regional Operational Centre for Surveillance and Rescue of Gris-Nez in the Pas-de-Calais and the British Coast Guard of not doing enough to prevent the deaths.

Utopia 56 said it “intends that investigations be carried out to determine the responsibilities of the French and British rescue services in this tragedy,” adding that the people were abandoned “despite calls to the English and French rescue services.”

Nikolai Posner, Utopia 56’s spokesman, told The Associated Press on Monday that the lawsuit also intended to “remind our governments that it is urgent to question the policies at our borders, which take human lives every day.”

The only two survivors of the disaster told Kurdish media that the migrants on the boat made distress calls that were ignored as their canoe deflated and their engine broke. They claim the British said the boat was in French waters, and the French the reverse. These accounts were confirmed by victim family members, who were in telephone contact during the attempted crossing.

The maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea was not immediately available for comment Monday.

In London, proceedings have also formally been launched by families of victims from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Earlier this month, 26 victims were formally identified, including seven women, a teenager and a 7-year-old girl. The identity of one migrant remains unknown. Investigators were able to confirm the identity of 16 Iraqi Kurds, including four women, a 16-year-old teenager and a 7-year-old girl. The victims also included an Iranian Kurd, three Ethiopians including two women, a Somali woman, four Afghan men and an Egyptian man, the statement said. The adults ranged in age from 19 to 46.

Their boat capsized on Nov. 24 off the coast of northern France, in what the country’s interior minister called the biggest migration tragedy on the dangerous crossing to Britain to date.

Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflicts or poverty are risking the perilous journey from France, hoping to win asylum or find better opportunities in Britain. The crossings have tripled this year compared to 2020.

The tragedy prompted a new political crisis between Britain and France, who each accused each other of not doing enough to deter people from crossing the Channel. European migration officials agreed to send a plane to monitor the shores of the English Channel for smuggling activity.

___

Follow all AP stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.

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Channel rescuers accused of manslaughter in migrant deaths