A dinghy that capsized claiming at least 27 migrants’ lives in the English Channel had reached UK waters, an official report has found. The interim report from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch comes on the first anniversary of the tragedy, with relatives of the migrants saying they want “justice” and answers from the authorities.
British investigators did not initially look into the incident that appalled the nation because the boat was recovered in French waters. However, the interim findings of the MAIB confirmed that “some of the events relating to this loss of life had occurred inside UK waters”.
Meanwhile, the BBC has reported that transcripts of emergency calls made to the French coastguard suggest that desperate passengers were repeatedly told to call UK emergency services, despite being in French waters when they first requested help.
The Le Monde newspaper in France reported a leaked police investigation appearing to suggest that the French coastguard had not sent help to the scene despite a UK request.
The British search and rescue response on 23 November last year is being investigated. Around 34 people aboard the small inflatable left a beach near Dunkirk in France that night before they got into difficulty.
The following afternoon a French fishing vessel reported seeing bodies in the water. There were only two survivors of the incident with 27 bodies being recovered from the sea.
What does the interim report say?
The report states that the scope of the investigation has focused on the UK search and rescue response at the time, and is not looking at the reasons why the voyage was being attempted or the conduct of the voyage.
The report states: “The investigation has established that, during the evening of 23 November 2021, about 34 migrants left a beach near Dunkirk, France on board a small infatable boat to proceed to the UK. During the passage, the migrants got into difculties and entered the sea
“Along with many other migrants that were transiting the Dover Strait that night, some of those on board the boat made phone calls to alert Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC) ashore about their situation,” the report said.
Staff in Dover dispatched “surface and air assets to search the area where the distressed migrants were assessed to be” but they were not found. The investigation is ongoing and a draft report is being prepared.
The interim report comes after weeks of controversy about the conditions migrants arriving into the UK had been kept under in the Manston Processing Centre in Kent, which at one point had 4,000 people in it - despite having a capacity of 1,600. It is now empty with migrants having being transfe
What have the relatives of the migrants said?
Sixteen relatives of those who died have demanded the Prime Minister makes changes to prevent future tragedies. A letter from the relatives’, also signed by trade unions and groups including Care4Calais, Channel Rescue and Safe Passage, said that despite distress calls from the dinghy “no-one came”.
“The French told them they were in British waters and the British told them they were in French waters,” they wrote, adding “we demand justice. We demand answers to why French and British authorities failed desperate people who came asking for help,” they wrote.
“We demand an end to the poisonous rhetoric used by our politicians – calling innocent refugees ‘illegal migrants’ or, worse, ‘an invasion’ – which breeds fear and division. We call for safe passage to allow these refugees to claim asylum in Britain without risking their lives in the Channel.”
Twenty-one men, seven women, including one who was pregnant, and three adolescents died, according to the letter. The families wrote: “We demand that the division and fear of anti-migrant rhetoric used by political leaders is replaced with the kindness, compassion and empathy that people and communities across Britain show every day to refugees.”