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  5. French military charged with drowning 27 migrants in English Channel


French military charged with drowning 27 migrants in English Channel

A large group of migrants enter the water at Gravelines Beach in France before heading out to cross the English Channel. Photo: Jamie Lorriman

French prosecutors on Thursday charged five military personnel in an investigation into the November 2021 sinking of a migrant boat that capsized in the English Channel, killing 27 people.

The Paris prosecutor's office told The Telegraph that the personnel, who at the time worked as coast guards, are suspected of “failing to assist a person in danger”. They have since been released.

The tragedy was the worst migrant disaster in the English Channel on record. British and French authorities blamed each other for the response.

The allegations follow an investigation by the French government last year. , who accused authorities in France of ignoring 15 distress calls made to him by migrants when their boat began to capsize.

French rescue services also failed to alert their counterparts in the UK that the ship was in distress, even after how it crossed British waters.

“No ship responded to this distress call, despite several radio transmissions.” — the investigators wrote in their report, which was published last fall.

According to one of the transcripts of the telephone conversation seen by the AFP news agency, the migrant said over the phone to the French Coast Guard: “Please help! (…) I'm in the water!”

“Yes, but you're in English waters,” the Coast Guard replied.

“No, not English waters! French waters! Please come soon!” the voice insisted before the conversation ended.

“Inappropriate Behavior”

A French charity filed a complaint shortly after the tragedy, saying the migrants called both French and British authorities, but were only sent help when a fisherman raised the alarm more than 10 hours later.

Investigators also noted ” inappropriate behavior” of rescuers. In one example, the report found that the deputy director of the rescue center was referred to as a “super migrant”.

Nine people were taken into custody during the investigation of the tragedy, but formally only five were charged According to a source in court, they were charged .

The defendants included three women and two men who were on duty at the Channel Rescue Center at the time.

The workers came from Cross Gris Nez, which is responsible for the rescue on the French side of the English Channel. The organization declined to comment.

French rescue boat with the bodies of migrants in the harbor of Calais after the sinking Photo: FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP < p>Most of those who died in the crash were Iraqi Kurds between the ages of seven and 46.

According to other investigation documents obtained by Le Monde, passengers first contacted rescuers at 1:48 am on November 25, after the boat's engine stopped working and the rubber boat began to deflate.

At the time, the French interior minister described the boat as “very fragile” and similar to “the pool you blow up in your garden.”

The migrants then sent their location via WhatsApp. The calls continued for two hours, the passengers continued to ask for help.

Investigators have also collected evidence, including phone calls and text messages, from the two survivors.

Tensions between Britain and France

The tragedy came as British-French relations escalated over Brexit, as well as amid tensions between then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron.

Mr. Johnson accused the French president of not taking the Channel crossing seriously enough, while Mr. Macron said the prime minister should stop exploiting the issue for political purposes.

Mr Macron said France “will not allow the English Channel to turn into a graveyard” and vowed to “find and convict those responsible.”

The results of the investigation were released just as France and the UK have signed a €72.2m (£62m) deal to increase police patrols on northern French beaches in an attempt to stop migrants from crossing the English Channel.

The UK has agreed to provide £500m over three years to fund additional patrols and a new detention center after relations improved under Rishi Sunak and after a Brexit deal was negotiated over Northern Ireland.

The number of migrants crossing the English Channel on small boats has increased dramatically in recent years.

According to the government, more than 45,000 people sailed to the UK in 2022 alone.

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