Thu, 09 Feb 2023

Tributes and demonstrations have taken place in France to commemorate the 27 migrants who died a year ago in a Channel boat disaster. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin admitted French rescue services should have intervened.

Several boats packed with rescuers and local elected figures took to the sea off the coast of Dunkirk on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the most deadly migrant accident in the Channel on record.

The officials tossed wreaths into the water and paused to remember the 27 people, mostly from Iraq, who perished when their inflatable boat sank in the middle of the shipping channel between France and Britain.

Thirty-one people were on board at the time but only 27 bodies were found.

"It's a tragedy that we were expecting and there will probably be others," said the head of the local branch of the SNSM lifeboat service, Alain Ledaguenel.

"They are men, women and children and we must never forget that," Green MEP and former mayor Damien Carême told RFI.

'Deaths could have been avoided'

The UN Refugee Agency says the deaths could have been avoided. The UNHCR called on all states to "commit to placing human life, rights and dignity at the centre and forefront of discussions".

Elsewhere, a protest march organised by a local charity saw people walk from the centre of Dunkirk to the beach behind a banner reading "Your borders, our dead".

One of the marchers read out the names of the deceased while facing the water.

'Should have intervened'

Documents from a French investigation into the accident suggest that French and British sea rescue coordinators passed the buck as the boat sank.

In the first SOS calls, the boat appears to have been just inside French waters but drifting towards the British boundary. Neither side sent out a rescue boat, according to Le Monde newspaper.

"Everything that has been written is quite shocking," French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the France 3 TV channel.

"From what I understand, we should have intervened because by the looks of things they were in French waters," he added.

In Paris on Thursday evening, around 100 people demonstrated at the Place de la Republique where white leaves bearing the names of the dead were placed at the foot of the column in the centre of the square.

A letter was read out from the window of a man who lost his life, the father of her two children. She said that he "did not deserve to die like that".

Nearly 700 migrants cross Channel in one day, a record for the year France busts lucrative cross-Channel people smuggling ring

Elsewhere on Thursday, 65 humanitarian associations from Britain, Belgium and France called on the British government to provide legal routes for asylum seekers in a joint letter published in Le Monde.

The British government has programmes to help Ukrainian and Afghan refugees, but others are forced to cross the Channel to make a claim for asylum.

(With newswires)

Originally published on RFI

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