French NGO files charges against authorities over Channel migrant deaths

Utopia 56, a migrants' rights NGO based in France, has filed manslaughter charges against French and British coastguard officials for failing to help the 27 people who drowned trying to cross the Channel last month.

Police patrol a beach in northern France.
Police patrol a beach in northern France. A French NGO has accused the authorities of allowing the deaths of migrants trying to cross the Channel. (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP)

A humanitarian association has filed manslaughter charges against high-ranking French and British officials for failing to help 27 people who drowned in November trying to cross the English Channel.

The charges, filed on Friday and seen by AFP on Monday, target Philippe Dutrieux, the coast prefect of Cherbourg, Marc Bonnafous, director of the French regional coastguard, and Claire Hughes, director of Her Majesty’s Coastguards, of “involuntary manslaughter” and “failure to help people in need”.

According to statements from two survivors, people close to the victims and people who managed to cross on the same day, distress calls were made to the French and British rescue services even before the migrants’ bodies were eventually found by a fishing trawler, the Utopia 56 association said.

“They were given no immediate assistance,” it said in a statement.

Most of the victims of the boat accident on November 26 were Iraqi Kurds.

Four Afghan men, three Ethiopians, a Somalian, an Egyptian and an Iranian Kurd were also drowned.

The dead included seven women, a 16-year-old and a seven-year-old.

The alleged shortcomings by the French and British coastguards were a “regular” occurrence, Utopia 56 said, adding it hoped an investigation would shed light on the circumstances of the deaths.

The association deplored that a French probe into the accident was focused essentially on the role of human traffickers, and not the authorities.

The British side appeared not to have launched any investigation at all, it said.

The accident was the most deadly involving a migrant boat in the Channel and cast a spotlight on the increasing number of desperate people seeking to cross the narrow waterway between France and England.

It also caused major diplomatic tensions between London and Paris.

Within 48 hours of the accident, French President Emmanuel Macron accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “not serious” in his approach to stopping the crossings.

France was irked by Johnson’s initial reaction, which was seen as deflecting blame onto France.

According to the investigation, the migrants left in an inflatable boat from Loon-Plage in northern France at night.

After their boat capsized only two men, an Iraqi Kurd and a Sudanese national, were rescued safely.

According to the Iraqi survivor there had been a total of 33 people aboard.

Member comments

  1. Apart from the failed rescue, they should look at why they were allowed to set off in the first place and why ‘maritime law’ is being spouted when that is clearly no impediment to unseaworthy craft carrying children being stopped.

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French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window ‘may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack’

An 89-year-old man who was pushed out of his 17th-storey window by a neighbour may have been killed because he was Jewish, a prosecutor said on Friday, after several shocking anti-Semitic murders in France in recent years.

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window 'may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack'

The victim’s body was found at the foot of his building in Lyon, southeast France, on May 17th and the 51-year-old neighbour was arrested. But investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

Last Sunday, the BNVCA anti-Semitism watchdog group said it would seek to be a plaintiff in the case, citing its similarity with the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window in a case that sparked national outcry.

“After social media postings were provided to us, the prosector’s office has asked judges to consider the aggravating circumstance of an act committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told AFP.

He did not provide examples of the posts, but Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer and commentator for CNews television, said on Wednesday on Twitter that the suspect had called out Goldnabel in messages, including one that told him to “remember your origins.”

“It’s no longer a question of telling us it’s the act of a mentally disturbed person. The truth of anti-Semitism must no longer be hidden,” Goldnadel wrote.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The murder of Halimi drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of drugs and not criminally responsible.

That prompted President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.