Complaint from an association after the fatal shipwreck of migrants

Complaint from an association after the fatal shipwreck of migrants in the English Channel

The migrant aid group Utopia 56 has filed a lawsuit for intentional homicide against several representatives of the French and British authorities after an illegal boat sank in late 2022, killing four people.

• Also read: Four migrants die trying to cross the English Channel

• Also read: Migrants: New shipwreck in the English Channel, one dead and one person seriously injured

The complaint filed with the Boulogne-sur-Mer public prosecutor's office is aimed in particular against the maritime prefect of Manche, the director of the regional operational surveillance and rescue center Gris Nez (Cross), the director of the British Coast Guard, for intentional murder and failure to provide assistance.

Four migrants, including a teenager, died on the night of December 13-14, 2022 when their boat capsized in freezing water as they tried to reach England. About forty others had been rescued.

The rescue operation was launched at 3:21 a.m. GMT, according to the maritime prefecture, after a message from the British rescue center in Dover confirmed that a boat carrying castaways had sunk at sea.

But French migrant aid group Utopia 56 said it alerted French authorities about a boat in distress at 1:59 a.m. GMT after being alerted by a voice message with a location in French waters.

“Please help us. Um, we have kids and family in the same boat. (…) We have nothing for rescue for… safety,” one person says in this message attached to the complaint.

Utopia accuses the French and British rescue services of failing to “intervene immediately” even though survival time in winter water does not exceed two hours.

“The transfer of responsibility between services inevitably delayed the start of the search operation,” the association estimates, after which the first British lifeboat left the coast at 2:40 a.m. GMT, “more than 40 minutes after the association's call.”

A 19-year-old man, Ibrahima Bah, was charged with manslaughter in the United Kingdom in April 2023 following this sinking.

In 2022, a record year, 52,000 people attempted to cross the English Channel illegally despite the dangers involved. The number of attempted border crossings fell by 30% to 36,000 in 2023, but twelve deportation candidates lost their lives.

In mid-2023, five soldiers from a sea rescue station were charged with failing to provide assistance to a person in danger during the investigation into the deadliest ship accident in the English Channel, which claimed the lives of 27 migrants at the end of 2021.