Surviving relatives of those who died in the Channel a year ago have called for justice for their loved ones at a vigil to remember the victims.
On 24 November 2021, 31 people died trying to reach Britain from France in the worst maritime disaster in the Channel for 30 years. The bodies of four of the victims have still not been found.
On Thursday evening, grieving relatives filled the western corner of Parliament Square, London, with pictures and candles in the pouring rain to remember their loved ones. After a minute’s silence, speeches were read out in solemn tones.
One of those present, Akil, was at the vigil to remember his uncle, Hassan. “When I think of him, I see his face. This year has been very difficult. We spoke to him two days before – when I heard what happened to him, I couldn’t believe it. It’s still hard to believe at that, almost impossible.”
Another attendee said: “I arrived two weeks before and my friend Twana, he sent me a message to say he’s coming by boat. I said ‘I’m so glad you’re coming’. Then I heard what happened. It’s been so hard that I’m here but my friend isn’t.”
Others called on the British and French authorities to help them find the bodies of their loved ones. “We – all the families – are devastated, devastated,” said Ri, whose uncle died in the tragedy last year. “Their bodies are still lost at sea – we have to find them. The government says any refugee is welcome, but no one has helped them. I really hope it doesn’t happen again.”
Call records released to lawyers by French authorities as part of an investigation into the tragedy showed that the first distress call to the French coastguard was logged shortly before 2.15am. The boat overturned around 03:15. Shortly after, at 03:30, a passenger reported that some of the group were in the water.
For twelve hours the French and British coastguards failed to send a rescue vessel or aircraft. When emergency services arrived at the scene, at By 14:00 the following day, all but two passengers had drowned or died of exposure.
During the night, the British coastguard, which is responsible for logging distress calls and coordinating search and rescue missions in the Channel, continued to deny that the dinghy was in British waters and repeatedly asked passengers to call the French coastguard. The records show the boat entered British waters at 2.30am.
British authorities are awaiting the outcome of an ongoing maritime accident investigation before further investigations take place. None of the victims’ families have been contacted by the authorities until now.
Artin, who lost his brother, said: “I heard nothing from the British and French authorities . I even went to the police station two or three times. I will ask them to look into the matter further and find out who was negligent.”
Campaigners at the vigil called for more safe routes for those crossing the canal and for authorities to provide answers to victims’ families.
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, which organized the vigil, said: “I have been speaking to the victims’ families for a year now. They are still waiting for answers as to why their loved ones’ lives were not saved by the British or French authorities.
“They have not had the courtesy of a meeting or basic information about what happened. The level of callousness and apathy on the part of the authorities is outrageous. But we have promised them that we will never let the lives of their loved ones be forgotten. For the victims and their families we will demand justice. They have suffered enough already – they need answers now.”
Wilf Sullivan, Race Equality Officer at the TUC, said: “A year ago mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers died in the English Channel despite pleas for help to the British and French authorities. Despite this tragedy, the Government has doubled down on closing legal routes into our country for those fleeing war and oppression.
“The TUC is calling on the Government to stop playing politics with people’s rights and provide safe routes for those seeking asylum and safety in the UK.”
Some names have been changed in this piece.