Refugees 'called for help' as boat sunk in Channel: report

Refugees 'called for help' as boat sunk in Channel: report
3 min read
10 December, 2021
The 27 migrants found dead after a small boat sunk in the English Channel last month had in fact called British and French authorities for help, a French newspaper reported citing police, backing up claims made by two survivors of the tragedy.
French authorities claimed that it was a fishing vessel that alerted them to the disaster, according to the French newspaper [Stock image, source: Getty]

The 27 refugees found dead after a small boat sunk in the English Channel last month had in fact called British and French authorities for help, a French newspaper reported citing police, backing up claims made by two survivors of the tragedy.

Two survivors of the tragedy told Kurdish media network Rudaw that people used their phones to call authorities on both sides of the Channel while their rubber dinghy was sinking. 

Mohammed Shekha Ahmad, originally from Iraqi Kurdistan, said: "We called the French police (...) then we sent our location and they told us: 'You are in English waters, call the English.' We called the British. They told us to call the French."

Mohammed Isa Omar, a survivor of Somali origin, also claimed calls were made to British and French authorities as the boat was sinking. He said they remained in the water for more than ten hours before being rescued. 

Telephone records studied by police showed the two survivors had made the calls to emergency services, reported Le Monde. 

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French authorities have - until now - asserted that a French fishing vessel alerted them to the scene of the disaster on the afternoon of November 24, according to Le Monde. It was this alert that triggered the arrival of French and British emergency services, it was claimed. 

French officials say it is inconceivable that either the British or French coastguards would respond to a call from a boat in distress by telling the caller to phone the other country’s authorities, reported Arab News. 

At least 27 people died in last month's Channel tragedy, including three minors and one pregnant woman. The majority of the victims were Iraqi Kurds. 

The incident has sparked a diplomatic row between France and Britain over who bears responsibility for the influx of migrants travelling in small boats across the Channel. 

French President Emmanuel Macron reacted angrily to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s public call for France to take back migrants who reach the UK. He accused Johnson of not being “serious”. 

Johnson said Britain faced “difficulties persuading some of our patterns, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves”. 

Refugee charities have called on both governments to ensure safe routes are available for asylum seekers, so that they can avoid dangerous journeys in small boats. 

Over 25,000 migrants crossed the English Channel this year, up from around 8,000 in 2020 and around 1,800 in 2019, according to tallies compiled by the BBC using Home Office data. 

Last month’s tragedy was the largest single loss of life in the Channel since the UN migration agency, IOM, started recording data in 2014.