Heartbroken relatives write to UK PM Rishi Sunak one year after Channel drowning disaster

Heartbroken relatives write to UK PM Rishi Sunak one year after Channel drowning disaster
Relatives of people who drowned in the English Channel last year have written to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to demand accountability and call for action to avoid a similar disaster in future.
3 min read
24 November, 2022
People were in the Channel's icy waters for up to 12 hours before their capsized boat was found [source: Getty]

Heartbroken relatives of the 31 people who drowned when attempting to cross the English Channel last November have written to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to demand accountability for the death of their loved ones. 

On November 23 2021, a boat carrying Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Egyptians and others set off into the dark waters between France and the UK. However, the vessel soon started taking on water in the early hours of November 24. 

Call records from French and English authorities, released as part of an investigation, found that distress calls from the boat were repeatedly ignored, leaving individuals in the icy waters for up to 12 hours. 

Later that morning, a French fishing vessel spotted the capsized boat. 27 bodies were found, four people are still missing and only two survived. 

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On the anniversary of the tragedy, a letter from bereaved relatives, NGOs, trade unions and a sitting MP has called on the British prime minister to do more to avoid a similar disaster in future, reported the Guardian.  

"We demand answers to why French and British authorities failed desperate people who came asking for help," the letter read. 

"We call for safe passage to allow these refugees to claim asylum in Britain without risking their lives in the Channel," it said. 

UK and French emergency services were contacted by distressed individuals multiple times during the morning of November 24, according to published call logs. 

Both authorities have been accused of shamelessly passing the buck - hesitating to offer help on grounds that the vessel was in the other country’s waters. 

"Yes, but you are in English waters, sir," one individual was reportedly told by French authorities after the boat overturned and he was battling the freezing waves, according to Care4Calais. 

The refugee charity said that from 02:06 onwards both English and French coastguards knew about the position of the boat, but failed to act. 

Care4Calais, which is holding a vigil on Thursday evening to remember those who died in the Channel disaster, said it was "absolutely essential that the UK government order a full public enquiry". 

However, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) recently said that it would not reach any conclusions within its probe for at least another six months. 

The UK government has promised to crackdown on the people-smuggling gangs organising the perilous boat crossing via the Channel. 

In a statement, the UK Home Office said: "We cannot have a repeat of this devastating event which is why we are working with out international partners to disrupt the people smuggling gangs." 

However, refugee charities, like Care4Calais, say what is urgently needed is the expansion of safe, legal routes for people to claim asylum in the UK without undertaking such dangerous journeys.