NGO accuses French and British of having ignored the plea of ​​drowning migrants

A life jacket is left after a group of more than 40 migrants boarded an inflatable boat, to leave the coasts of northern France and cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, on November 24, 2021. REUTERS / Gonzalo Fuentes

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PARIS, December 20 (Reuters) – A French migrant charity has filed a lawsuit alleging that French and British rescue services have ignored distress calls from migrants aboard a rubber dinghy that sank in the middle of La Manche on November 24.

Twenty-seven people have drowned in the worst such tragedy on record in the seaway between mainland Europe and Great Britain.

The complaint, lodged by the NGO Utopia 56 with a court in Paris, accuses the heads of the French maritime authority, the French rescue service Cross Gris Nez and the British coast guard of “manslaughter and no -assistance”.

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Utopia 56 says the migrants called French and British authorities but only received help when a French fisherman sounded the alarm more than 10 hours later.

A spokesperson for the French maritime prefecture said its rescuers are investigating every call they receive and an investigation is underway into the calls received that night.

“Sometimes we get hundreds of calls in a night, every call is handled, and we have to determine which boat they are referring to,” said Véronique Magnin.

Callers sometimes express a preference to be rescued by the British, she said. However, this would not change France’s legal obligation to act.

The British Coast Guard declined to comment on Utopia 56’s legal complaint. He said as of November 24, it had received more than 90 alerts from the Channel region, including 999 emergency calls.

“Every call has been answered, assessed and dealt with, including the deployment of search and rescue resources where appropriate,” he said.

Following the crash, Britain and France exchanged blame.

Utopia 56 cited a judicial source according to which an investigation already underway has confirmed the existence of such phone calls.

Utopia 56 said it has evidence that calls for rescue have been ignored on other occasions. The allegations were based on interviews with the only two survivors, close friends of the deceased and other migrants who made the crossing that day, he said in a statement.

The charity quoted a migrant saying: “If I call 999 they say ‘call France’, and when we call France they tell us to contact the UK They both laugh. from U.S.”

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Reporting by Layli Foroudi; Editing by Richard Lough and Angus MacSwan

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