The French and British "went to great lengths to show that it was up to the other side to take responsibility for the search and rescue," a migrant charity has said of the November 2021 incident that amounted to one of the largest single loss of life in the English Channel. Investigations have revealed how French and British authorities failed to rescue 27 drowning migrants.
Migrant charities criticized the UK and France for their lack of cooperation on rescue operations in the English Channel, which saw the deaths of 27 migrants in November 2021.
French investigators have revealed that the victims called for help numerous times, but that French rescue services disregarded their calls for help and waited for them to pass into UK waters, failing to deploy help.
French newspaper Le Monde published its revelations on Monday (November 14) based on documents contained in a French legal investigation. Britain's ITV channel also made similar claims about the 27 migrant deaths in a documentary entitled "The Crossing."
"What is described is a complete lack of cooperation for rescue operations and their trivialization, which means no one grasped the danger for these people," director general of the charity France Terre d'Asile, Delphine Rouilleault, told French news agency AFP.
Lydie Arbogast from the migrant charity Cimade told AFP that it as "very worrying to see that both sides, French and British, went to great lengths to show that it was up to the other side to take responsibility for the search and rescue."
What did the French probe uncover?
According to the French investigation reports, the migrants first contacted France's Channel rescue center at 1:48am on November 24 to say their vessel was deflating and its engine had stopped.
Migrant smugglers routinely provide the numbers of the French and British coast guard units to passengers before they depart. The migrants sent their locations via WhatsApp around 15 minutes later. During this stage, and again at 2:10am, the boat was in French territorial waters. Screaming and crying were audible on a recording of the calls to the French Cross Gris-Nez rescue center, AFP reported.
According to Le Monde, the French Cross then passed the responsibility to the English because it was "trying to conserve limited resources at a time of numerous crossings, and given the course of the boat that was approaching British waters."
The French probe revealed another 15 calls to French rescuers from 2:43 to 4:22, including from one passenger who said he was "literally in the water".
The recordings reveal frustrated sounding French responders repeatedly instructing the distressed callers to contact the British coast guard because they were in British waters, AFP reported.
"You're not listening, you won't be saved," AFP cited an operator as muttering to herself after a call with a passenger cuts off abruptly.
The French investigation also found that French rescue services were regurlarly overwhelmed and under-staffed while coping with the demands of many small boats in the Channel.
"They all call us, even if they are not in difficulty," a manager at the French rescue cooperation center told investigators, AFP reported.
What did the British ITV documentary uncover?
According to the ITV documentary, the English coast guard replied to the French at 2:44 am to say that it considered the vessel was in French territorial waters because a French ringtone could be heard when calling one of the passengers, AFP reported.
At 4:34 am, the French coast guard shut its incident log assuming the migrant vessel had been rescued by the British, even informing a passing container ship that it did not need to stop to help.
No rescue boat was deployed and floating bodies and a deflated dinghy were discovered later that day in French waters by a fisherman, according to AFP.
Though the French coast guard has disclosed its call logs to lawyers as part of an ongoing legal case, the British coast guard has not, the Guardian newspaper reported.
France and UK sign new Channel agreement
As part of efforts to improve cooperation against migrant crossings on the English Channel, France and the UK signed a new agreement on Monday (November 14th), the French interior ministry announced. The agreement was signed in Paris by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and his British counterpart, Suella Braverman.
The agreement stipulates the UK to pay €72.2 million ($75 million) in 2022-2023 to France to help finance extra security measures. In return, France would increase from 800 to 900 its security personnel on its beaches – regular points of departure for migrants trying to reach the UK.
It appeared the agreement did not, however, outline a quantified target for migrant boat interceptions as the UK had wanted, Le Monde reported.