Shipwreck of migrants in the English Channel: five French soldiers indicted
The investigation into the sinking of a boat, which led to the death of 27 migrants in the English Channel in November 2021, accelerates with the indictment this Thursday, May 25 of five soldiers, suspected of having made a mistake in their rescue mission that night.
A damaged rubber dinghy and sleeping bag abandoned by migrants on the beach near Wimereux, France. At least 31 migrants drowned when their boat sank off Calais on Wednesday as they tried to reach Britain, an accident described as a "tragedy" by the French government, which announced the arrest of four people for their alleged involvement. /Photo taken November 24, 2021/REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes ©
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Nine people, including at least five soldiers from the Regional Operational Center for Surveillance and Rescue Gris-Nez (Cross, Pas-de-Calais), had been placed in custody in recent days and questioned by the Research Section of the maritime gendarmerie of Cherbourg, according to a judicial source and a source close to the case.
These five soldiers, three women and two men, were presented Thursday 25 May afternoon to the investigating magistrates of the National Jurisdiction for the Fight against Organized Crime (Junalco) of the Paris Judicial Court. According to a judicial source, they were indicted for failure to assist a person in danger and released at the end of their interrogation. The Code of Military Justice severely restricts the possibilities for military personnel to be placed under judicial supervision.
All operators currently at the Cross Gris-Nez or on board have the full confidence of the prefect to conduct rescue operations at sea ", reacted this Thursday the maritime prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea. "The case is ongoing and the investigation is not our responsibility," she added, declining to comment further.
« Help please »
The French authorities are suspected of having been called for help on fifteen occasions and of not having come to the aid of the migrants on the night of the shipwreck. The boat sank on the morning of November 24, 2021, carrying 27 passengers, mostly Iraqi Kurds, aged between 7 and 46. No one had come to their aid. Neither on the French nor on the British side, each spending the night passing the buck, according to documents of the investigation consulted by AFP and revealed by Le Monde in November.
>> Also listen: Fatal shipwreck of migrants in the English Channel: one year on, nothing has changed
In a telephone conversation with the Cross, a migrant said: "Help, please, I'm in the water." "Yes, but you are in English waters, sir," replied his interlocutor. "No, no, not English waters, French waters, please, can you come quickly," he pleaded again. "Oh bah, you don't hear, you won't be saved," the operator continues, "I didn't ask you to leave," she adds.
These elements, which are consistent with the statements of the two survivors, had shaken the Cross Gris-Nez when they were revealed, but also caused consternation among migrant aid associations. Transcripts of conversations show, however, that the Cross contacted the British coastguard on several occasions.
During previous hearings as witnesses in this investigation at the end of 2021, Cross agents had invoked the lack of resources that forced "to prioritize" requests for aid. That evening, the Cross handled "hundreds, if not thousands, of calls," one of them reported. "If at any time there has been a breach, a mistake, the sanctions will be taken," also assured in November the Secretary of State Hervé Berville, acknowledging a "fright" on reading the press information.
Ten alleged smugglers, mostly Afghans, have already been indicted in the judicial investigation. An investigation is also underway across the Channel. British authorities announced in late November that they had arrested a man, "suspected of being a member of the organised crime group that conspired to transport migrants to the UK on a small boat".
This tragedy had increased the tension between Paris and London. But without discouraging candidates for England. Some 46,000 asylum seekers crossed the Channel in 2022, mostly Afghans, Iranians and Albanians. About 8,000 of them were rescued in French waters.
>> Also listen: Shipwrecks in the Mediterranean: migrants facing a fortress Europe
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