Joint statement on last week’s deaths in the Channel

Collective action

One week after 4 people seeking to reach the UK from France died in a shipwreck, Migreurop joins civil society organisations and activists from the UK, France, Belgium, and beyond to remember those who died and denounce the murderous policies faced by people on the move on both sides of the Channel.

A week ago, news broke that a major rescue operation was underway in the Channel to rescue people from a small boat who were trying to reach safety in the UK. Reports later confirmed that four people had died, with some still missing and others in the hospital fighting for their lives. Emergency services were able to rescue 43 people, including 12 children, from the freezing waters in the early hours of the morning. Since then, a 19-year-old has been charged with assisting unlawful immigration in relation to this incident. 

Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who died last Wednesday. But these deaths are not an ‘accidental tragedy’. Instead they are the result of a political choice by the UK and French governments who continue to cut down safe routes for migration, forcing people to take these perilous journeys. Both countries have strengthened their security-focused, militarised approach to immigration. While both governments refuse to change course, we are watching the Channel become a mass grave like the Mediterranean.

The environment in France is increasingly hostile to the survival of people on the move, with police violence, evictions, and the theft of tents and personal belongings. If they survive all this, and the perilous crossing, the hostile environment in the UK then criminalises them. 

These deaths did not happen in isolation – this is just the latest event in a string of deaths at the border. It has only been one year since the last mass murder in the Channel, when over 30 people died. Three years since the bodies of 39 people were recovered in a lorry in Essex. Over 20 years since 58 people were recovered in a lorry in Dover. 

History will keep repeating itself if the UK and French governments continue with their policy of closed borders.

This latest event has come in the wake of the French and British governments announcing even harsher measures for migrants, new bilateral agreements between France and the UK, and a High Court decision ruling the Rwanda scheme as lawful. None of these hostile policies, nor the arrest of a teenager, will address the reasons why people risk their lives at sea. 

These policies are an attack on people who are forced to flee war, conflict and persecution in search of safety.

We don’t need any more empty comments from the French and UK governments mourning these deaths. Both governments must take action and end the hostile environment for people on the move on both sides of the Channel. Until then, our migration and asylum systems will continue to function exactly as they were designed - to create devastation and cruelty. We are thankful for the actions of rescuers and all those involved in supporting people on the move, yet we acknowledge these are only palliative measures to a broken system made to oppress people.

We need the freedom to move and access to safe routes to cross borders now, more than ever, to prevent more detentions, deportations, and deaths. 

The list of signatories is available here.