Two years after the shipwreck of 24 November 2021, as injustice and deaths at the border continue, we stand together to call for a world free from border violence.
On 24 November 2021, at least 33 people in a dinghy tried to reach the United Kingdom from the coast of Dunkirk. The 33 people came mainly from Iraqi Kurdistan, but also from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt, Somalia, and Vietnam.
Three hours into the Channel crossing, the boat found itself in distress. At 1:48 am, passengers managed to make contact with the Gris-Nez Regional Monitoring and Rescue Centre (“CROSS”), which coordinates rescue operations on the French side of the border. Although the boat was located in French territorial waters, the CROSS refused to send help.
Despite repeated calls from various people on board, between 1:48am and 4:34am, neither British rescue services, nor French rescue services launched any operation to rescue them. Worse still, at 4.16am, the CROSS even went so far as to dissuade a tanker from intervening to rescue the people who were drowning. It was only 12 hours later that the inflatable boat was found by a fishing boat. At least 27 people died that night in the icy waters of the English Channel.
A few days after the shipwreck, two survivors testified about how the rescue services had abandoned them at sea with impunity. In November 2022, Le Monde revealed the content of the unbearable exchanges between the shipwreck victims and the CROSS. The shipwrecked passengers were treated with cynicism and international laws governing rescue at sea were disregarded. A few weeks after the shipwreck, the organisation Utopia 56, with relatives of people who died, filed a complaint against French authorities for "involuntary manslaughter" and "failure to render assistance". The nine military personnel from CROSS Gris-Nez and a French patrol boat interviewed as part of the judicial enquiry took responsibility for all the decisions taken on that terrible night, but do not believe they were at fault. Although the French government had promised an internal enquiry following the revelations in Le Monde, it never took place. On the contrary, the defendants have the support of their superiors, who tried to interfere in the judicial investigation, as revealed by telephone taps. An investigation for breach of confidentiality has been opened.
A report published this month by the UK Department for Transport identified failings that led to the dinghy not being rescued by HM Coastguard that night: poor visibility, lack of aerial surveillance, and a lack of staff in the control room in Dover to process SOS calls… The legal team representing one of the victim’s families described the events as an “overall display of chaos”. The British government also announced an independent inquiry into the shipwreck, after the report was published. However, the report fails to explain why over 30 people were left in distress for 12 hours, while the Coastguard rescued other boats that night, nor why migrants have no other choice but to risk their lives at sea, when every other safe route to the UK is blocked to them.
Again and again, political and military authorities refuse to take responsibility for their role in this shipwreck and are attempting to cover it up.
Since 1999, at least 385 people have died trying to reach the UK. Hit by vehicles on the motorway, electrocuted by a live wire on the Eurotunnel site, asphyxiated in the trailers of lorries in Essex in England, died by suicide, drowned in the canal whilst trying to bathe, died due to poor living conditions in the camps, and drowned in the Channel.
In recent years, the frequency of deaths at the border has only accelerated. Since 24 November 2021, at least 45 migrants have died at this border. The deaths continue to pile up and nothing changes. On the contrary, the French, Belgian and British authorities are stubbornly pursuing their racist and security-focused immigration approaches to make this border area ever more hostile for migrants.
in France, the new asylum-immigration bill heralds an even more anti-migrant turn by the Macron government. On the northern coast this month, migrants’ rights organisations denounced a "catastrophic situation" for people exiled, who are not receiving shelter during storm Ciaran and the cold, nor access to water or food distributions - while police eviction operations continue. In Belgium, the government continues to deny decent accommodation to people seeking safety, leaving families and children on the streets, despite multiple convictions in court. Furthermore, since 2021, Belgium has been supporting Frontex’s Opal Coast aerial surveillance operation, whose mission is to assist the French and Belgian authorities in detecting and intercepting exiles attempting to cross the Channel to the United Kingdom. On the British side, the government has successively passed increasingly repressive measures against migrants, including a plan to deport people to Rwanda ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, and a ban on asylum for people arriving in the UK "irregularly". Lastly, at the last Franco-British summit on 10 March 2023, the UK announced the release of £476 million (543 million euros) over 3 years for the deployment of 500 additional officers, the purchase of new surveillance equipment and drones, helicopters and aircraft, and the opening of a new detention centre in northern France.
The French, Belgian and British authorities have turned the shared border into a place of death. By refusing to welcome people and by militarising this border with an excessive number of repressive measures (kilometres of barriers, barbed wire, drones, multiple police patrols, Frontex aircraft), they are politically responsible for every single one of these deaths. We know that the increasing militarisation of the border does not stop people taking journeys, but simply makes these journeys more dangerous and life-threatening.
We, Belgian, British, and French organisations, collectives, and activists, support the actions taken by victims’ relatives and families before the courts to ensure that the truth on what exactly happened on that murderous night is exposed and for justice to be achieved.
From Dunkirk to Folkestone and from London to Zeebrugge, we stand together to call for an urgent and radical change in the policies pursued at this and other European borders. The rights of migrants must be fully respected and the values and principles of welcome and free movement must replace the racist logic of deadly border violence. We stand in solidarity with all those displaced. They should not face the further trauma of militarised and violent borders when they seek safety in Belgium, France or the UK.
As long as the Belgian, British, and French governments continue to coordinate simultaneous violence at the shared border and as long as people need and desire to move across borders, our solidarity and work must continue to reach beyond borders. We will continue to work together in solidarity with people on the move, to ensure that their rights are respected - starting with their right to life - and that justice is done when these rights are violated.
Commemorative events will be held on 24 November 2023 in several cities in France and the United Kingdom:
Sunny Sands, Folkestone. 6pm
Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, Dunkirk. 6pm
Place de la République, Paris. 7 pm