Nine men charged with manslaughter over drowning of 27 migrants bound for UK

Pregnant woman and a child were among those killed

French authorities have charged nine men with manslaughter after 27 migrants drowned en route to the UK in November 2021. AFP
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Nine men have been charged with manslaughter by French police investigating the sinking of a dingy in the English Channel in November in which 27 migrants were killed.

The men, aged between 21 and 41, were "indicted in particular on counts of manslaughter, involuntary injuries, endangering the lives of others, association of criminals and assistance with illegal entry, movement and residence”, according to a judicial source quoted in French media reports.

The group appeared before a magistrates’ court on Thursday, with five being remanded in custody and four under judicial supervision.

A tenth man was charged with manslaughter and human trafficking on Wednesday.

The men are suspected of having played a part in an Afghan illegal migration network by working as drivers, smugglers and lodgers.

The court hearings took place after police arrested 15 suspects in an overnight operation from Sunday to Monday as part of their months-long probe into last year’s tragedy, which shocked Europe. Five suspects, including two women, were later released without charge.

Twenty-seven people, including seven women, two teenagers and one child, drowned while trying to cross the English Channel from a beach in northern France bound for the UK on November 24, 2021.

Iraqi-Kurdish men pray during the funeral procession of a migrant woman and her three children at a mosque in Darbandikhan town, northern Iraq, after they drowned in the English Channel in November. EPA

Many of those who perished at sea were from Iraqi Kurdistan, while others were from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Egypt.

The incident sparked a diplomatic row between France and Britain, with Paris accusing London of making the country attractive for illegal immigrants. The UK said French authorities were not doing enough to stamp out the practice of illegal migration across the waterway.

It marked the highest death toll from a single sinking in the Channel since 2018.

Two people survived the disaster.

Despite warnings from officials about the dangers of taking small boats out into the busy shipping lanes, migrants continued to risk their lives in search of a fresh start in Britain throughout the winter months and as the warmer months rolled in the number of crossings surged.

Figures from the French Interior Ministry show that from January 1 to June 13, there were 777 attempted crossings involving 20,132 people, up 68 per cent on the same period last year.

It said French security forces had prevented most of the crossings, with 61.39 per cent of the attempts thwarted in the first half, up 4.2 per cent on last year.

The figures for all of 2021 had already been a record but latest statistics indicate this will likely be exceeded should current trends continue, as summer weather settles in that typically encourages more crossings.

An estimated 52,000 people tried to cross in 2021, with 28,000 of the migrants succeeding, French authorities said.

Britain this week unveiled tougher laws in a bid to deter people from using unsafe routes to reach UK shores. Anyone caught piloting a small boat carrying migrants in the Channel will face a maximum life prison sentence.

In a controversial policy, the UK is also planning to deport illegal migrants, including those who arrive across the Channel, to Rwanda.

However, the first flight scheduled for last month was cancelled after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which enraged London.

Updated: July 01, 2022, 10:54 AM