Freedom republishes a report from Alarm Phone:
On December 14, a boat disintegrated in the middle of the English Channel, killing at least four people. The total number of passengers on board has not been confirmed, nor the number of people still missing from the group. Less than two weeks ago, Kent Police reported they fear up to six people are still lost at sea. Despite the 30 days since the sinking, we still don’t know anything about the four people. who lost their lives. What were their names? Where did they come from? How old were they? Do their families know what happened?
The important question that remains is: how could their deaths have been avoided?
We wrote a piece last month about our concerns about the lack of rescue facilities present for these people during their journey. There is no confirmation that the French authorities were aware of the presence of the boat, nor that the British launched a rescue boat in anticipation of the arrival of these people in British waters, as has been customary since the summer 2022. Despite all the surveillance technology deployed in the English Channel, and all the resources at the disposal of the UK Coastguard, Border Force and Royal Navy, it seems no one has been aware of this boat until the alarm is given by Utopia 56 and Alarm Phone, after receiving distress calls from those on board. Fortunately, a nearby fishing boat was able to save most of the people who ended up in the water after the dinghy floor gave way. Dungeness’ volunteer rescue team also did their best to rescue people when they arrived. However, it remains unclear who had operational control of the search and rescue response. Why was this fishing boat the first on the scene?
The Maritime Accident Investigations Branch has announced that they are investigating what happened on December 14, 2022. We are unsure of the confidence we can place in this investigation, given their prolonged silence regarding the criminal negligence of the French and British coastguards when more than 30 people died more than a year ago. With the anticipated withdrawal of the Royal Navy, questions about the oversight of these large-scale missions become all the more pressing.
The Royal Navy, which has militarized rescue operations on the British side but has otherwise provided many surveillance tools to help identify boats and rescue them quickly, is due to withdraw at the end of the month (January 31, 2023). The Border Force, which is in no way trained in search and rescue, will regain operational control of operations in the Channel, but it is rumoured that it wants to end its participation because of the criticism it is receiving at the about his so-called “migrant taxi service”. HMCG and volunteer RNLI lifeboat crews could then find themselves on their own, with fewer resources and possibly more crossings in the coming years.
Since the beginning of 2023, a boat of 44 people has managed to reach the United Kingdom. Rishi Sunak’s plan to ‘stop the boats‘ is unlikely to succeed in stopping more people from attempting these trips. We demand that the government announce how lives will be protected at sea, rather than bringing in new legislation allowing the detention and deportation of people entering the UK through illegal channels.
One of the key actions of the authorities was the arrest and charge of a 19-year-old accused of being at the helm of the boat on the 14th. Ibrahima Bah will appear in court tomorrow (Monday January 16) and, s convicted, faces life in prison for ‘facilitating’ an attempt to illegally arrive in the UK. During his first court appearance, which was hampered by malfunctions with his interpreter, he said he didn’t know what was happening or what was happening to him and he didn’t even know what time it was. Under the amendments made to s.24 of the Immigration Act 1971 by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, everyone in that boat on December 14 could be charged with attempting to arrive irregularly in the UK. If prosecuted and convicted, they risk 4 years in prison, after which they will automatically be sent abroad as a “foreign criminal”. The media coverage of Ibrahima’s criminalization fails to question why he is being prosecuted when the state is responsible for these deaths.
Strengthening security and control in the Channel is not the solution. Recent policy and legislation has turned the English Channel into an immigration control enclosure. People are seized there before being propelled into a dehumanizing and failing asylum system. The development of “safe and legal routes” would also not make it possible to put an end to dangerous sea crossings; those unable to access it would continue to find other ways to make their journey. To end the deaths in the English Channel which are likely to become very frequent, it is necessary to allow everyone to make the safe journeys to which those of us with documents are accustomed – on ferries, via the Eurotunnel and by air.
Image: Alarm Phone