French military personnel charged over Channel migrant disaster

Five French military personnel were charged on Thursday with non-assistance to persons in danger over the 2021 sinking of a migrant boat crossing the Channel to Britain, a judicial source said.

Authorities reportedly detained around a dozen people, including several military personnel deployed as coastguards in northern France, in the investigation into the tragedy.

Those charged included three women and two men on duty at the Channel rescue centre at the time, a source familiar with the matter said.

The sinking of the small boat in the Channel in November 2021 left 27 migrants dead, the worst such disaster in recent times.

The probe in France is focusing on allegations that French service personnel on duty in the north of the country failed to respond properly to the distress calls of those on board.

It is suspected that as many as 15 distress calls to the French authorities were not properly answered.

The victims aged between seven and 46 are believed to have boarded an unseaworthy boat on the French coast.

They also included Iranian Kurds, Ethiopians, Somalians, Afghans and Egyptians.

English Channel crossing tragedy – in pictures

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

Migrants are brought ashore at Dungeness by RNLI Lifeboat members after crossing the Channel. Reuters

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

The past three years have seen a significant rise in attempted Channel crossings by migrants, despite the dangers. AFP

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

Migrants on board a Border Force rescue boat line up to disembark at Dover harbour after crossing the Channel. Reuters

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

A life jacket is left in the water after a group of more than 40 migrants got on an inflatable dinghy to leave the coast of northern France and cross the Channel. Reuters

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

Migrants are escorted by Border Force staff in Dungeness, after being brought ashore by an RNLI lifeboat. Reuters

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

A woman with a child is brought ashore safely. Reuters

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

Migrants walk along a British beach after being brought ashore by an RNLI lifeboat. Reuters

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

At least 27 migrants bound for Britain died on Wednesday when their boat sank in the English Channel. AP

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin speaks to the press in Calais, northern France, after the tragedy. AP

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

France’s interior minister has called it the biggest tragedy involving migrants on the dangerous crossing to date. AP

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

A man wheels a gurney into a warehouse in Calais, where it is believed the bodies of migrants are being transported. PA

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

French police look at a map of the coast at Wimereux, in northern France. The stretch of beach is believed to be used by migrants aiming to cross the Channel. PA

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

A funeral van leaves the port of Calais. AFP

french military personnel charged over channel migrant disaster

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought to Dover by the RNLI. PA

A French border police unit arrested 15 people last year on suspicion of being part of a smuggling network that arranged places on the boat.

Another suspect, Harem Ahmed Abwbaker, is facing extradition proceedings in Britain.

The disaster sparked cross-Channel feuding as Britain and France blamed each other for the tragedy.

Britain cited the “dangerous and perilous conditions” in the Channel as justification for deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda to deter migration in small boats.

Another four people died and 43 were rescued when a boat capsized in the Channel last December.

A cooling of tensions with France led to a new deal this year for more patrols on French beaches in exchange for €541 million ($580.3 million) from Britain.

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