December 3, 2021

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Calais shocked by migrant shipwreck in the English Channel

Calais shocked by migrant shipwreck in the English Channel

After at least 27 migrants died in a shipwreck off the coast of Calais on Wednesday 24 November, some 300 community activists and residents gathered the next day to pay their respects.

“This must not happen again. I appeal to the chief: Stop, stop!” An activist from Calais who lives near the port described a “continuous swoosh of hearing” she witnessed until late in the morning. On the night of Wednesday, November 24, during which rescue services carried 27 bodies of migrants at sea after their boat sank.

Silently before her eyes, about 300 Calsianos, activists and immigrants gathered in front of a park in the coastal city to celebrate a vigil in honor of those who had died the previous day.

Explains Pascal Lefevre, a campaigner with La France Insoumise (Insoum France, in Spanish) in Calais.

Pascal Lefevre, activist from La France insoumise in Calais, while honoring 27 migrants who died in the Manche district, on November 25, 2021. On his poster you can read “I will not bathe in that sea! Nobody bathes! In a cemetery!” © France 24

“There weren’t so many deaths at once. It is the most tragic migrant shipwreck we have ever known,” laments Nathaniel Cayo, Project Manager for Secours Catholique (Catholic Relief, in Spanish), who was also present. “We are surprised and angry,” he said.

On the ground, a tall banner displays the names of more than 300 migrants who have died trying to cross the border between France and England since 1999. “They were electrocuted by the Eurotunnel, drowned in the English Channel, were killed due to lack of medical assistance…” An activist recounts the circumstances their death. “As a result of the increasing militarization of the borders and the fight against the presence of exiles,” she added.

condemn sticker "deadly limits" Between France and England on November 25, 2021 in Calais.
A poster condemning the “fatal frontier” between France and England on November 25, 2021 in Calais. © France 24

Auberge de Migrants (Migrants Refuge, in Spanish), Secor Catholic, Utopia 56 … On the microphone, one association after another asked France and the United Kingdom to respond by creating a “safe passage” for migrants who wanted to seek asylum on the other side of the Channel. They also demanded that the living not be forgotten and that the survivors receive moral support and financial assistance to bring the bodies home.

About 300 people paid tribute to the migrants who died at sea on November 25, 2021.
About 300 people paid tribute to the migrants who died at sea on November 25, 2021. © Dana Albouz, Information Migrants

“We just buried someone yesterday morning.”

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For Maryam Guerre, a permanent employee at Secours Catholique de Calais, this shipwreck is unprecedented. “We hang a black veil at the entrance to our day center in Calais,” says the woman who has been helping immigrants for nearly 20 years. He explains, “Awakes and funerals. That’s all we’ve done since September. Every two weeks.” “We just buried someone yesterday morning: a young Sudanese man who died two weeks ago. The burial could not have taken place before because we had difficulties in identifying his body,” he explains.

This time she hopes that identification will be faster, but above all that it is possible, because it is not always like this: “Their families should have a right to know what happened to them. I put myself in the shoes of mothers who waited for news of their children. They should not It ends like this.”

List of 335 migrants who have died trying to reach England since 1999, on November 25, 2021.
List of 335 migrants who have died trying to reach England since 1999, on November 25, 2021. © Dana Alborz, Information Migrants

Among the victims of Wednesday’s drowning were 17 men and seven women, including a pregnant woman and three young men. Their bodies were returned to the Lille Institute of Forensic Medicine for autopsy and identification.

The circumstances of their death are not yet clear. On Wednesday, they left Dunkirk to cross the English Channel, but did their ship, the “Longboat”, a fragile inflatable boat with a soft bottom, collided with a container ship? Did the inflatable boat become flat?

These “longboats” increasingly used by smugglers, which can be up to 10 meters in length, cannot withstand overloads or rough seas. Often difficult weather conditions in the English Channel make navigation difficult, especially since it is one of the world’s busiest seas, with about 600 ships passing through during the day, according to several years ago sea rescuers.

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“I’m not afraid, I’ll try again”

“For two years, the route through the sea lanes was used extensively, and we expected drama,” explains Nathaniel Cayo. The number of attempts to cross the English Channel in small boats has doubled in the past three months, according to the county. As of November 20, 31,500 migrants have fled the coast since the beginning of the year and 7,800 migrants have been rescued.

Accompanied by his French partner, a 30-year-old Afghan prince, he traveled to Calais to show his support for refugees. He remembers his trip to the UK by truck 16 years ago. “I went to England, where I was poorly received. I decided at last to return to France,” says this inhabitant of a city near Calais. “At that time, no one jumped into the sea, but the situation worsened for the refugees, in their countries – in Iran, in Afghanistan – and here. You see, it’s very cold tonight, winter is coming and they don’t ‘We have no choice but to try to cross’ .

The succession of tragedies discourages some. Faisal, a Sudanese who arrived in Calais two weeks ago, decided to forgo the crossing to England. “I will seek asylum in France,” says the thirty-year-old. “There are so many dead, so many sad stories. I didn’t know those who died, but they were like us. They were sleeping outside.” His younger friend tried to go for a walk with him on Wednesday. “It was my second time. The engine broke down and the police caught us. I’m not afraid and I’ll try again. I’ll try whatever it takes,” says the 22-year-old, who preferred to remain anonymous.

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He is not the only one. Last night, about 70 migrants tried to cross before they were rescued. Some were found getting cold at Calais train station, then taken to an emergency shelter.

Article adapted from the original in French