‘We will demand justice’: the vigil for those who died in the Channel tragedy | UK news

Relatives of those killed in the canal a year ago demanded justice for their loved ones in a vigil in memory of the victims.

On November 24, 2021, 31 people trying to reach the UK from France died in the worst Channel maritime disaster in 30 years. The bodies of four of the victims have not yet been recovered.

Grieving relatives Thursday night filled the west corner of London’s Parliament Square, holding photos and candles in pouring rain to commemorate their loved ones. After a minute’s silence, the sermons were recited in solemn tones.

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Aqil was one of those present at the vigil to remember his uncle Hassan. “Whenever I think of him, I see his face. This year has been very difficult. We talked to him two days ago – when I heard what happened to him, I couldn’t believe it. It’s still hard to believe, almost impossible.”

Another attendee said: “I arrived two weeks ago and my friend Tuana texted me to say he was coming by boat. I said ‘I’m so glad you’re coming’.

Others called on the British and French authorities to help them find the bodies of their loved ones. “We – all the families – are devastated, grieving,” said Ri, whose uncle died in the tragedy last year. “Their bodies are still missing at sea – we need to find them. The government says every refugee is welcome but no one has helped them. I really hope it doesn’t happen again.”

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Call records issued by the French authorities to lawyers as part of the investigation into the tragedy revealed that the first distress call to the French Coast Guard was recorded shortly before 02.15. The boat capsized at about 03.15. A little later, at 03.30, a passenger reported that some of the group were in the water.

For 12 hours, the French and British coast guards failed to send a rescue ship or plane. By the time the emergency services arrived on the scene, at 14.00 the next day, all but two of the passengers had drowned or died from exposure to the infection.

Throughout the night, the British Coast Guard, which is responsible for recording emergency calls and coordinating search and rescue missions in the Channel, continued to deny the vessel’s presence in British waters, and repeatedly asked passengers to contact the French Coast Guard. Records show that the boat entered British waters at 02.30.

People at the vigil lit candles and carried pictures of those who had died
People at the vigil lit candles and carried pictures of those who had died. Photo: Shaun Smith/The Guardian

The British authorities are awaiting the outcome of the ongoing investigation into a maritime accident before conducting any further investigation. The authorities have not contacted any of the victims’ families yet.

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Artin, who lost his brother, said: “I have not heard anything from the British and French authorities. I even went to the police station two or three times. I want to ask them to investigate the matter more thoroughly and find out who was negligent.”

Activists at the vigil called for safer routes for those crossing the canal, and also called on the authorities to provide answers to the families of the victims.

Claire Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, who organized the vigil, said: “I have been speaking with the families of the victims for a year now. They are still waiting for answers as to why their loved ones’ lives were not saved by the UK or French authorities.

“They did not get a courtesy meeting or basic information about what happened. This level of cruelty and indifference by the authorities is scandalous. But we promised them we would never let the lives of their loved ones be forgotten. For the sake of the victims and their families, we will demand justice. They have suffered enough already – they need justice.” Answers now.”

The vigil in Parliament Square.
The vigil in Parliament Square. Photo: Shaun Smith/The Guardian

Wilf Sullivan, TUC’s Race Equality Officer, said: “A year ago, fathers-in-law, sisters and brothers died in the English Channel despite appeals for help to the British and French authorities. Despite this tragedy, the government has doubled down on closing legal routes into our country for those fleeing the war and oppression.

“TUC calls on the government to stop playing politics with people’s rights and to provide safe routes for those seeking asylum and security in the UK.”

Some names have been changed in this piece.

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