Manslaughter Lawsuit Filed Against British, French Rescue Groups Over Migrant Deaths

French humanitarian organization Utopia 56 filed a manslaughter lawsuit Friday at a Paris prosecutor's office in connection with a migrant boat that capsized in the English Channel last month, killing 27 people.

The group claims French and British authorities did not do enough to help prevent the deaths when an inflatable boat carrying migrants from Africa and the Middle East capsized Nov. 24.

There were only two survivors – Mohammed Shekha Ahmad and Mohammad Isa Omar. Both spoke to Rudaw, a Kurdish news outlet. In their accounts, they detailed how they called French authorities for help when they noticed water was coming into the boat. After being told they were in British waters, they called British authorities for help, who told them to call the French.

According to Omar, by the time this back-and-forth was done, they could not hold onto their phones anymore because of all the water. He said they ended up swimming for about 10 hours.

Utopia 56 is suing the maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea, the Regional Operational Centre for Surveillance and Rescue of Gris-Nez in the Pas-de-Calais and the British Coast Guard.

Nikolai Posner, a spokesman for the organization, told the Associated Press the lawsuit is supposed to "remind our governments that it is urgent to question the policies at our borders, which take human lives every day."

migrants, boat, France
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has received a manslaughter lawsuit for failure to help in the tragic capsizing last month of a boat in the English Channel that cost the lives of at least 27 people trying to reach Britain. Above, a damaged inflatable small boat is pictured on the shore in Wimereux, northern France, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in Calais, northern France. Michel Spingler, File/AP Photo

Utopia 56 said it "intends that investigations be carried out to determine the responsibilities of the French and British rescue services in this tragedy," adding that the people were abandoned "despite calls to the English and French rescue services."

The maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea was not immediately available for comment Monday.

In London, proceedings have also formally been launched by families of victims from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Earlier this month, 26 victims were formally identified, including seven women, a teenager and a 7-year-old girl. The identity of one migrant remains unknown. Investigators were able to confirm the identity of 16 Iraqi Kurds, including four women, a 16-year-old teenager and a 7-year-old girl. The victims also included an Iranian Kurd, three Ethiopians including two women, a Somali woman, four Afghan men and an Egyptian man, the statement said. The adults ranged in age from 19 to 46.

Their boat capsized on Nov. 24 off the coast of northern France, in what the country's interior minister called the biggest migration tragedy on the dangerous crossing to Britain to date.

Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflicts or poverty are risking the perilous journey from France, hoping to win asylum or find better opportunities in Britain. The crossings have tripled this year compared to 2020.

The tragedy prompted a new political crisis between Britain and France, who each accused each other of not doing enough to deter people from crossing the Channel. European migration officials agreed to send a plane to monitor the shores of the English Channel for smuggling activity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

France, migrants, refugees, candlelight vigil
A manslaughter lawsuit, filed Dec. 17, 2021 by the French humanitarian organization Utopia 56, accuses several French and British rescue groups of not doing enough to prevent the deaths of 27 migrants in a boat that capsized in the English Channel Nov. 24. Above, activists and members of associations defending migrants' rights light candles in front of a banner reading "309 dead on the France UK border since 1999" during a gathering outside the port of Calais, northern France, Nov. 25. Rafael Yaghobzadeh, File/AP Photo