On Wednesday (24 November), news began filtering through of a tragedy in the English Channel. Reports differ, but at least 27 people are known to have lost their lives as they attempted to cross the busy shipping lane between France and England.
The tragic and needless deaths have ignited a row over controversial policing of the sea border between the two countries. Much of the argument has been framed around the “people smugglers” who facilitate the crossings which have been the source of growing hysteria in Britain for a number of years. Most in mainstream politics are calling for stricter controls. A letter from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to French Premier Emmanuel Macron demanded joint French and British patrols of beaches in and around Calais to prevent launches.
The letter also asked for a ‘returns agreement’ so that Britain can remove any of those successfully making the crossing and return them to France – whether or not they have a legal claim to asylum. Tensions deepened this morning with the French government disinviting Home Secretary Priti Patel from a joint meeting due to take place this weekend in response to Johnson’s letter.
As the blame game continues, with leaders pointing fingers at one another across the channel with increasing vitriol, those at the centre of the tragedy have been forgotten. That’s why last night, hundreds gathered for a vigil outside the Home Office.
The crowds braved the cold to hear speeches from organisations like Channel Rescue, who run shore spotting patrols on the beaches in Kent, and SOAS Detainee Support, who offer support to those held in detention centres. Other speakers included those from Remember and Resist – a group set up in the wake of the death of 39 Vietnamese people who died in the back of a lorry attempting to reach the UK in 2019. A letter drafted by refugees in Calais following the death of a 16-year-old boy in September was read to those gathered who held placards and candles. A statement of support from Labour MP Nadia Whittome said: “People are driven into the hands of traffickers and onto dinghies by the political choices of this government: to enforce a brutal border regime and close safe and legal routes to asylum.”
The event finished with a moment’s silence for those who had been lost before the crowd dispersed. As the crowd began to leave a number of people were stopped and searched by some of the large number of police officers in attendance. All were released.
Photographer Aiyush Pachnanda was there to capture the demonstration as it unfolded through the evening.
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