Socialist Worker

Refugee boat sinks in English Channel—blood on Tory hands

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2782

Priti Patels Nationality and Borders Bill will mean more refugee deaths

Priti Patel's Nationality and Borders Bill will mean more refugee deaths (Pic: Priti Patel on Twitter)

At least 27 people drowned in the English Channel on Wednesday as they tried to reach Britain. This is the appalling result of an accelerating tirade of anti-refugee speeches and actions by the British and French governments—with the Tories in the vanguard.

The politicians, the media and state forces who’ve demonised desperate people fleeing war, poverty and environmental destruction have blood on their hands.

Those who wanted “push backs” to deter migrants with the threat of death now have what they wanted. Their protestations and sorrow should be rejected as hypocritical filth.

Boris Johnson said he was "shocked, appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

"Now is the time for us all to step up, work together and do everything we can to stop these gangs who are getting away with murder."

The gang getting away with murder is the government that creates the conditions that make such tragedies inevitable. With every new obstacle to refugees, with every racist speech Johnson and his coterie hand out another death sentence.

Pierre Roques, coordinator of the Auberge des Migrants (Migrants' Hostel) NGO in Calais, said the Channel "is becoming a cemetery".

BFM TV, a French station, reported five people had drowned on Wednesday afternoon. By 4pm the French police told AFP news agency that there were “more than 20 dead”. By 4.30pm there were reports of 24 dead. And the number continued to rise afterwards.


Stand Up To Racism said, “The government's racist hostile environment, and its latest attack on refugees and migrants in the Nationality and Borders Bill, has and will lead to horror and tragedy.”

A fishing worker, Nicolas Margolle, told Reuters news he had seen two small dinghies, one with people onboard and another empty.

He said another worker had called the rescue operation after seeing an upturned dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.

He confirmed there were more dinghies on Wednesday because the weather was good. “But it's cold,” Margolle added.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said, "Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country."

Pro-refugee protesters gathered in Calais on Wednesday evening. The placard reads, How many deaths do you need?

Pro-refugee protesters gathered in Calais on Wednesday evening. The placard reads, "How many deaths do you need?"

Gerald Darmanin, the French equivalent of home secretary Priti Patel, tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. “Strong emotion in the face of the drama of the many deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel,” he said. “We cannot say enough about the criminal nature of the smugglers who organise these crossings.”

In fact, we cannot say enough about the criminal governments whose anti-refugee laws and ever harsher barriers to legal routes create the opportunity for the gangs.

The Tories are determined to make crossing the Channel more hazardous and deadly and to stop seafarers offering help to migrants in flimsy boats.

In September 2021, the Channel Rescue monitoring group witnessed the UK Border Force training to use jet skis to drive back migrants at sea. Those brutal tactics are backed up by ever-more laws against refugees.

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At about the same time people were drowning in the Channel, the Royal Yacht Association (RYA) warned its members against helping migrants at sea. This was due to fears that they could be prosecuted and jailed for “people smuggling” under new legislation.

A clause in the Tories’ Nationality and Borders Bill increases the sentences for smuggling into Britain from 14 years to life imprisonment. 

The law would criminalise sailors and others even if they rescued an asylum seeker and landed them in Dover.

This week Keir Starmer’s Labour Party decided to go for the Tories from the right because of their “broken promises” to halt refugee crossings. They too are responsible for the mass deaths now.

After Wednesday's drownings, Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called for more measures against migrant boats and "practical law enforcement action away from the coast as well".

Meanwhile, French presidential candidates are using the same hateful, anti-migrant rhetoric. They include fascist Marine Le Pen, far right Islamophobe Eric Zemmour and conservative right wingers such as Michel Barnier.

Anti-racists have to demand open borders and a welcome for refugees. Anything less leads to the corpses in the Channel.

Protest Don't let them drown, Refugees Welcome, Saturday 27 November, 2pm, Downing Street, London. Details here Called by Stand Up To Racism. For protests in other cities and towns go here

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