Following the death of at least 27 migrants in a shipwreck off the coast of Calais on Wednesday 24 November, some 300 community activists and residents gathered the following day to pay tribute to them.
“This must not happen again. I appeal to the President: stop, stop!” At the microphone, a Calais activist living near the port described the “incessant sweep of hearses” that she witnessed late into the morning. night of Wednesday, November 24, during which the rescue services removed 27 bodies of dead migrants at sea after the sinking of their boat.
In front of her, in silence, around 300 people, Calesianos, activists and migrants gathered on Thursday, November 25, in front of a park in the port city to celebrate a vigil in honor of those who died the day before.
“We call them ‘circles of silence’. Normally there are between 30 and 50 people. Tonight there are a lot of people, because there have been many deaths,” explains Pascal Lefèvre, a militant of La France Insoumise (Insoum France, in Spanish) in Calais.
“There have never been so many deaths at one time. It is the most dramatic migrant shipwreck we have ever known,” laments Nathanaël Caillaux, project director of the Secours Catholique (Catholic Relief, in Spanish), who was also present. “We are surprised and angry,” he continued.
On the ground, a long banner displays the names of more than 300 migrants who have died trying to cross the border between France and England since 1999. “Electrocuted by a Eurotunnel catenary, drowned in the English Channel, killed for lack of medical assistance … “, an activist lists the circumstances of their deaths. “A consequence of the increasing militarization of the border and the fight against the presence of exiles,” according to her.
L’Auberge des migrants (The Migrant Shelter, in Spanish), Secours Catholique, Utopia 56 … On the microphone, one association after another asked France and the United Kingdom to react by creating a “safe passage” for people migrants who want to ask for asylum on the other side of the Canal. They also asked not to forget the living and that the survivors be given moral support and financial aid for the repatriation of the bodies.
“We just buried someone yesterday morning.”
For Mariam Guerey, a permanent staff member of the 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 migrants for almost 20 years. “Wakes and funerals. That’s all we’ve done since September. Every two weeks,” he explains. “We just buried someone yesterday morning: a young Sudanese who died a fortnight ago. The burial could not take place before because we had difficulties to identify his body,” he details.
This time she hopes that the identification will be faster, but above all that it is possible, since it is not always like this: “Their families should have the right to know what happened to them. I put myself in the shoes of mothers who wait for news of their children. It shouldn’t end like this. “
Among the victims of the sinking on Wednesday were 17 men, seven women, including a pregnant woman, and three young people. Their bodies have been repatriated to the Lille Forensic Institute for autopsy and identification.
The circumstances of their deaths are not yet clear. On Wednesday they left Dunkirk to cross the English Channel, but was their ship, a ‘long boat’, a fragile inflatable boat with a soft bottom, hit by a container ship? Did the inflatable boat go flat?
Increasingly used by smugglers, these ‘long boats’, which can be up to 10 meters long, cannot withstand overloading or rough seas. The often difficult weather conditions of the English Channel make navigation difficult, especially since it is one of the busiest maritime areas in the world, with about 600 ships passing through a day, according to maritime rescuers from several years.
“I’m not afraid, I’ll try again”
“For two years the road through the sea lanes has been used in a massive way, we expected a drama”, explains Nathanaël Caillaux. The number of attempts to cross the English Channel in small boats has doubled in the last three months, according to the prefecture. As of November 20, 31,500 migrants had fled the coast since the beginning of the year and 7,800 had been rescued.
Accompanied by his French partner, Amir, a 30-year-old Afghan, he traveled to Calais to show his support for the refugees. He remembers his passage to the United Kingdom by truck 16 years ago. “I went to England, where I received a bad reception. I finally decided to return to France,” says this resident of a city near Calais. “At that time, no one jumped into the sea, but the situation has worsened for the refugees, in their own countries – in Iran, in Afghanistan – and here. You see, it’s very cold tonight, winter is coming and they don’t have any more. option than to attempt the crossing “, he remarks.
The succession of tragedies discourages some. Fayçal, a Sudanese who arrived in Calais a fortnight ago, has decided to give up crossing to England. “I’m going to ask for asylum in France,” says the thirty-year-old. “There are too many dead, too many sad stories. I didn’t know those who died, but they were like us. They were sleeping outside.” Along with him, a younger friend attempted a hike on Wednesday. “It was my second time. The engine broke and the police caught us. I am not afraid and I will try again. I will try whatever it takes,” says the 22-year-old, who prefers to remain anonymous.
It’s not the only one. Last night, some 70 migrants attempted the crossing before being rescued. Some of them were found getting cold at the Calais train station, then they were taken to an emergency shelter.
Article adapted from its original in French