Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Refugees crossing the English Channel

A migrant carries her children after being helped ashore from a RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat at a beach in Dungeness, on the southeast coast of England, on November 24, 2021, after being rescued while crossing the English Channel. (Photo: Ben Stansall /AFP via Getty Images)

Humanitarians Demand End of 'Hostile' UK Policies After 27 Migrants Perish in English Channel

"When the government closes down safe, legal routes for asylum seekers, they're pushed into taking dangerous ones. This awful tragedy is an inevitable consequence of cruel, inhumane policies."

Jon Queally

Over two dozen migrants—including young children—attempting to cross the English Channel from France perished at sea Wednesday, sparking outpourings of grief and renewed demands that both the U.K. government and leaders across Europe end their woeful immigration policies that force desperate individuals and families to risk ever more dangerous and deadly journeys to attain refuge, asylum, or a better life.

"How many more times must we see people lose their life trying to reach safety in the U.K. because of the woeful lack of safe means to do so?"

According to the Guardian:

Pregnant women and three children were among the 27 people, mostly Kurds from Iraq or Iran, who drowned trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable boat, French authorities have said.

Two male survivors, an Iraqi and a Somali, were being treated for exhaustion and hypothermia in a Calais hospital. A criminal investigation has been opened by the public prosecutor in Lille, with four men suspected of "direct involvement" in the attempted crossing arrested on Wednesday and a fifth detained early on Thursday morning.

The bodies were brought into the port of Calais by boat and helicopter through the evening, where volunteers with local migrant aid associations lit candles and held aloft placards reading "How many more?" after the International Maritime Organization described the tragedy as the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began keeping records in 2014.

Rights campaigners at Amnesty International U.K. expressed despair but also anger over the loss of life.

'We are deeply saddened by the loss of these lives," said Tom Davies, manager of the Refugees Welcome campaign at Amnesty International U.K. "How many more times must we see people lose their life trying to reach safety in the U.K. because of the woeful lack of safe means to do so?"

Steve Valdez-Symonds, the group's refugee and migrant rights program director, said the deaths in the Channel were "heartbreaking." Still, as many others said, the events directly resulted from flawed policies in the U.K. and across Europe.

"Something must be done to alleviate the need for people to rely on dangerous journeys and often dangerous people," Valdez-Symonds tweeted. "But instead, we can expect just more of the same that has led directly to today's terrible tragedy."

In response to the deaths, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: "My heart goes out to all affected by terrible Channel drownings. When the government closes down safe, legal routes for asylum seekers, they're pushed into taking dangerous ones. This awful tragedy is an inevitable consequence of cruel, inhumane policies."

Wednesday's deaths come as the U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel of the Tory Party faces legal challenges over her proposed plan to intensify border security—including coastal patrols in the Channel—and ratchet up the "hostile environment" policies designed to make it harder to seek asylum in the country.

MP Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour Leader who represents Islington North, also called the events "tragic" and demanded that leaders across Europe end their "hostile" policies towards migrants and refugees.

In a statement, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a U.K.-based group that advocates for comprehensive and humane reforms to refugee and immigration policy, called the deaths on Wednesday "tragic," "preventable," and just the latest clear evidence that urgent action is needed to address the system's cruelest features.

"We are devastated to learn that 27 people have died in the Channel, trying to reach safety in the U.K.," the group said. "These were people with hopes and dreams, friends and family. They should never have been put in a position where their only option was to cross a deadly stretch of water."

"The British public are in agreement that these dangerous crossings need to end—no one wants to see people dying 15 miles off our coastline," the group continued. "But instead of taking a compassionate and realistic approach, the government is ensuring that the Channel becomes increasingly more dangerous and deadly. Instead of ensuring that people can get to the U.K. safely, the government pursues ever-higher fences and illegal 'pushbacks' at sea."

Zoe Gardner, the group's director, appeared on the BBC to denounce the policies of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, including the Home Secretary's pending proposal to increase spending on border security that she argues will only make the situation worse.

The JCWI called on the Johnson government to end its "posturing and bravado" on migrant rights and instead "accept responsibility for these deaths, and change course now to prevent further loss of life."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Reckless Misuse of Resources': House Approves $778 Billion Military Budget

"There was no CBO score needed. No concern about the deficit. No mention of inflation," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman.

Jake Johnson ·


Senate Dems Help Torpedo Resolution That Would Have Blocked $650 Million Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

"My simple question is, why in the world would the United States reward a regime that has caused such pain in Yemen with more weapons," Sanders asked after the vote. "The answer is we should not."

Brett Wilkins ·


Amnesty Scorecard Finds Twitter Failing to Protect Women From Online Abuse

"As our world has become increasingly dependent on digital spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, it's critical that Twitter meet this moment with demonstrated commitment to improving the online experiences of all users, regardless of their identity."

Jessica Corbett ·


Filibuster Reform for Debt Ceiling Fight But Not Voting Rights or Reproductive Freedom?

"If our senators are willing to suspend the filibuster to protect our economy, they should be willing to suspend it to protect our democracy and our freedom to vote."

Jessica Corbett ·


As Senate Holds Guantánamo Hearing, Biden Urged to 'Finally End This Chapter of Injustice'

"Guantánamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo