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Dover locals hold vigil to demand safe routes after Channel tragedy

DOZENS of mourners in Dover gathered under its White Cliffs on Wednesday evening to remember the 27 lives lost in the Channel a week on from the disaster.

The candle-lit vigil was the third to be held at the Dover coast in just over a year, the most recent taking place three months ago for a 27-year-old Eritrean man who drowned in the English Channel in August. 

“It’s absolutely horrific,” vigil organiser Kay Marsh told the Morning Star.

“I just remember being here three months ago, people were in tears and they were really trying to say never again … but here we are again calling on the government to implement legal routes to stop these needless deaths.” 

Locals lit candles and held placards as they gathered in the rain on the seafront by the Seeking Sanctuary memorial — a memorial dedicated to all those who’ve died at the borders. 

It came as the British government faced scrutiny over the boat’s  rescue operation last Wednesday after two survivors claimed they had repeatedly called the British authorities for help as they sank. 

Survivor Muhammad Ibrahim told Kurdish station Rudaw that the British had said to get in touch with authorities in France as they were in French waters. 

“The British police didn’t help us,” he said. “Then, as we were slowly drowning, the people lost hope and let go. Then the waves took us back to France.” 

Asked about the survivors’ account by MPs on Wednesday, Clandestine “Channel Threat” Commander Dan O’Mahoney said: “At this stage I can’t tell you with any certainty whether we definitely received a call from that boat or not.”

Relatives of the dead have accused the British government of negligence, claiming that the boat did reach the UK maritime zone after tracking its progressive on Facebook messenger, according to reports. 

In Dover, the town’s Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Cowan said the British government had a moral responsibility to give asylum-seekers safe passage, “instead of putting women, men, babies and breadwinners at risk of death.

“Dover is the gateway to England, it is a frontier town,” he told mourners. “There has been migration both ways across the Channel for thousands of years. 

“Refugees from oppression and economic deprivation have always been, and always will, find care and understanding in Dover.”

Also speaking at the vigil, Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon said he feared a repeat of the disaster. 

“Without the UK government and the French government coming together and making constructive solutions, people will continue to make dangerous journeys because they’re in desperate need of reaching safety,” he said. 

“We call for safe routes, we call for humanity and we call for compassion.”

Local resident Pete Keenan, who is also a case worker for Kent Refugee Help, told the Star the vigil was symbolic of the coastal community’s historic resistance against threats to human rights. 

“This area stood in direct opposition to the Nazis in the past and we’re not prepared to accept it from within, and not defend human rights,” he said. 

The event was organised by refugee charity Samphire and supported by Care4Calais, the Refugee Council, Kent Refugee Action Group and others. 

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