Channel migrant disaster: ‘My wife was on the boat. I tracked the GPS … then it disappeared’

The husband of an Iraqi-Kurdish woman has told of his fears that she drowned in the Channel tragedy, after her GPS signal suddenly disappeared as he was tracking her across the sea.

Maryam Nuri is believed by her family to have been among 27 migrants who died when their flimsy boat capsized and sank six miles off the coast of Calais in rough seas and cold weather.

Migrant boat capsize in English Channel

On Thursday, French lifeboatmen told how they dragged the bodies of the victims from the sea, including 17 men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children. Pictures also emerged of the crumpled boat, likened to a “paddling pool” floating in the Channel.

An image taken from the local lifeboat service in France shows what remains of the migrant boat that capsized in the Channel

The husband of Mrs Nuri, who was known as Baran and came from Ranya in northern Iraq, was among those desperately waiting for news of their missing loved ones.

Her husband, a Kurdish immigrant living in the UK, tearfully told how he had been tracking his wife as she travelled across the Channel to join him, before her signal abruptly disappeared just over four hours into her journey.

Before losing contact, his wife had said she was in the boat with around 30 other people, including Afghan nationals and other Kurdish women – one of whom was accompanied by a small girl aged around nine.

“She is not in the UK, which means that she is gone. It is very sad for me, and for everyone,” said Mrs Nuri’s husband, who did not wish to be named.

“I had continuous contact with my wife and I was tracking her live GPS. After four hours and 18 minutes from the moment she went into that boat, I think they were in the middle of the sea, then I lost her.

The husband said that he called the people smugglers who arranged the fatal journey after learning that a boat sank in the Channel, but the men said they had not been able to contact anyone on board.

“I am in a very bad state,” he said.

Two survivors reportedly told police on Thursday that their dinghy was hit by a container ship, puncturing its thin rubber hull and sinking the vessel. They were named on social media last night as Mohammed Khalid, from Kurdistan, and Omer, from Somalia.

Many of the migrants who lost their lives in the incident are believed to be Kurds from the Peshdar region in the Sulaimani province in northern Iraq, alongside Iranians and Afghans.

Ranj Peshdari, a Kurdish migration activist, said he had been contacted by numerous families searching for loved ones who intended to cross the Channel this week.

“I’ve been told by people in Dunkirk that none of these individuals had life vests,” Mr Peshdari said. “Despite this, the smuggler, a Dutch-Kurd, sent them on their way and promised them that their journey would be short.”

Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan region, said he was "deeply saddened” to hear of “the tragic loss of 27 innocent lives in the English Channel”.

“Some of the victims appear to be Kurds. We are working to establish their identities. Our thoughts are with their families," he added.

More migrants attempt to cross the Channel

Despite the tragedy, dozens more migrants tried to cross the Channel to reach Britain on Thursday.

An RNLI lifeboat and Border Force vessel, BF Valiant, intercepted two boats attempting to make the crossing. A group of around 25 people were picked up and brought into Dover Marina at around 5am.

A group wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets were seen huddled together on a lifeboat, before disembarking in Dover. They were then escorted up the gangway by immigration enforcement officials for processing at nearby Tug Haven.

At least 10 other people have died in the past few weeks while trying to cross the Channel, as record numbers of migrants make the journey from France to the UK. This year, more than 25,700 migrants have arrived in the UK by boat, more than three times the 8,469 who did so in 2020. In 2019 just 1,850 made the crossing.

So far this month, 6,050 migrants have arrived in 182 boats.

Migrant crossing numbers in 2021 far higher than 2020

Charles Devos, a French lifeboatman who was one of the first people to arrive at the scene of Wednesday’s tragedy, said: “It was a bit like the film Titanic when you saw all these people plunged into the water, drowning, with no means of being able to be rescued.”

Before the crossing attempt, the migrants had been living in camps, on the street, near a canal and sleeping in Calais train station, according to La Voix du Nord newspaper.

A group of Afghan teenagers in a French migrant camp revealed that they feared five of their friends were among those who died in the tragedy.

Hassan, 30, said a group of his friends decided to cross the Channel on Wednesday and that he had not heard from them since.

Meanwhile, it emerged that smugglers shot a scared migrant in the kneecaps after he refused to board a boat on the same night as the tragedy.

However, French authorities backtracked on claims to have arrested the smugglers behind the disaster.

Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, had said that four suspected traffickers accused of being directly linked to the doomed crossing had been arrested. On Wednesday morning, he said that a fifth man suspected of buying inflatable boats for the crossing had been detained.

However, the Lille prosecutor’s office has all but ruled out any link between those arrested and the dead migrants.

In a message seen by The Telegraph, it said that there was “no objective link” with its investigation into people trafficking by a criminal gang and manslaughter related to the deaths.

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