Smugglers shot a scared migrant in the kneecaps after he refused to board a boat on the same night 27 people died trying to cross the English Channel.
Volunteers in the Calais jungle migrant camp rushed to the aid of a 20-year-old man who was “quickly losing a lot of blood” after a smuggler became frustrated at his refusal to board the vessel and drew a gun on him.
The smuggler felt he had “lost out on easy money,” volunteers said, as the gangs are believed to only receive the full fee for transporting migrants once they have arrived in the UK. The assailant is on the run, according to French media reports.
After attending to the man, who was taken to hospital by French medics, volunteers returned to the camp to the news that 27 people – including women and children – had drowned crossing the Channel.
On Thursday night, the first pictures emerged of the crumpled inflatable boat that was involved in the failed crossing.
The remains of the dinghy that capsized in the Channel on Wednesday, killing 27 people
‘It was traumatic and inexplicable’
One of the first responders on the scene described the “traumatic” moment he had to pull numerous dead bodies from the sea, including that of a pregnant woman.
“I can’t remember such a tragedy. It’s inexplicable,” Charles Devos, a lifeboat volunteer in Calais, told Sky News.
“It’s very, very shocking. 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.”
Many of the migrants who lost their lives are believed to be Kurds from the Peshdar region in Sulaimani province in northern Iraq, alongside Iranians and Afghans.
Before attempting their doomed crossing, they had been living in camps, on the street, near a canal and sleeping in Calais train station, according to La Voix du Nord newspaper.
Migrant women with their belongings at a makeshift camp near Calais on Thursday
Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region, an autonomous area in Iraq, 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.
Frantic search for loved ones
Thousands of people, particularly from younger generations, have left Iraq and the Kurdistan Region this year in search of a better life in Europe as unemployment, political corruption and poor economic opportunities have become an increasing problem at home.
Since the summer, many have travelled to Belarus with the hope of reaching western Europe.
On Thursday night, friends and relatives in Europe and the Middle East were frantically searching for their loved ones who were planning on taking the perilous journey over the English channel this week.
Many have been left in the limbo of not knowing whether their relatives were on the boat which capsized, or if they have reached the UK safely but have been unable to call home, which can take up to several days while they are processed by Border Force officials.
A relative of one family who have not been heard from since the accident said they were frantically trying to make contact with them.
The relative, who was not identified, told Kurdish broadcaster NRT: “We came to this hospital to hear something good about my uncle’s family. They left France two days ago, and we haven’t heard from them since then. All our families in Kurdistan are worried, that is why I came by myself.
“The last time we heard from him [the uncle] was … the night they got into the boat. He was not alone, with two sons and two daughters, one of the daughters is small.”
They added that they had tried to get more details from the hospital but “they didn’t say much” and suggested coming back on Friday morning.
A group of Afghan teenagers in a French migrant camp told of their fear that five of their friends were among those who drowned.
Hassan, 30, an Afghan who worked as a translator at a school in Kabul before beginning his journey to Northern France, said a group of his friends decided to make the trip across the channel on Wednesday and he had not heard from them since.
The young migrants, who refer to the trip from their home country to the UK as “the game”, even made a Tik Tok video of them trying on life vests they had purchased earlier this week.
“They were alone here, they did not have family with them,” said Hassan. “They were trying to tempt me to go saying they had found a way to get across that was a bit cheaper.”
2021 has seen a spike in Channel migrant crossings
Mr Devos recalled the moment he first heard the mayday call reporting that there were numerous bodies floating in the water, demanding “all ships in this area” shortly after lunchtime on Wednesday.
“I saw the blow-up boat had really deflated,” he said. “Was it a valve that came loose or did it hit an object? You never know but I don’t think it was a collision.
“I think it happened due to overloading. Don’t forget, you think the sea is calm. The sea isn’t calm because it’s nearly always choppy.”
He added: “It’s not the first time I’ve boarded this type of boat. It’s really light boats that are overwhelmed. The tragedy came about because the boat was overwhelmed. Boats that transport 20 people, we find them with around 50 people on them.”
How the dinghies migrants use to cross the Channel compare
‘It’s a waiting game for everyone right now’
Two of the migrants onboard the vessel survived and were taken to hospital with hypothermia. They were named on social media on Thursday night as Mohammed Khalid, from Kurdistan, and Omer, from Somali.
The victims were believed to have been staying at a migrant camp 30 minutes outside of Calais.
On Thursday, hundreds of migrants living at the camp stood outside in the frigid temperatures clutching their mobile phones as they tried to get a hold of friends who had left for the UK on Wednesday.
Several people told The Telegraph they were concerned because they hadn’t been able to reach their relatives and feared they could be among the victims. Others said they hoped the reason they couldn’t get a hold of a loved one was because they had thrown out their phones once they reached the UK and still hadn’t replaced them with new ones.
“It’s a waiting game for everyone right now,” said Rebaz Dpalk, a 27-year-old Kurdish man volunteering with migrants in the Calais region.
“We’ll know the full situation in a few hours … normally it takes about 24 hours for migrants to get a British SIM card once they reach the UK…we’ll know more about who the victims were based on who we hear from by the end of the day.”
Others said Wednesday’s tragedy had made them reflect on their own plans to try and cross into the UK.
“I’m not sure if I want to risk my life anymore,” said Talib, a 27-year-old Kurdish man who only wanted to use his last name.
Talib, who speaks four languages fluently – including English – and has a masters in computer science, said he was instead considering heading back to Germany where his initial asylum application was rejected.
“But if one thing’s for sure it’s that no one can stay in France … the conditions here are unbearable,” he added.