French and British police ignored drowning migrants in Channel, says survivor

·6-min read
A group of migrants camp on railway lines in Dunkirk following the death of 27 people in the Channel on Wednesday  - Jamie Lorriman
A group of migrants camp on railway lines in Dunkirk following the death of 27 people in the Channel on Wednesday - Jamie Lorriman

A survivor of the Channel boat tragedy claimed on Sunday that migrants phoned both French and British police forces but their pleas for help were ignored - leaving them to drown.

Mohammed Ibrahim Zada, who was one of only two survivors, said the migrants had “fought death” for hours, clinging to the wreckage in the dark before succumbing as dawn broke.

Mr Zada told a Kurdish television channel on Sunday that 33 passengers had climbed into the rubber dinghy but it had started taking in water from almost the start of the journey, having departed from the French coast late on Tuesday night.

Bodies were found floating in the Channel, more than 12 hours later, a few miles from the coast in French waters, prompting a French fisherman to send out a mayday signal.

But Mr Zada, 21, who had a miraculous escape after being treated for hypothermia, said: “We called UK police, they didn’t help us. We called the French police and they said: ‘you are in UK territory’.”

In harrowing testimony, he told Rudaw TV after leaving hospital: “There were families and I remember a kid, three or four years old.

“We were holding each other’s hands. We were almost fine until dawn. Then most of them gave up their lives. The whole night nobody died. Until dawn when many of them let go of the remaining bit of the boat and gave up their lives.”

Smugglers threaten to kill Mr Zada

Mr Zada, a labourer, said he was trying to reach Britain so he could earn enough money to send it home for treatment for his sick sister.

He said his life was now in danger because of the evidence he can now give to police. “The smugglers are threatening me,” he said, telling him: “We will kill you, if we catch you.”

When the boat had first started leaking water, the migrants had seen a big ship pass but decided not to flag it down in the dark, still hopeful they could reach the UK.

Mr Zada, who is from a Kurdish region of Iran, wept as he identified on television a photograph of a family, who he confirmed had been on the boat with him.

The Rzgar family, from an autonomous Kuridsh region of Iraq, had given interviews only a week before the tragedy in which they spoke of their dream of starting a new life in Britain.

The youngest member of the family Hasta Rzgar was just seven years old.

Desperate to study at a British school

In an interview at a makeshift migrant camp in Dunkirk, her brother Mubin Rzgar, 16, said he was desperate to study in a British school.

Another sister Hadya, 22, was also on the boat and believed to have perished along with their mother Kazhal Hama Salih.

The siblings’ father is a policeman in their native Kurdistan, an autonomous region within Iraq, and decided not to accompany them on the journey because of his work.

The Telegraph has seen messages linking the mother and older children to an alleged people trafficker, who is accused of arranging the crossing and has since fled to Italy in the past few days.

The messages show that the family were members of a social networking group that had discussed payments of £2,500 for each member of the family to be smuggled to Britain on an inflatable dinghy.

There were 10 people in total - all of them Kuridsh - in the What’sApp group, who are all now feared dead.

Other members of the group were Twana Mamand Mohammed and his friend Harem Pirot, 25, both from Ranya also in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Twenty-seven people are confirmed dead when the dinghy sank in the Channel on Wednesday, with a further four thought to be still missing.

On November 17, the Rzgar family was interviewed in a field where they had set up a tent a day after being evicted from another makeshift camp at Grande-Synthe in Dunkirk that had been home to 1,500 migrants.

The family was photographed scavenging for blankets and cooking pots and utensils.

Mubin had disclosed how they had relatives in Birmingham and were trying to reach the UK for a better life. “We are staying here because we want to come to England,” Mubin told a reporter with MailOnline. “We think England is so nice. You can get a job, go to school and have good weather.

“It is hard living here in the cold and rain with no toilets and no money. But when I get to England, I want to go to school and then get a job as a barber.

“France is good, but my mum doesn’t like France. The language is so hard. English is easier and we have family in Birmingham as well.”

His sister Hadya, who had studied art at university in her homeland, had said: “‘In Iraq we have no money and no life. People are not good. Life is good in England. You have a home and everything is good. When I get there, I want to be an artist or an actor in a film.”

‘All we want is a life’

Their mother, 46, spoke no English but said through a translation made by her son: “We just want to come to your country. All we want is a life.”

The family had arrived in Europe from their home in Darbandikhan via Turkey, taking a boat to Italy and then lorries through France to reach the northern coast.

The children’s father Rezgar said over the weekend that his wife and children had been “unhappy” in Iraq and had wanted him to make the treacherous journey with them but he had to stay at home because of his job as a policeman.

“They insisted to go so I agreed I would join them if they made it, and if they didn’t, they could come back. I never knew it was risky,” he said. The last contact they had was on Tuesday at 10pm.

“They said they were about to get on a boat. After that I didn’t hear from them again,” he said.

French authorities are understood to be still trying to officially identify the 27 corpses pulled from the sea and have said it could take a further week for names to be released.

DNA checks will have to be carried and cross-referenced against family members.

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