Channel boat survivor claims pleas for help were ignored before people ‘started falling into the water’

‘The people just stopped holding hands and they all went into the water. They died’

Tom Batchelor
Monday 29 November 2021 10:53
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Related video: Migrant boats on shores of Dover after Channel crossing deaths

One of only two known survivors of last week’s Channel boat sinking that left at least 27 people dead has accused British and French authorities of failing to come to the group’s rescue despite appeals for help.

Mohammed Shekha, from northern Iraq, described how people on board the overcrowded, inflatable dinghy “started falling into the water” after the boat started to deflate and stopped moving.

Among the dead after Wednesday's tragedy are said to be a pregnant woman, children and a 24-year-old Kurdish woman trying to reunite with her fiance in the UK.

The sinking of the boat en route to Britain was the deadliest incident on record for the treacherous crossing.

In an interview with Kurdish state broadcaster Rudaw, 21-year-old Mr Shekha was reported to have said: “We started moving after half an hour. Everything was perfect until early in the morning. It was still dark and water was coming into the small boat from the back. So a group of us tried to empty the water from the boat. That’s when we saw a big ship.

“Some of us said, ‘let’s go to the ship’ and the others rejected it and said ‘no, we have to reach Britain’. Then the ship disappeared and the right side of the boat was losing air.”

Mr Shekha, who said he had been attempting to reach the UK to raise around £45,000 to pay for an operation for his younger sister, alleged that pleas for assistance from those on the boat were dismissed by rescue agencies.

“We then called French police and they told us to send a live location,” he is reported to have told Rudaw.

“So we sent them the location, but they said ‘you are in British territory, we cannot do anything’. We then called the British, but they said ‘no, call the French’.”

He continued: “That’s when people started falling into the water. So to rescue them we were all holding each other’s hands, all of us, the 33. This continued for a few hours until it became day.

“The sun was out, but we couldn’t hold on any longer. The people just stopped holding hands and they all went into the water. They died.”

The Home Office declined to comment on the allegation when approached by The Independent. The UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency has also been contacted for comment.

Mr Shekha’s interview accusing both sides of failing to work together to help those stranded in the Channel came as Boris Johnson was told to “take responsibility” for the crisis by France's interior minister.

Gerald Darmanin said the British prime minister had acted in a “peculiar” fashion by opting to post on Twitter a letter to French president Emmanuel Macron outlining his proposed solutions to the small boat crossings.

After talks on Sunday, it was agreed that a plane, operated by European Union border agency Frontex, will monitor the shores of the Channel for people crossing from 1 December.

Migration officials also pledged to work together more closely against people-smuggling networks and the trade in inflatable boats.

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