Two asylum seekers who were in the same boat as an Iranian Kurdish family who drowned trying to cross the English Channel have spoken of their frantic attempts to save the family’s lives after the ship capsized.
Rasul Iran Nezhad, his wife, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, both 35, and their children: Anita, nine, Armin, six, and 15-month-old Artin, were among the 22 people who boarded the ship, a rigid polyester structure of about 20 feet long. , in October.
Two of the survivors, Amir, 25, and Ali, 33, boarded another boat after the tragedy and made it safely to the UK, where they applied for asylum.
Amir said: “We were trying to break the glass to free the family that was trapped. We were trying to turn the boat back. People tried to go to both ends of the boat to balance it. But it was filling up with water and it turned over again. “
“We knew the family and many of the others on the boat,” Ali said. “Only one person on the boat was a non-Kurdish Iranian who spoke Farsi. The rest of us were all Kurds and we all came from the same Kurdish city of Sardasht in Iran. “
Both men are deeply traumatized by their experience. They said they were part of a group of eight friends, who lived together in the same part of the refugee camp in Calais, and boarded the ship together. Two men from that group are still missing.
Baby Artin’s body has not been recovered but is presumed dead. The other four members of the family were buried in Sardasht.
Ali said: “Eight of us in our group left together from the jungle [refugee camp] with the smugglers, but after this tragedy only six of us returned ”.
Amir explained that the smugglers had promised them passage to the UK by truck, a safer but more expensive option. But when the smugglers gathered them for the trip, they took them to the seashore and forced them into the boat.
“If a jungle smuggler tells you to do something and you don’t do it, they will kill you and no one will know. We were afraid and did not want to get on the boat. The smugglers carry guns and knives and they forced us inside. One of the smugglers said: “We have spent money on this ship. Going back is not an option. You have to go in. ‘
Texts found on Panahi’s phone sent a few days before her death and her family also expressed a preference for traveling by truck but said the family did not have the money to do this. “If we want to go with a truck, we may need more money than we don’t have,” the text said.
Amir said the family was in a part of the boat covered with a glass roof, which formed a cabin area. His location on the ship may have contributed to his death.
“On the shore, the weather didn’t seem so bad,” Amir said. “But when we went out to sea it was very bad.”
The ship reportedly capsized about 2 km off the French coast with winds of up to 57 mph and waves of 5 feet. When the ship capsized, a search and rescue operation was mounted involving four French ships, a Belgian helicopter and a French fishing boat.
Some people who were rescued were taken to the hospital hypothermic after being in freezing conditions and there were reports that two people suffered cardiac arrests.
“They didn’t take us to the hospital. Fortunately we are both good swimmers. We went back to the jungle, ”Ali said. “I was very traumatized and needed to see a psychologist, but there was no one like that in the jungle to talk to.”
The two men did not want to get back into a boat after the tragedy. The smugglers told them they would be trucked in for their second attempt to reach the UK. But they were tricked a second time and once again forced into a boat.
Ali said: “I was so terrified to go on a boat, but again the smugglers forced us. The trip lasted seven to eight hours and my legs did not stop shaking during the whole trip ”.
Both men had been involved in a Kurdish political organization in Iran that campaigned for the freedom and human rights of the Kurds, a persecuted minority in Iran and other countries in the region.
“We had no choice but to flee,” Amir said. “If the Iranian authorities had caught us, it would have been jail and the death penalty. People criticize us for coming to the UK but they don’t understand that we don’t choose the country we come to and that we don’t choose the route. Smugglers do that. The last thing my family said to the traffickers before I left Iran was ‘just take him to safety.’
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