SOLOMON, Iraq – As a boat surrounded by migrants was traveling halfway across the English Channel, one of the passengers spotted two orange life jackets in the water.
The seas were fierce and as they approached, Zana saw that Hamawandani had dead bodies in his vests.
Soon other bodies began to appear. As he watched Mr. Hamavandan, the current pushed one of them under his inflatable boat, where it collided with the rotating blades of an external engine.
“He reappeared, but I saw him swimming for a few seconds before the waves took over,” he said. He remembered that it was the body of a man wearing wide pants.
Another immigrant, Karzan Manguri, said the corpses terrified him so much that he tried to look the other way. “Our boat was surrounded by dead bodies,” Mr Manguri said. “At that moment, my whole body trembled.”
Their account, in a telephone interview from an immigration office in the UK, is the first time they have spoken to the media and is one of the only witness descriptions of the last minutes of the disaster. At least 27 people are estimated to have died, the largest loss in the canal since the International Organization for Migration began collecting data in 2014.
Along with the stories of relatives of some of the victims, their descriptions tell of angry and pointless calls for hours asking for help from French and British officials as the migrants ’boat sank. At one point, Mr. Manguri said he called 10 times to a number given to him by French police to report his whereabouts and no one answered.
His description of the phone calls is the first public account of a drowning report by an immigrant who spoke directly to British and French police.
Minutes after seeing the bodies, Mr. Hamavandani and Mr. Manguri said they saw a submerged, submerged boat, and at least two people clung to it. November 24.
“They shouted, we heard them screaming for help,” said Mr Hamavandani, a 21-year-old Iraqi Kurd.
Eventually, the British Coast Guard rescued Mr. Hamavandani’s ship and rescued two survivors from a French fishing boat that sank.
As we report from the many towns and settlements in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, I and my colleagues first heard about Mr. Hamavandani from his family. the boat crossed the canal and then broke the connection.
Mr. Hamawandani eventually connected us with Mr. Manguri, who spoke to us on the same phone. The location detection app showed that they were at an facility where local immigration activists confirmed they had been used to house migrants in Crowley, southern England.
The disaster has added a new sense of urgency to European countries ’efforts to better control high-risk canal crossings. Activists also point to the controversial, ineffective collaboration between Britain and France over deaths involving children, which has failed to improve immigration rescue protocols.
Mr. Hamavandani and Mr. Manguri set out early in the morning on November 24 with 23 others. After being in the water for more than 10 hours, they noticed that their boat’s engine had stopped running and had run out of fuel. bodies.
Mr Manguri said their boat was in French waters when they saw two people clinging to the boat, which was air-conditioned. He started calling 112, a French emergency number. “I told them the boat was broken and people were dead. Please help them and help us, ”he said.
He said French police asked him to send his address, but he could not send it to a three-digit number. He was given another number to try, but he said he missed 10 times. Eventually he was able to get a number to send the address via WhatsApp.
“I called 10 times! Please answer me, ”he recalled. “‘Please help me!'”
He said the French coast guard did not arrive an hour later. At about 12:30 he reached the British police and they told him that they had warned the French.
About 40 minutes after their boat engine stopped, Mr Manguri said they saw a helicopter circling and British coast guard vessels approaching the bodies.
His account raises new questions about the response of French and British rescue teams. Many relatives of the victims have accused the two states of evading responsibility, saying the boat was in each other’s waters and did not respond to emergency calls.
A British Coast Guard statement said it had launched a search-and-rescue operation that included a border patrol boat and a helicopter in response to emergency calls early in the morning on 24 November. It was not immediately clear which emergency calls were received.
“Three small boats were found and those on board were rescued,” a spokesman said. “No other small boats or people in the water were found in the search area.”
In the north of France, both the judiciary and local authorities declined to comment on whether they had received calls from an immigrant boat or Mr Manguri, saying they could not discuss the ongoing case. A spokesman for the Maritime Administration in northern France said only fishermen had reported them on a migrant boat and that they had drowned in the canal.
The only two survivors of the drowning were Iraqi Kurds and Somalis, who were migrants who saw Mr Manguri’s boat.
They told the Iraqi Kurds’ Rudaw television network that water was leaking and air was leaking as their inflatable boat was fetching water.
A Somali immigrant known as Muhammad Isa Omar by Rudaw said that when the boat began to sink, they sadly called the French and British police.
Most of the calls said to Britain, “Help.” Help us. ‘ They said, “Send us the address.” We didn’t have a chance, ”he told the network. He said the boat, which was flowing at the time, capsized and threw everyone in it into the water along with their phones.
Another survivor, Rudav Muhammad Shekha Ahmad, an Iranian Kurd living in Iraq, described the migrants holding hands in cold water, saying they had lost the strength to hold each other and were taken away.
Mr Hamavandani and Mr Manguri said they were pursued for failing to help the two survivors who were holding the sunken boat.
“Some of us said, ‘Let’s help them,’ but most of them were scared because they saw the dead at sea, and they thought it would be the same with us,” Mr Hamavandani said. .
Most of the victims were Iraqis from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, and the drowning sent waves of grief and anger to Kurdish towns and villages.
Although more than two weeks have passed since the sinking, none of the families have been officially notified of the fate of their loved ones.
In the beautiful mountain town of Hajiava, Nazdar Sharif’s son Tvana passed between a desperate hope that Mamand was alive and a renunciation that he was among the victims.
Twana has tried six times in the past two months to cross the canal to Britain, where her sister has lived for years, said her brother Zana Mamand. Each time he was captured by French authorities and sent back.
On his seventh attempt, Twana set out with his cousin. He sent his brother a live address showing them around the middle of the channel, Zana Mamand said.
He told her through an speaker that they would be in British waters in an hour. Mr. Mamand could hear the voices of the passengers on the other side of the line.
“Everyone was happy and laughed,” Zana Mamand said.
An hour later, unable to contact his brother, he called his sister and brother-in-law in London. His brother-in-law, Abdullah, who asked to reveal only his last name because of his confidentiality, said he spoke to a relative who was traveling with Twana at 1:00 a.m. and called the police.
Two hours later, he said, a relative told them that other people on the boat had called French and British police, but that they were in each other’s waters.
It was then that he was able to approach her for the last time.
At the Mamand family home near Ranya, where hundreds of young men have left for Britain in the past few months, Twana’s mother came out of the back room in a state of despair, wearing blue plastic beads to prevent damage.
“I tell myself he’s coming back,” Ms. Sharif, 49, said, leaning on her other son. “I need an answer soon, whether he is dead or alive. I want my son. “
Barzan Jabar Sulaymaniyah and Hajiava, Iraq and Permanent Méheut From Paris.