Bride-to-be who was forced on to doomed boat at gunpoint: First victim of Channel tragedy is confirmed as a student, 24, from Iraq who was learning English and hoped to join her fiance
Ruthless smugglers threatened to shoot migrants – including a bride-to-be – unless they boarded the overcrowded dinghy that went down in the Channel this week, friends said yesterday.
Up to 50 people were supposed to board two boats ahead of the fatal voyage – but one vessel suffered engine trouble, those stuck in camps in France claimed.
Rather than curtail the trip that would have netted them tens of thousands of pounds, the gun-toting gang corralled the migrants into one boat, it was said.
The chilling details emerged as more were named among those feared drowned in Wednesday’s tragedy off the coast of Calais.
The first confirmed dead was 24-year-old student Mariam Nouri Dargalayi, who was recently engaged and was trying to reach her fiance in Britain.
Smugglers threatened to shoot migrants, including bride-to-be Mariam Nouri Dargalayi (pictured with fiance), unless they boarded the doomed dinghy that went down in Channel
Known to her family as Baran, she travelled from northern Iraq via Germany to the French coast.
Fiance Karzan Asad, who is said to have British citizenship and is now working as a barber in Bournemouth, said: ‘I am in a very bad state. It is very sad for me, and for everyone.
‘I had continuous contact with my wife and I was tracking her live with GPS. After four hours and 18 minutes, from the moment she went into that boat, I think they were in the middle of the sea, then I lost her.
‘She was a happy person. Someone went to see her body in France, so I know it’s her.’
Last night a cousin in Iraq, Krmanj Ezzat, said: ‘Her mother and father are totally devastated. The situation is just awful. She was a woman in the prime of her life. It’s a total tragedy and the whole family are in shock.
‘I understand why so many people are leaving for a better life, but this is not the correct path. It’s the route of death. Please don’t take this route, it’s not worth it.
‘Baran chose a very difficult way to come to Britain and you see what happened to her. Karzan was waiting for her in England. She was learning English, she was very smart.’
Mr Ezzat fears four more family members were also on the boat.
Shakar Ali, 25, (left) and Harem Pirot, 23, (right) who grew up as neighbours in Iraq and set off together to find a new life in the UK are believed to have been on board the dinghy
Yesterday, the family of Deniz Ahmed Mohammed, a 27-year-old Kurd, said he left them a final voicemail saying: ‘Just pray for us.’
Childhood friends Harem Pirot and Shakar Ali, from the town of Ranya, northern Iraq, were also among the feared victims.
Their friend Sanger Ahmed said: ‘I spoke to them on the phone on the morning they went. They were saying it was only a tiny boat and people smugglers might shoot people if they tried to back out.
‘They suspected the boat was overcrowded with around 50 people on it. I think they could have been forced on the boat.
‘People smugglers are armed and don’t care if the boat is overloaded or if the weather is bad. We have all heard the stories about people being threatened with a gun unless they get on.’
In the squalid camp near Dunkirk, where the doomed migrants waited for a chance to attempt the crossing, numerous sources have made shocking claims to the Daily Mail about what happened on Wednesday lunchtime.
Two boats had been set to leave from the Loon-Plage beach, just outside Dunkirk. Sources described how one of the boats had suffered engine problems, yet the greedy smugglers did not want to miss out on their cash windfall.
‘The smugglers told the migrants that the remaining boat was completely new and so it would be strong enough to carry all of them,’ said one source inside the camp.
Another migrant said: ‘It is all about money for them. There are too many people who have too much to lose.’
The overcrowded dinghy, around 30ft long, was so flimsy it was likened to a children’s paddling pool, and appears to have simply crumpled after either taking on water or colliding with a ship.
The Mail told yesterday how migrant Mohammed Aziz, 31, made a frantic phone call to his friend Peshraw Aziz and said: ‘It’s not good, the engine isn’t powerful enough – I don’t know if we’re going to make it.’
Multiple sources in the camp have claimed the boat could have had as many as 50 people on board, and the French authorities are braced for the death toll – currently at 27 – to rise.
Friend of Shakar and Harem Sanger Ahmed also told of his fears for two other Iraqi Kurds – Hassan, in his late twenties, and Twana Muhammad (pictured), 18, a student
The family of 27-year-old Deniz Ahmed Mohammed (left) said he left them a final voicemail saying ‘just pray for us’, while Riaz Mohammed, 12, (right) is also feared to be among dead
Speaking of his friends, Sanger said he has known Harem, thought to be 23, and Shakar, a 27-year-old geology graduate, all his life and they were all neighbours in Ranya, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Sanger said he travelled with Harem and Shakar to Turkey.
His friends made their way to France via Italy while he decided to come via Belarus, and the trio arranged to meet up in France.
Sanger also told of his fears for two other Iraqi Kurds – Hassan, in his late twenties, and Twana Muhammad, 18, a student.
He also believes an Iranian called Sirwan, aged around 25, and a man called Hever, in his 20s and from Ranya, may have died.
The youngest victim is feared to be Riaz Mohammed, 12, who was pictured wearing a life jacket.
Sanger added: ‘I’m not sure if I will get a boat now – if there’s a chance on a lorry I might not take that risk.’
Migrants in the camp told the Mail police controls are so lax that traffickers brazenly launch their human cargo in broad daylight in full view of security officers.
Karl Maquinghen, a French skipper who has been at sea for 21 years, sounded the alarm on Wednesday afternoon when he found bodies floating in the water.
‘Seeing so many dead people right next to us, it was like a horror film,’ he said yesterday.
‘You can’t sleep – as soon as you close your eyes, you see bodies again.
‘We were petrified to even pull up the nets for fear there was one inside. If we had arrived five minutes earlier, we might have been able to save them.’
A relative of Deniz said his family in Ranya feared the worst.
‘He was suffering poverty then spent everything he collected to go to the UK, and this is what happened,’ nephew Darya said.
‘My grandfather hasn’t even eaten until now. It is like a funeral for them.’
A final voicemail from Deniz said: ‘Now we are on the water, Inshalla [God willing] we will arrive safely. Just pray for us.’
Five people have been arrested in France over the 27 deaths, including one man held overnight driving a German-registered vehicle packed with inflatable ribs, although there is ‘no provable link’ with the sinking, according to prosecutors, despite French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin insisting all were ‘directly linked’ to the drownings.
Police search Wimereux beaches near Bolougne from this morning days after 27 migrants died heading to the UK as Storm Arwen threatens to take more lives if more people try to cross
A man holds a sign that translates as ‘Save our migrant brothers and sisters’ at a memorial for people who have died while crossing the English Channel
A migrant prays at a makeshift migrant camp in Loon Beach – the day after 27 migrants died crossing the Channel – in Dunkerque near Calais
On the same day as the tragedy, a total of 757 migrants crossed the Channel in 17 boats, while French authorities also prevented 176 people from reaching the UK in eight incidents, according to the Home Office.
A further 62 migrants successfully made the dangerous journey in two boats on Thursday and French authorities stopped 30 people from making the crossing in two incidents.
The latest confirmed figures mean 6,869 migrants have arrived in 201 boats so far in November and 26,591 have made the treacherous trip in 2021 – compared to 8,410 in 2020 and just 1,850 in 2019.
It comes as Storm Arwen began to tear through the Channel today raising fears more migrants will die if they try to cross from France to Britain as MPs demanded Emmanuel Macron swamps beaches with police to prevent any boats setting off in the high winds.
The PM’s five-point plan that has infuriated the French
1. Border Force officials to help patrol French beaches and nearby roads. UK could fund private security if French reject this over concerns about sovereignty
2. Allow the UK to return migrants who cross the Channel directly to France and ‘break the business model of criminal gangs’
3. Border Force cutters to help patrol French coastal waters. French Navy could enter UK waters on joint missions
4. UK could fund the deployment of ground sensors and radar in northern France to help detect suspicious activity on remote beaches. PM also offered to ‘deepen’ intelligence-sharing on the operations of smuggling gangs
5. PM also offered to share intelligence from British surveillance flights over the Channel to help French forces intercept smuggling operations more quickly
Gusts of up to 75mph in the Channel and big waves are expected along Britain’s coast as the first named storm of the season brings gales, rain and snow through today and tomorrow.
As the winds picked up through the day, it appears people traffickers put off sending out boats.
Kent MP Craig Mackinlay said that with Storm Arwen set to blast 75mph winds towards France, Macron must ensure that nobody crosses today to avoid more deaths in the Channel. But despite the warning only small groups of police were seen on patrol near Calais.
He told MailOnline: ‘The French should be putting maximum on the ground resources across the 20 miles of high risk beaches north and south of Calais. Bad weather will push the traffickers to use the shortest possible route’.
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said: ‘Conditions on the English Channel look set to become even more treacherous in the coming days.
‘It’s urgent that France works with the UK and EU allies to stop more lives being lost. No-one should be making this kind of journey across a stormy sea. The French authorities should appeal for people to heed the weather forecast and stay where they are.’
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron went into meltdown at Boris Johnson today branding the PM ‘not serious’ for sending a public letter with demands for ending migrant tragedies in the Channel.
Mr Macron could not contain his anger when asked about the developments. ‘I’m surprised when things are not done seriously,’ he seethed. ‘We don’t communicate between leaders via tweets or published letters, we are not whistle-blowers.’
The Prime Minister, 57, announced yesterday that he had called on the French President, 43, to agree to take back migrants who cross the Channel, arguing that the incentive for people to ‘put their lives’ in the hands of people traffickers would be reduced if they knew they would be sent back.
The Elysee Palace had already warned Mr Johnson not to ‘exploit’ the disaster that saw dozens of migrants drown off the French coast earlier this week for political gain, but the premier penned a letter overnight with a five-point plan for cooperation.
His urgent five-point plan included measures such as starting joint patrols with France to stop boats leaving French beaches, deploying sensors and radar technology and using airborne surveillance.
Mr Johnson also argued that France should agree to take back migrants who reach Britain, saying it would have a ‘significant’ impact on the migrant crisis and reduce the dangers posed by people traffickers.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron went into meltdown at Boris Johnson (pictured) branding the PM ‘not serious’ for sending a five-point plan with demands for ending migrant tragedies
Since he published the plan, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told counterpart Priti Patel (pictured) this morning that she is no longer welcome at the crisis meeting on Sunday
Setting out his five-point plan, he tweeted: ‘Tonight I have written to President Macron offering to move further and faster to prevent Channel crossings and avoid a repeat of yesterday’s appalling tragedy which claimed the lives of at least 27 people.
‘I pay tribute to the emergency services who have been dealing with this devastating situation.
‘Following our conversation last night I know President Macron recognises, as I do, the urgency of the situation we are both facing.’
‘If those who reach this country were swiftly returned the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced.
‘This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.
‘I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday.’
Since he published the plan, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told counterpart Priti Patel this morning that she is no longer welcome at the crisis meeting on Sunday.
A spokesman for Mr Darmanin, who yesterday accused Britain of ‘bad immigration management’ and enticing migrants with benefits and slack labour rules, said: ‘We consider Boris Johnson’s public letter unacceptable and in opposition with discussions between counterparts.
‘As a consequence, Priti Patel is not invited anymore to the meeting on Sunday.’
Former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who is running for the French presidency in looming elections, also waded into the spat accusing Mr Johnson of being ‘in a state of mind of confrontation on all subjects’.
The summit with other European interior ministers will go ahead without the Home Secretary, whose aides had already travelled to Paris by Eurostar last night.
The decision sparked fury from British MPs. Tory backbencher Jacob Young tweeted: ‘Ridiculous behaviour from the French government seeming to forget that two days ago 27 people died crossing the Channel. Stop the boats – as simple as that.’
Fellow Conservative Nicola Richards said: ‘It’s truly childish behaviour being shown by France, becoming more and more evident they don’t want to stop these boats leaving France. 27 people died a matter of days ago, but they would rather to be petty than help find a solution.’
Wednesday’s tragedy deepened animosity between Britain and France, already at odds over post-Brexit trade rules and fishing rights. Mr Johnson said France was at fault and Mr Darmanin accused Britain of ‘bad immigration management’.