Dozens more Iraqi Kurds drown as bodies of 16 killed in Channel boat disaster are repatriated

Kurdish journalist, Ranj Pishdari, opened a Facebook live on the night of December 21 to break the news that a migrant boat needed urgent help near Thira island in Greece. While doing so, he receives a phone call from one of the migrants, asking him to send them help.

“Please help us. I swear we are three centimeters away from drowning. Our boat is full of water, we are on the boat. We don’t see anyone. Please come to us so my mother doesn’t lose a child. We are 60 to 70 people, and have children with us. Please send a helicopter. We are drowning,” the migrant can be heard saying.

Pishdari talks to the Emergency Communications Service, 112, on speaker through one of the migrants phones, explaining their situation in English more than once when suddenly loud screams and crying is heard and the phone call cuts off. “They’re in the water, I think the yacht sank.”

Pishdari tries the number the migrants called him with, but it is not working anymore.


A heart-wrenching message

Farman Ali from Sulaymaniyah province’s Hajiawa sub-district was waiting to hear of his brother’s arrival to Italy, but the news the family received was nothing but a heart-wrenching voice message from them.

“Zulfan, tell my family I am in Greece and our yacht is sinking, four of us have made it. My Sevda and Baran died.” This was the voice message Farman’s brother, Fryad, sent to his sister-in-law on December 22.

Fryad, his wife and two children – seven-year-old Sevda and 3-year-old Baran – were among passengers on a boat that is believed to have drowned on the night of December 21.

Although as many as 70 people are reported to be on that boat whose whereabouts and information remain unknown, 12 people are believed to have survived it – seven of them Kurds.

Farman Ali told local journalists that the only information they had was the voice message that was sent to them. “He sent through a nurse’s phone on Facebook in Santorini’s general hospital.”

“In the beginning, they contacted the Greek police … but they arrived there late. They were on those waters for four to five hours before the police went to them,” Farman said.

Fryad’s family left the Kurdistan Region on November 15, hoping to reach Europe.

“My brother had a job, a house, had a car, he wanted to provide a nicer and more worthy life for him and his children. Although I don’t think Europe has that kind of life, I was in Britain for 10 years and I explained to him a lot that Europe doesn’t have that kind of life, but he didn’t listen and said it’s nice there,” Farman said.

The family first went to Turkey on December 12, after staying there for over a week, they took a boat from Marmaris to Italy. In a video taken by the migrants, they say they have no problem with the boat. “This is a yacht, everyone’s sitting comfortably and it has five rooms,” they can be heard saying.

About 24 hours later, the tragedy unfolds. “The next evening there was a problem with the yacht’s engine, the weather was bad, the yacht had a hole in it and was leaking. We contacted the police, but nobody came. Those of us who survived was because of a dinghy that the yacht driver had,” Farman quoted his brother’s wife as saying, who had talked to her parents.

Before they took the boat from Marmaris, Farman spoke to his brother and their smuggler who is Farman’s acquaintance from Ranya. “When they got on the boat, the smuggler told me: they are 53 Kurds, in addition to Arabs,” Farman said.

The Summit (Lutka) foundation for refugee affairs says one of their representatives in Greece has confirmed with the relevant authorities and the Iraqi embassy that “12 migrants have been rescued, seven of them Iraqis and are currently in Greece’s Santorini island hospital.”

“One body has been found and dozens of others are missing,” Lutka added.


A hopeful phone call

Ranj Pishdari on another Facebook live on Wednesday said Greece not publishing any news about the incident means that “Greece has rescued the migrants, they are hiding them and want to secretly send them back to Turkish waters. It will be completely cleared out in a few days.”

Although there is no official news about these migrants, someone who contacted Pishdari on his Wednesday live said the migrants have been rescued.

“One of my friends was on that yacht, he called me a while ago crying, all he said was ‘I am secretly talking to you, they have confiscated our phones and belongings. We have been arrested, 70 of us fell in the water but helicopters urgently came and the Greek police rescued us, and we have no problems. We’re safe. We are waiting to send us back to Turkey,’” he said.

The British Guardian news sourcing Greek authorities, said “Greek authorities have said dozens of refugees are believed dead after a boat carrying as many as 50 people, according to one witness, sank off the island of Folegandros, in the second major loss of life in the Mediterranean within days.”

A rescue operation was launched on Tuesday. “Efforts will continue but in waters that are very cold and very deep the chances of finding anyone [alive] are decreasing by the hour,” Nikos Kokkalas, coastguard spokesperson was quoted as saying. “Our fear is that most simply didn’t manage to get off the boat and would have sunk with it to the bottom of the ocean.”

Tens of thousands of Kurds have migrated this year. More than 633,000 people have crossed into European countries through different routes in the past seven years. This year alone more than 40,000 have migrated, and about 4,000 have used the route through Belarus to reach European countries, according to statistics from Lutka.



Bodies repatriated to Iraqi Kurdistan

In another tragedy in November, described as the “worst disaster on record” of the English Channel, a boat carrying 33 migrants – most of them Kurds, drowned in which only two people survived.

The bodies of 16 people killed when their boat sank in the Channel while trying to reach England were repatriated early Sunday to Iraqi Kurdistan where their families were awaiting them.

The plane carrying them arrived around 2:00 am at Arbil, capital of the autonomous region in northern Iraq.

The remains were transferred to ambulances to transport them to their hometowns of Darbandikhan, Ranya, Soran, and Qadrawa.

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