«If I don’t call, it’s because I’ll be in England», Had warned Chakar Ali in his last call with his family. His coffin landed in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday, along with 15 other victims of the appalling shipwreck that occurred at the end of November in the English Channel.
Under the pale light of a terminal at Erbil airport, dozens of men, women all dressed in black and children waited hours to retrieve the remains of a loved one.
The bodies finally arrived before dawn in the capital of the autonomous region of northern Iraq, more than a month after the sinking. On November 24, at least 27 people perished in the English Channel, crisscrossed daily by migrants trying to reach the English coasts aboard fragile boats.
Among the crowd in Erbil, some hug each other. Women lament and give free rein to their tears. Another came with family photos that she is showing off.
Sitting, clutching his cane to his chest, an old man with a white beard shows on his cell a photo of his son Afrasia, only 24 years old.
The simple wooden coffins were placed in ambulances which transport the remains to their city of origin: Darbandikhan, Ranya, but also Soran or Qadrawa.
Her forehead resting against a window pane, a woman is sobbing. Sitting in one of the vehicles, two teenagers are equally moved. One of them has his face resting against the wood of the coffin for a final farewell.
« He failed »
About a hundred kilometers away, in a mosque in the center of Ranya, several hundred people salute the memory of the three victims of the tragedy identified in the city.
The bodies are washed according to the Muslim tradition. The crowd is such that the large prayer hall is opened. In the thick silence, the faithful whisper their funeral prayer.
Among the victims, Chakar Ali, 30, left the house for two months. Turkey, Greece, then Italy. His Mediterranean journey ends in France. « He attempted the crossing to Great Britain seven times with friends», Confides the elder brother Chamal, who gives laconic answers. « Each time he failed.»
For three years, Chakar, a graduate in petroleum geology, had been looking for a job. « He was unemployed until he left», Continues the big brother teacher. He criticizes the lack of jobs and the policies of the authorities in Kurdistan. « Because of this, hundreds of families have lost a child.»
In the cemetery of Ranya, the men of the family carry on their shoulders the bodies wrapped in a shroud. The compact crowd congregates around the grave where the remains have been lowered.
The youngest, Ramyar, remembers the last conversation with his brother. « They told us » we started the crossing. If we call you it’s because the coast guards arrested us »», Says the young man of 20 years. « If I don’t call, I will have arrived in EnglandHe continues.
« Bride of the sea »
Originally scheduled for Friday, the repatriation of the 16 Iraqi victims has been postponed twice. Of the bodies found after the sinking, 26 were identified in France: 17 men and seven women aged 19 to 46, a 16-year-old teenager and a 7-year-old child. Among the victims: a Kurd from Iran, three Ethiopians, a Somali, four Afghans, an Egyptian, 16 Iraqis. Two survivors: an Iraqi Kurd and a Sudanese.
Questions arise about the calls that migrants would have made to the French and English authorities when their makeshift boat began to sink, according to the testimony of a survivor. The Manche maritime prefecture had ruled out that the appeal of migrants in difficulty was not dealt with.
At Erbil airport, the family of young Baran hung on the back of the ambulance which brought her back to Soran a banner with the smiling portrait of the young woman, accompanied by the words « The bride of the sea».
Maryam Nuri, in her twenties, “Baran»For the close friends, was the first victim of Kurdistan to be identified. She wanted to join her fiance in the UK for « a better life“, His father told AFP after the tragedy.
This week alone, three shipwrecks took place off the Greek islands, killing at least 30 people. Among the survivors, Syrians and Egyptians, but also Iraqis.