THEY dreamed of returning home with tales of a new life in Britain but instead came wrapped in shrouds.
High in the mountains of Kurdistan, mum Khazal Hussein and children Hadiya, 22, Mubin, 16, and seven-year-old Hasty were laid to rest on Boxing Day after perishing in the English Channel.
They were four victims of a perilous human cargo operation that last year claimed 44 lives yet continues to attract the desperate and the brave in their droves.
More than 28,000 made the crossing by small boat last year — treble the number in 2020
Heartbroken husband and dad Rzgar Hussein, 58, told The Sun: “I feel I’m done with life.”
The policeman, who had sold the family home and taken loans to fund the £32,000 cost of their journey, added tearfully: “They didn’t see a future here. Every father wants a good life for their children.
“That’s why I let them go. I sold my house to send them to the UK.”
That dream ended with his loved ones treading water in the freezing Channel, desperately trying to keep their heads above the waves.
Their dinghy deflated, its engine stalled and Khazal clung with her children to its remnants with some 30 other migrants.
As hypothermia and exhaustion set in, Mubin made SOS calls to British and French authorities, struggling to keep his phone above the water.
A confident and articulate teen, I found out a week earlier his English was up to the task.
Meeting amid the squalor of the Grande-Synthe camp near Dunkirk, France, Mubin acted as translator for his family.
Khazal, 46, a smiling and welcoming woman, said through Mubin: “All we want is a life.”
I met them on November 17 as they re-pitched their tent in a marshy field with no running water or sanitation following a police raid.
Wrapped in scarves and wearing woolly hats, they seemed full of hope despite the awful conditions.
They were happy to chat and pose for pictures, Mubin and Hadiya keen to test their English as they rescued a few meagre blankets, pans and food items in an old shopping trolley.
They had left the remote town of Darbandikhan, home to 45,500 people, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, to join relatives in Birmingham.
Journeying by boat from Turkey to Italy, they reached the camp in November.
We are very scared about the boat journey. It is so dangerous on the boats, but we have to go.
Chatty Mubin wanted to be a barber.
He said: “We’re scared about the boat journey. It is so dangerous on the boats but we have to go.”
Big sister Hadiya, 22, an art student, told me she wanted to be an actress, adding: “In Iraq, we have no money. We just want a good life.”
Little Hasty, wearing a pink kitten hat and winter overalls, giggled as she played as if on a camping trip.
I took a snap on my phone as she swung on the ropes of the family’s tent.
Beaming, she was oblivious to the dangers ahead.
Kazhal chivvied the kids along to finish putting up the tent as night fell and the temperature dropped.
After our interview, I went to a nearby supermarket and bought them bread, snacks, chocolate and water.
I shared a joke with Mubin after he said he believed the weather would be better in Britain.
Then he spelt out the family surname in neat biro on the back of my notepad.
Every father wants a good life for their children. That’s why I let them go. I sold my house to send them to the UK.
Saying goodbye, I asked them to contact me after reaching the UK.
Less than a week later, this delightful young family set out for Britain, putting themselves in the hands of the people-smugglers to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
As dusk fell on November 23 they joined around 30 others on a pre-arranged bus for the ten-minute journey to Loon-Plage on the coast between Dunkirk and Calais.
A 33ft dinghy with outboard motor to be used by the group had been concealed by smugglers in the dunes.
At 8pm, Hadiya texted Rzgar in Iraq: “Dad, in five minutes we will leave. Everyone is getting in the boat now. Dad, we’re getting in.”
Smugglers, adept at avoiding patrols, gave them the go-ahead at 10pm.
The dinghy, designed to hold no more than 20 people, struck out into the choppy waters.
At 10.50pm Pshtiwan Rasul Farka, 18, sent a voice message home: “How are you, bro? Your brother and everyone with me, we’re safe and sound in the sea. We hope we will arrive safely and soon, God willing.”
But the overloaded boat made slow progress in what another group of migrants that night described as “big waves and stormy weather”.
As they reached the middle of the Channel, the dinghy began to deflate and take on water.
The phones fell into the water, and people started dying. No one came. We were in the sea for ten hours. I was exhausted.
Mohammed Isa Omar
Survivor Mohammed Shekha Ahmad, 21, later told Iraqi TV station Rudaw: “The right side of the boat was losing air. Some people were pumping air into it and others were bailing the water from the boat.”
Mubin and another passenger made frantic SOS calls.
Mohammed, who wants to reach Britain so he can pay for medical care for his sick sister, added: “We called the French police and said, ‘Help us, our pump stopped working’.
“We sent our location to the French police and they said, ‘You’re in British waters’. We called Britain. They said, ‘Call the French police’.
“Two people were calling. One was calling France and the other was calling Britain.
The British police didn’t help us and the French police said, ‘You’re in British waters, we can’t come’.”
By 2.30am, the boat was sinking. Mohammed says he is haunted by the screams of, “Please God, rescue us!
Another survivor, Mohammed Isa Omar, 28, from Somalia, told Rudaw: “Most of the calls were to Britain asking for help.
They said, ‘Send us your location’. But we did not have time and the phones fell into the water, and people started dying. No one came. We were in the sea for ten hours. I was exhausted.”
He is adamant the dinghy made it into British waters.
Seeing so many dead like that next to us was like a horror movie.
The final phone contact was a voice message from Shakar Ali Pirot sent at 3.42am, telling family he was not sure who was coming to rescue them.
At 4.14am his phone went offline.
At 9am another migrant boat spotted bodies in the water and called the French authorities.
A migrant said: “I saw bodies without life jackets and others with them but the worst type, very cheap ones.”
At 1.58pm a French fishing boat spotted more than a dozen bodies and raised the alarm.
Fisherman Karl Maquinghen, 37, said: “Seeing so many dead like that next to us was like a horror movie.”
He said many of the life jackets were not fastened correctly.
At least 30 people died, the biggest loss of life in the Channel since dinghy crossings began.
We sent our location to the French police and they said, ‘You’re in British waters’. We called Britain. They said, ‘Call the French police’.
Mohammed Shekha Ahmad
France has denied receiving distress calls from the boat.
But newspaper Le Monde said telephone records of survivors supported claims the French and British were contacted.
Analysis seen by the BBC World Service indicates the migrant boat came close to British waters but never entered them.
Nations typically have responsibility for rescues in their own waters.
The Maritime & Coastguard Agency told The Sun an investigation was ongoing, adding that on the day of the tragedy it received 90-plus alerts, including 999 calls, from the Channel.
A spokesman said: “Every call was answered, assessed and acted upon, including the timely deployment of search-and-rescue resources.
“There isn’t a circumstance under which we would ask a caller to call French authorities instead of us.”
Legal cases have been launched against British and French authorities, while relatives are demanding an independent public inquiry.
Rzgar said he had “expected a brighter future” for his children.
Instead he buried them — young lives wasted amid political failings and criminal greed.
- Additional reporting: Nechirvan Mando