Migrant tragedy: Four members of family dead as search for baby boy called off

28 October 2020, 15:20 | Updated: 28 October 2020, 15:51

L to R: Armin, 6, Rasoul Iran-nejad and 15-month-old Artin, Shiva Mohammad-panahi, and Anita
L to R: Armin, 6, Rasoul Iran-nejad and 15-month-old Artin, Shiva Mohammad-panahi, and Anita. Picture: Hengaw Organization for Human Rights

By Ewan Somerville

Four members of a Kurdish-Iranian family died when their boat capsized in the English Channel, and their 15-month-old baby is still missing, according to reports.

Authorities have confirmed two adults and two young children died in the tragedy off Dunkirk in stormy seas on Tuesday.

It is the single biggest loss of life during migrant crossings in the Channel, and charity workers fear there may be seven fatalities.

Rescue workers said Rasoul Iran-nejad, 35, the father, Shiva Mohammad-panahi, 25, the mother, their nine-year-old daughter, Anita and their six-year-old son, Armin, all died in the incident, The Times reports.

A rescue worker told the paper that their 15-month-old son, Artin, was also with them and is still missing. He is feared drowned.

French rescuers said earlier there was no hope of finding any more survivors from the boat which capsized in the English Channel on Tuesday.

The tragedy took place in rough seas
The tragedy took place in rough seas. Picture: PA

Search and rescue boats and military resources desperately scoured the rough sea off the French coast for hours, looking for any survivors.

But nightfall brought a halt to the rescue operation, and searches have not resumed on Wednesday.

French authorities had said that the children who died were aged five and eight. Around fifteen others were taken to hospital, three of which were in cardiac arrest.

Charities said such a tragedy was “the horror we dreaded” and repeated calls for safe and legal routes for asylum seekers.

Read more: 'No hope' of finding more survivors from migrant boat tragedy, rescuers say

The deaths will put pressure on the Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has repeatedly pledged to make the route “unviable”.

Following news of the deaths, Sonya Sceats, CEO of Freedom from Torture, said: “The deaths of these men, women and children are shocking.

“But sadly, it comes as no surprise to those of us who work with people fleeing torture and persecution.

“We have repeatedly called for safe and legal routes for people to access asylum in the UK and prevent these senseless tragedies.

“Instead, Home Secretary Priti Patel has spent the summer whipping up hysteria about the Channel and painting these vulnerable people as invading foreigners, for political ends.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday evening that the UK has offered “every support” to French authorities as they investigate the “terrible incident”.

“My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in the Channel today,” he added.

“We have offered the French authorities every support as they investigate this terrible incident and will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “truly saddened” to learn of the “tragic loss of life”.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said there had been fears “we would see a tragedy like this for a long time”.

She said: “This is an awful tragedy. For anyone to lose their lives in the cold sea like this is terrible, and when young children are involved it just makes it even more distressing.

”We have feared that we would see a tragedy like this for a long time because the boats are incredibly dangerous, the journey is perilous and we've seen an increase in the number of these small boat crossings, these really flimsy boats.“

She added: ”I don't think they (Home Office) do have a clear enough analysis of the reasons why people are making this journey.“

Nearly 7,500 people have crossed to the UK on board small boats during 2020, data from the PA news agency shows.