Smugglers told family of migrant feared to have drowned in Channel that he had reached the UK

·7 min read
Migrants camp on railway lines in Dunkirk following the deaths of 27 people in the Channel - Jamie Lorriman
Migrants camp on railway lines in Dunkirk following the deaths of 27 people in the Channel - Jamie Lorriman

People smugglers told the family of a migrant feared to have died in Wednesday’s Channel tragedy that he had reached the UK safely.

The Telegraph has acquired audio footage of a voice message left by the criminal gang hours after the ill-fated boat put to sea, in an apparent attempt to obtain the full fee for the crossing.

The gang leader, who is understood now to have fled to Italy, told the family of Deniz Ahmed Mohammed, 27: “I put him in [on Wednesday] and they reached the other side. Tell your family not to worry, OK.”

On Saturday, migrants near Dunkirk spoke of a “famous office” in Kurdistan used by the cartels to arrange the booking and payment for crossings.

Some people smugglers are only paid in full once their passengers reach the English coast.

The Telegraph can also reveal that at least one of the 27 victims believed to have drowned in the disaster entered the EU from Belarus, where the Moscow-backed dictator Alexander Lukashenko has pushed thousands westwards in what has been described as a proxy war.

It came as Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said the UK could not tackle the crisis alone.

“Across Europe we all need to step up, take responsibility, and work together in a time of crisis,” she said.

The Home Secretary was speaking ahead of a meeting of ministers in France on Sunday to which she was disinvited in retaliation for Boris Johnson’s open letter to President Emmanuel Macron.

Migrants in the Grande-Synthe camp outside Dunkirk on Saturday revealed in detail how their families paid people smugglers to help them reach the UK.

One 18-year-old from Ranya in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, said: “In Kurdistan there is an office, a very famous office that is run by the cartel and smugglers.

“My family in Kurdistan will go to the office and they will pay the smugglers if I make it across. The smugglers send them a message to let them know whether I have or not.”

A source close to Deniz Ahmed Mohammed’s family said the smugglers’ voice message was received by his brother, who remains in Belarus.

“At about 12 that day the smuggler messaged his brother in Belarus and said he had made it to the UK safely,” the source said.

“Now he is completely traumatised. He is in a really bad way.”

Members of the criminal gang, some of whom were described as significant drug-users, are believed to have originated from Iranian Kurdistan.

The ringleaders are suspected to have fled from northern France to Italy, with their social media and Whatsapp channels going silent the day after the maritime disaster.

Another migrant from Ranya at the Grande-Synthe camp told The Telegraph that six of his friends, all Kurdish, were feared to have died in the failed crossing.

“We have been friends for a long time,” he said. “We haven’t heard from them since they tried to cross.”

“Now I will not try by boat again.”

Among those who died was Harem Pirot, 25, and his friend Twana Mamand Muhammad, both from Ranya in Iraq, according to The Observer.

Mr Pirot had been trying to reach England to meet his brother Anwar, a Sheffield graduate living in Cambridge.

The Observer also said there was a family from the Iraqi Kurdish town of Darbandikhan - Khazal Hussein, 45, and her children Haida, 22, son Mubin, 16, and younger daughter Hasti, seven.

Ms Hussein's husband, Rezgar, said: "My wife and children were unhappy with our life here. They wanted us all to go to the UK.

"I told them I couldn't come because of my job as a policeman. I would lose it. They insisted to go so I agreed I would join them if they made it, and if they didn't, they could come back. I never knew it was risky."

Migrant believed to have drowned in Channel was pushed into EU by Belarusian dictator

A migrant believed to have drowned in the channel last week was one of thousands pushed into the EU by the Belarusian dictator.

Deniz Ahmed Mohammed, originally from Kurdistan in northern Iraq, separated from his brother in the eastern European country and made his way to France, messaging his family to “pray for us” in the early hours of Wednesday as he set out for England in a flimsy boat.

The 27-year-old appears to have fallen victim to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko’s “hybrid war”, which has deliberately funnelled thousands of desperate people into Poland in an attempt to destabilise the EU.

Migrants have been lured into Belarus on easy-to-obtain visas, prompting claims Mr Lukashenko has engineered the weeks-long crisis.

Only last week he personally urged those at the border to “go westwards”, telling them: “We will work together on your dream.”

The Telegraph has learned that Mr Mohammed’s distraught brother remains in Belarus.

The older man was initially told by the people smugglers believed to be responsible for Wednesday’s tragedy that the crossing had completed safely, in an apparent bid to secure full payment for the doomed crossing.

A source close to the family said he was now “totally traumatised and psychologically in a very bad place”.

The gang responsible are understood to be a roughly 10-strong group of Iranian Kurds living in Calais.

A senior member was described as “taking a lot of drugs” and being violent and aggressive.

The ringleaders are now believed to have fled northern France for Italy, having gone quiet on social media.

It came as further details emerged about the people smugglers’ modus operandi.

A 20-year-old migrant at the Grande-Synthe camp outside Dunkirk said migrants hoping to reach England were forced to use the smugglers’ low-quality boats.

“If you buy a boat, people here will stop you doing it yourself,” he said. “The smugglers do not let you, you are not allowed.

“A lot of the people who come to this camp are armed.”

Another man, a 30-year-old from Afghanistan, said: “We pay around £2,500 to go on the boat and the smugglers are often Pakistani, Iraqi or Iranian.”

“They often force you to build the boat as well, pumping it up and taking it to the water.

Following Wednesday’s disaster pictures emerged of the crumpled inflatable, likened to a “paddling pool” involved in the failed crossing.

While it is not known what caused the boat to capsize, one theory is that it was swamped by the wash of a passing ship, or that a panic on the heavily overcrowded vessel caused it to unbalance.

It emerged on Wednesday that a migrant had been shot in the kneecaps on the same night as the ill-fated boat put to sea after he refused to board a boat.

Meanwhile, it was reported on Saturday that migrants were ordered to switch their phones off before embarking on the voyage.

According to The Sunday Times, Mohammed Shekha, a 21-year-old shepherd from Kurdish Iran, sent his mother a voice message saying: “He is saying we have to switch our phones off. It’s not like last time, OK? We are leaving, God willing. Pray for me.”

It came as Michelle Barnier, who is campaigning to become the next president of France, called for the republic to tear up the current arrangement with Britain and let all migrants travel to the UK to claim asylum.

After she was disinvited from a meeting of interior ministers in France on Sunday, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said on Saturday night: “We will not shy away from the challenge we face, and next week I will continue to push for greater cooperation with European partners because a failure to do so could result in even worse scenes in the freezing water during the coming winter months.”

Mohammed Shekha survived after using his lifejacket to stay above the water, it has been reported.

He had been travelling to the UK to find a job to pay for his younger sister's medical bills, which doctors told them would cost thousands of pounds.

His brother Marwan, 18, told The Sunday Times: "It's a miracle. He can't swim at all. I don't know how it happened."

He added: "All of a sudden, he found himself in the water too.

"He said he can't stop thinking about the other people who died in front of him. It keeps coming back in his mind. He didn't know how to rescue the women who fell in."

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