Bodies of 16 killed in Channel boat disaster repatriated to Iraq
ERBIL, IRAQ (AFP) - The bodies of 16 people killed when their boat sank in the Channel while trying to reach England were repatriated early on Sunday (Dec 26) to Iraqi Kurdistan where their families were awaiting them, an AFP photographer saw.
The plane carrying them arrived around 2am at Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region in northern Iraq.
The remains were transferred to ambulances to transport them to their home towns of Darbandikhan, Ranya, Soran and Qadrawa.
At least 27 people perished in the Nov 24 tragedy, the deadliest disaster since the Channel became a hub for clandestine migrant crossings from France to England.
At the terminal at Erbil airport, emotional families waited for the arrival of the remains of their loved ones, some hugging each other or showing photos of their late relatives.
Originally scheduled for Friday, the repatriation had been postponed twice.
The 27 victims were mostly men but also included seven women, a 16-year-old and a seven-year-old child.
Besides the 16 Iraqi Kurds, the 26 identified included an Iranian Kurd, four Afghan men, three Ethiopians, a Somali and an Egyptian.
Only two people were rescued after their inflatable boat capsized, an Iraqi Kurd and a Sudanese national, according to the French Interior Ministry.
According to the Iraqi survivor, there had been a total of 33 people aboard.
French investigators are still trying to establish a clearer picture of what happened during the disaster.
They have been investigating reports that the passengers had telephoned both French and British emergency services, appealing for help when the vessel began sinking.
The disaster also caused major diplomatic tensions between London and Paris.
Within 48 hours of the accident, French President Emmanuel Macron accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being "not serious" in his approach to stopping the crossings.
Paris was irked by Mr Johnson's initial reaction, which was seen as deflecting blame onto France.