Couple’s dream of reuniting in England shattered by chain disaster
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SORAN, Iraq – Maryam Nuri had never flown before boarding a flight from Iraq in early November on a visa from Italy. She had never seen the ocean before embarking on a fragile boat from France in the English Channel last week.
“She only knew of small rivers here,” said her cousin, Iman Hassan, in Ms. Nuri’s family home in this mountain town in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. “We don’t even know what big waves are. “
Ms Nuri, known to friends and family as Baran, drowned along with 26 others on Wednesday when a fragile inflatable boat she was on with other migrants sank in the treacherous and freezing waters of the Channel.
The 24-year-old was trying to reach Britain to join her fiance, a Kurdish Iraqi who has lived in England for 14 years.
On Saturday, Ms Hassan, her cousin, spoke in the kitchen of the Nuri family home while the mother, sisters and wives of Ms Nuri’s family sobbed in the living room – the same room where Ms Nuri celebrated her birthday. engagement in January. “She was supposed to be a new bride,” one of her seven sisters shouted, slapping her chest in anguish.
Ms. Hassan and Ms. Nuri were the same age and had been best friends since childhood. When Ms. Nouri and her fiance, Karzan Assad, dated on one of her trips home, Ms. Hassan was their chaperone.
“They would come to my house when they had a date and they would talk,” she said. “They were in love, like Romeo and Juliet.”
Mr Assad, 41, is a barber who lives in Portsmouth, England, according to his family, and Ms Nuri dreamed of joining him there and opening her own hair and nail salon.
Ms Hassan, an engineering student, works part-time in a flower shop in the Kurdish capital Erbil, the town from which Ms Nuri flew to begin her fateful journey, a two-hour drive from her hometown of Soran . On Valentine’s Day, she said, Mr. Assad visited her and bought an armful of roses to bring to Ms. Nuri.
Ms. Nuri graduated from high school but did not go to university. At the end of October, Ms Nuri called her best friend and told her to come over to her house, where she told him that she was ready to join Mr Assad in England and would be leaving soon.
“She told me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going in the safest way’,” and said she would avoid the sea crossing, Ms Hassan said.
According to Mr. Assad’s brother, Nihad, Mr. Assad had obtained a tourist visa issued by Italy which allowed Ms. Nuri to travel to the European Union, paying $ 20,000 to someone outside the Italian consulate. .
“Some people in Erbil get visas – they are like smugglers,” said Nihad Assad, a butcher in Erbil, referring to the visa vendors in the city.
The Italian consul could not be reached for comment.
Ms Nuri’s uncle, Ms Hassan’s father, worked at Erbil Airport and explained to her how to find the boarding gates and seat numbers on the plane. Ms. Nuri spoke Turkish but not English, and Ms. Hassan tried to teach her a few words.
She traveled to Turkey, then Italy, Germany and France. But she had been turned down twice for a visa to Britain that would allow her to join her fiance, and when she arrived in France she found herself stranded. Worse yet, the uncle who looked after her at the airport died of a heart attack while she was passing through Europe.
“In my opinion, she was tired and she was crying alone there for her uncle – my father,” Ms. Hassan said. She said her cousin was desperate to find her fiancé.
She met the wife of an Iraqi friend of her fiance’s friend in Germany who was also trying to travel to England, relatives said. Later, in France, the couple “said to him: ‘It’s just a few hours, why don’t you come with us?’ on the Channel crossing, and she agreed, Ms. Hassan said. Migrants who made the crossing the same day said the boats charged more than $ 3,000 per passenger.
“When she was in Germany, I told her, ‘Don’t take the inflatable boat,’ said Mr. Assad, her fiancé’s brother, who said he accompanied her to Erbil airport. “She said to me, ‘Even if I have to swim, I have to reach Karzan.’ She was very much in love with him.
Mr Assad has a screenshot of a map and locator pin Ms Nuri sent from the boat while it was in the middle of the channel. She called her fiancé, saying he was taking water and they were trying to bail him out with pots. She said they were waiting for help from the Coast Guard.
But the rescue never took place and Ms Nuri drowned along with the wife of her fiance’s friend. Her husband, who was in a second boat that turned around when the first started to sink, survived to identify their two bodies at the hospital.
Ms. Nuri’s death devastated her close-knit family of seven sisters and one brother.
“My sister was lovely,” said her brother, Mohammad Nuri, 21. “Anyone who has met her once has never forgotten her because she had a very good heart.
In England, a friend who answered Mr Assad’s phone said he was taken to hospital after being shocked to lose the woman he loved.
The tragedy is just one of many hardships Iraqi Kurds face after breaking from Saddam Hussein’s control in 1991, thanks to the efforts of their Pesh Merga fighters and with the help of US-led air support. United. For decades, Kurds in Iraq and three neighboring countries fled persecution and settled in Europe. The 50 million Kurds spread across contiguous territories in the Middle East and Turkey are known as the largest stateless ethnic group in the world.
As relatives came to mourn with Ms Nuri’s family on Saturday, her father, Nuri Mohammad, 67, a retired Pesh Merga fighter, stood straight at the street entrance to greet them.
“I want other countries to show some respect to the Kurds,” Mohammad said, accepting his condolences. “I ask the world, especially the United States, not to block the way for our young people – not to leave them in the hands of traitors, killers and mafias. “
Kurdish officials said the Kurdish and Iraqi governments were trying to recover all the bodies of Iraqis who died on Wednesday to return them for burials.
“We just want her body to come and rest in peace with our family,” said Ms. Hassan, Ms. Nuri’s cousin.
Sangar Khaleel contributed to Soran’s reporting.
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