Bodies of 16 who died in English Channel boat disaster returned to Iraq

The remains were transported by ambulances to the hometowns of the deceased

The bodies of 16 people who drowned when their boat sank in the English Channel as they tried to cross from France to Britain were repatriated early on Sunday to the Iraqi Kurdish region.

A plane carrying the bodies arrived at about 2am in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq.

The remains were taken by ambulances to the hometowns of the deceased in Darbandikhan, Ranya, Soran and Qadrawa.

At least 27 people died in the November 24 tragedy, the deadliest disaster since the Channel became a major route for migrant trafficking.

At the airport terminal in Erbil, families waited for the arrival of the remains of their loved ones, some hugging each other or showing photos of their departed relatives.

Originally scheduled for Friday, the repatriation had been postponed twice.

The 27 victims were mostly men but seven women, a 16-year-old and a child, 7, also drowned.

Apart from 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 citizen of Sudan, the French interior ministry.

The Iraqi survivor said there had been a total of 33 people on board the vessel.

French investigators are still trying to establish a clearer picture of what happened during the disaster.

They have been investigating reports that passengers had telephoned both French and British emergency services to appeal 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 shifting blame to France.

Updated: December 26th 2021, 1:26 PM