‘I could not protect her’: A Dad Mourns his Child Killed in the Channel

'I could not protect her'

Ahmed Alhashimi gave in to the unquenchable sadness, wrath, and shame as he stood on the shore, wailing at the receding waves and pounding and scratching at his own chest.

“I was unable to keep her safe. I’ll never be able to forgive myself. except I had no other option except to go to the water,” he cried.

The 41-year-old was wedged tightly inside an inflatable boat on the same stretch of French coastline south of Calais a week earlier, before dawn. He was screaming for help, lash out at the bodies around him, and pleading with people to move so he could reach down and save his daughter Sara, who was crushed into the suffocating darkness.

The young Sudanese man had been among of a larger group that had piled on board at the last minute as the boat drifted away from the coast. “I just wanted him to move so I could pull my baby up,” Ahmed said. However, the man had threatened him after ignoring him for a while.

“That period seemed a lot like death. People were dying in front of us. I observed those men’s actions. They didn’t give a damn who they were trampling on, a toddler or an elderly person’s head. People began to choke,” Ahmed remarked angrily.

Ahmed is from Iraq, but his daughter has never even been there. She was born in Belgium and lived in Sweden for the majority of her brief life.

Five individuals lost their lives in the same tragedy, suffering through what must have seemed like a slow-motion, excruciating stampede.

While filming the commotion with a BBC team, I was on the beach where the smugglers were taking their victims towards a tiny boat. They used sticks and pyrotechnics to fend off a group of French police who were trying, but failing, to stop them from boarding.

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In the English Channel, the crammed inflatable boat sets out to sea.


We had heard someone on board softly shout as the boat drifted farther out to sea. However, it was impossible to discern what was going on in the predawn darkness. The cops, one suspected smuggler, and a few of the migrants who had not managed to climb aboard were already leaving the coast as daylight broke.

Later on, Ahmed came clean and said that he was the man yelling for help, pleading with everyone nearby to save Sara’s life. Not only was Ahmed’s wife, Nour AlSaeed, trapped in the boat, but so were their two other children, Rahaf, 13, and Hussam, 8, who were still breathing.

“I work in construction. I’m powerful. But I was unable to extract my leg. It makes sense that my young child couldn’t either. “She was beneath our feet,” Ahmed remarked.

Since their arrival in the area two months prior, the family had attempted four crossings. They had been detained by the police twice on the beach while trying to keep up with other migrants who were running towards a smuggler’s boat. This time, according to Ahmed, the smugglers had promised him that only 40 people, mostly Iraqis, would board their boat. However, they had been taken aback when another group of Sudanese migrants showed up on the beach and insisted on boarding. The smugglers charged 1,500 euros (£1,280) per adult and half that amount for each child.

Holding her father’s hand as they had walked from the Wimereux train station the previous evening, Sara had initially appeared composed. Then they had spent the night buried in the dunes to the north of town. The party had inflated their boat somewhere before 0600, and the smugglers had given them the order to sprint with it towards the sea before the police caught up with them.

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Sara started screaming as soon as a police tear gas canister burst close to them, according to Ahmed. After climbing onto the boat, Ahmed carried Sara on his shoulders for a little while before lowering her to assist his other daughter, Rahaf, into the water. At that point, he lost sight of Sara.

Ahmed wasn’t able to see his daughter’s body until much later, when French rescuers found them at sea and removed some of the over 100 passengers from the boat.

“Her head was visible in the boat’s corner. Her entire body was blue. When we took her out, she was dead. He sobbed and explained, “She wasn’t breathing.”

For many years, Ahmed and his family have made unsuccessful attempts to settle in the EU.

The French authorities have been taking care of the family in the days that have passed while they wait to bury Sara’s body. Ahmed acknowledged that he had received harsh criticism on social media from those who claimed he was endangering his family needlessly. He seems caught between taking the guilt and refusing it.

“I have no self-forgiveness. But my only option was to go to the water. Everything that took place was not of my choosing. I was at a loss for what to do. ‘How could I endanger my daughters?’ they ask, blaming me. However, I’ve been in Europe for 14 years, and I’ve been turned away,” Ahmed remarked, recounting his years-long struggles to obtain residency in the EU after fleeing Iraq due to threats he claimed to have received from militia groups there.

According to reports, Belgium refused to grant him shelter on the grounds that his hometown of Basra, Iraq, was designated as a secure location. He claimed that although his kids had been living with a relative in Sweden for the past seven years, he had now received word that they would be deported to Iraq along with him.

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“I would keep the kids in Belgium, France, Sweden, or Finland if I knew there was a 1% chance I could do so. My only desire was for my children to attend school. I wanted no help at all. I can work, as can my wife. He went added, “I just wanted to preserve them, their childhoods, and their dignity.

“What would someone do if they were in my position? People that criticise me have not experienced the same hardships as me. “This was my final resort,” he claimed, pleading for understanding and assistance from the British authorities.

Sara’s seven-year-old teacher in Uddevalla, Sweden, Eva Jonsson, called the young student “kind and nice” in a video message that was provided to the BBC.

“She was very popular among her school friends. They frequently played together. We were informed in February that she would be deported shortly. She said, “We were given two days’ notice.”

The students gathered in a circle and observed a minute of silence after hearing of her passing.

“It is quite regrettable that a family of such kindness should suffer this. The teacher remarked, “I was really shocked about the deportation because I have taught [other] children in that family.”

“We have Sara’s picture in front of us still, and we will keep it there as long as the children want.”

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