Brother’s ‘heart is breaking’ a year on from English Channel disaster

Zana Mamand Mohammad (right) is still waiting for answers about the Channel tragedy which claimed the life of his younger brother Twana (Picture: Zana Mamand Mohammad)

The brother of a teenager who went missing in the Channel tragedy a year ago has said his ‘heart is breaking’ as he continues to wait for answers from the authorities.

Zana Mamand Mohammad has travelled from Iraq to Paris to try and find out what happened to his younger brother, Twana, in the maritime disaster which claimed 31 lives.  

Twana, 18, had left a Kurdish town in northern Iraq with aspirations of becoming a Manchester City footballer and spent 15 weeks travelling to France before attempting the hazardous crossing.  

His group’s flimsy dinghy is said to have deflated and capsized, with only two survivors pulled from the water in what would become the worst loss of life in the Channel for 30 years. Organisations supporting refugees and asylum seekers said yesterday that the British and French emergency services wasted time ‘passing the buck’ about who should respond to the passengers’ desperate calls for help.

Speaking to from Paris, Zana said: ‘A year after Twana went missing, my heart is breaking as we wait for answers. I have travelled from Iraq to France in the hope that we may find out what happened, but I still have not had any news. 

‘Words alone cannot express my family’s sadness, it only gets worse with each day that passes. 

‘Our hearts are in pain while we wait and hope that one day we will be given some news. We were a very happy family, but our lives completely changed when Twana went missing.  

‘Now, we are in constant sadness; not a day goes by without my mother and father crying. Twana’s many friends are also broken-hearted and don’t know how to cope without him. 

‘Any news would at least be a little comfort to lift our hearts.’ 

Twana left northern Iraq hoping for a better life in the UK before joining others attempting to cross the English Channel (Picture: Zana Mamand Mohammad)

Twana had left the town of Ranya and travelled to France via Turkey after his father put his home up as collateral to pay people smugglers an estimated £20,000 upon completion of the journey.

He had hoped to join his elder sister, who was living happily in the UK.

The poor quality dinghy is thought to have had a broken motor and to have deflated, leaving the 34 people aboard treading water in the dark as they waited for help.  

An account of how the family, also including Twana’s sister in Sheffield, desperately waited for news in the early hours of November 24, 2022, has been pieced together by Alistair Bunkall at Sky News.  

Calls to the authorities on both sides of the Channel met with each side saying the other needed to take responsibility. As they waited, the passengers held hands to stay afloat and used their mobile phones as lights to show their location. The tragedy claimed the lives of 31 people and an unborn baby, with just two survivors. Twana’s body remains missing.

Twana was a highly regarded young footballer who wanted to make his mum proud by playing in the British Premier League (Picture: Zana Mamand Mohammad/Aram Bardshani)
Twana made his way across Europe before attempting to cross the English Channel by small boat in November 2021 (Picture: Zana Mamand Mohammad)

His brother, 33, who has three children, told via a friend acting as an interpreter that he has been in Paris for seven days trying to find answers about what happened to Twana.  

The French government announced last week that it is holding an internal investigation into the disaster, with a police inquiry already underway.

Not a day goes by without Twana’s parents mourning the loss of their son, a Tae Kwon Do black belt with a promising future.

‘I want to find out who was responsible for this tragedy,’ Zana said.  

‘Both from the French and to come to the UK to ask questions about how this could have happened.  

‘Twana had a bright future. He loved football, he played professionally, and he was the best at Tae Kwon Do in his town.

‘He wanted to go to Britain and play for Manchester City, he wanted to be shown in matches on television and to make his mum proud.

‘His bright future has been cut short, and my family, and other families, need to find out why so this does not happen again.’ 

Twana travelled across the Middle East and into Europe as he sought to join his sister in the UK (Picture: Zana Mamand Mohammad)

A damning account of the authorities’ response has been issued by Care4Calais, Stand Up To Racism and the TUC, who are due to hold a vigil in Parliament Square this evening. 

In a joint statement, the groups said: ‘Transcripts of the emergency call logs made by people on the boat to French authorities revealed that repeated calls for help were made to both the UK and French emergency services, who both spent crucial hours passing the buck about which of them should rescue a stricken small boat…instead of dispatching a crew to save the people onboard. 

‘A year on, the victims’ families are still waiting for answers on how they could have been so badly let down by the authorities. The British authorities are waiting for the outcome of an ongoing Marine Accident Investigation Branch before any further inquiry takes place. The victims’ families are still waiting to be contacted by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch.’ 

Zana Mamand Mohammad is among friends and relatives who are still waiting for answers about the Channel disaster (Picture: Zana Mamand Mohammad)

Harrowing transcripts of the distress calls made to the French and British rescue services have been released by Care4Calais. In one, a man who says he is among a group of people in a small inflatable boat is heard begging ‘please, please! We need help, if you please’. 

The call was made at 01:51 on November 24, and was followed by others asked for help, but it was not until 1400 that the French coastguard arrived after a fisherman spotted bodies just inside the country’s territorial waters, according to Care4Calais.  

Claire Moseley, founder of the refugee crisis charity, said: ‘A year on, the tortured families of the victims are still waiting for answers. That level of callousness and apathy from the authorities is scandalous.  

‘But we will never let the lives that were lost on November 24, 2021 be forgotten. For the victims and their families, we are coming together at tonight’s vigil to remember the dead and demand justice.  

‘The families need answers now and we must know what lessons should be learned from this tragedy before more people die.’

Abandoned life jackets lie in dunes near Calais the day after 31 people died as they attempted to cross the Channel in a small boat (Picture: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)

The anniversary falls at a time of heightened concern around the perilous Channel crossings, with more than 40,000 people making the journey to the UK so far this year, according to government figures. 

The total is more than the 28,561 arrivals in the whole of 2021 and comes amid an outcry over people being placed in cramped and makeshift conditions at the Manston short-term immigration facility in Dover.  

The centre is now empty after the government moved those held there to alternative accommodation. 

On the frontline of the crisis, the RNLI has been adopting new procedures to prepare for the prospect of a similar incident involving a large number of casualties in the water.

Care4Calais is among groups advocating for safe routes enabling those fleeing ‘the worst terrors in this world’ to be given ‘effective and compassionate’ passage to the UK. The charity says this would break the hold of the people smugglers who are cashing in on people’s desperation.  

A spokesperson for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said: ‘This was a dreadful accident in which many people lost their lives.

‘On the anniversary of the accident our thoughts are with those who lost loved ones in this tragedy.  

‘While it may not be possible to fully understand precisely what happened at the time of the accident, it is important that we examine whether the UK’s emergency response was appropriate that night once it became apparent that migrant boats might be in distress in UK waters.  

‘The purpose of our investigation is to improve safety and if lessons can be learned, and if deemed appropriate, we will make recommendations to address the issues identified. Our investigation is ongoing, and we expect to publish it in the early summer 2023.’ 

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