Four Iranians who died trying to cross the Channel on Tuesday morning were members of one family from the north-western city of Sardasht, the Guardian has learned.
Rasul Iran Nezhad and his wife, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, both 35, and two of their children, Anita, nine, and Armin, six, drowned as they tried to reach Britain by boat, according to a relative of the family and the Iranian-Kurdish human rights organisation Hengaw.
The fate of the family’s third child, 15-month-old Artin, is unknown, though French officials have said it is possible an infant also died when the vessel sank.
Speaking from Sardasht, Iran Nezhad’s brother Khalil said he had last heard from the family two days ago. He said they had crossed from Iran into Turkey during the summer before proceeding through Europe to France.
A representative from Hengaw said the family had attempted to enter the UK by train twice but failed both times, and so decided to pay a smuggler to take them by sea.
Iran Nezhad was a low-paid labourer while his wife was unemployed, and they sought to leave to escape economic hardship, Khalil Iran Nezhad said.
French officials said on Tuesday that a man had drowned when the overloaded boat sank and three others died after being pulled from the water. Another 15 survived, though Hengaw said there were a total of 28 people on the boat – suggesting further people could be unaccounted for. The survivors are said to have included Iranian and Iraqi nationals.
The deaths have reignited the debate over the UK’s asylum policy and led to renewed calls from humanitarian organisations for “safe and legal” routes to the UK for asylum seekers.
More than 7,400 people have arrived in the UK in small boats this year, according to analysis by PA Media, nearly four times as many as in 2019, with a record 416 arriving on a single day, 2 September. Seven migrants have died trying to cross the Channel this year, three more than last year’s total death toll from crossings.
Groups such as Safe Passage, Amnesty and Choose Love/Help Refugees have warned that the UK government’s hardline approach, which focuses largely on physically obstructing the crossings, will not deter migrants from attempting the dangerous journey.
Safe alternatives such as cross-border family reunion arrangements are the best way to reduce the number of attempted crossings, the groups have said, although as recently as last week the UK government rejected amendments to its immigration bill that would have ensured that rights under British law to family reunion continued after the Brexit transition period.