Snow globes, teddy bears and makeup brushes – these were the trinkets left behind in northern Iraq by Maryam Nouri who died this week along with at least 26 others in an ill-fated voyage with dreams of reaching the United Kingdom.
A wake for Nouri, called Baran by her friends and family, was held in Soran on Sunday in Iraq’s Kurdish semi-autonomous northern region. Male relatives sat outside the family home, counting prayer beads in her memory, in line with local customs. Her body has not yet been returned to Iraq, pending legal issues, they said.
Nouri, 24, had boarded an inflatable boat carrying people with hopes of being reunited with her fiance, Karzan, in Britain. She had managed to get a Schengen visa to Europe, and travelled to Italy on November 1, and later to Germany and France.
She did not tell her fiance she was planning on making the voyage across the English Channel on Wednesday until it was too late. The flimsy boat sunk a few kilometres from the French coast, drowning at least 27 people bound for Britain. France’s interior minister called it the biggest migration tragedy on the crossing to date. The nationalities of the dead were not immediately known, but many are believed to be Iraqi.
Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflict or poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea or elsewhere are risking the perilous journey in small, unseaworthy craft from France, hoping to win asylum or find better opportunities in Britain. The crossings have tripled this year compared with 2020.
Aid groups blamed European governments for increasingly hardline migration policies they say are driving the recent surge in smuggling.
Nouri had tried many times to get a visa to the UK but was unsuccessful.
A disproportionate number of people seeking refuge have been from Iraq’s relatively stable Kurdish region, who chose to sell their homes, cars and other belongings to pay off smugglers with the hope of reaching the European Union. Rising unemployment, endemic corruption and a recent economic crisis that slashed state salaries have undermined faith in a decent future for their autonomous region and kindled the desire in many to leave.
In Nouri’s untouched bedroom, large red teddy bears cover her neatly made bed. There are makeup brushes and snow globes – one of a newly married pair – and photos of her betrothed.
As the men gathered to recite verses from the Quran, Nouri Dargalayi, Nouri’s father, greeted guests.
His daughter had her engagement ceremony here, he said, pointing to the area where relatives had gathered to pay respects.
“[The couple] were trying to build a decent life for themselves, but it ended,” he said.