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There are times when a person is so gripped with helpless despair that they are lost within themselves. Ahmed Alhashimi, a proud man, looks at the small coffin, wrings his hands, stares at the ground and weeps.

Inside the bright white coffin is the body of his daughter, Sara. Watched by a small crowd of family members, charity workers, well-meaning locals and even council workers, her coffin is lowered into a grave.

Then, for 10 or 15 minutes, a group of mourners work hard to use shovels, and even bare hands, to fill the grave with earth.

The mound is patted down, a wooden marker put in place, with her name engraved upon it, and flowers are placed on the grave along with flowers, photos and – crushingly – a favourite soft toy.

Sara died after being crushed on an overcrowded migrant boat
Image:
Sara died after being crushed on an overcrowded migrant boat

Watched by a small crowd of family members, charity workers, well-meaning locals and even council workers, Sara's coffin was lowered into a grave
Image:
Watched by a small crowd of family members, charity workers, well-meaning locals and even council workers, Sara’s coffin was lowered into a grave

Sara was just seven years old when she died a fortnight ago, crushed on a horrendously overcrowded migrant boat that left shore with more than 100 people on board.

Four other people died that day, too. But it is the image of Sara – young, innocent and vulnerable – that lingers. The death of a child is chilling for anyone. For her family, it is devastating.

They want to remember her, to celebrate and mourn. And so it is that, as we stand next to the morgue where his daughter’s body rests, Ahmed actually wants to talk to me.

Sara's dad, Ahmed Alhashimi
Image:
Sara’s dad, Ahmed Alhashimi

He invites us to spend the day with him, travelling to the morgue in Lille where prayers are offered, and then to her burial.

“For all the sadness and sorrow, those final scenes of her life are ones that I will never forget,” he tells me, glassy-eyed.

“When she was taken out of the boat, those scenes I will never forget for the rest of my life.

“I lost my daughter. Every father who has a daughter, who knows the love you get from a daughter, can imagine the feeling they would suffer if they were to lose their daughter. For me – I am not imagining. I lost her for real.”

'She was like a butterfly, like a bird, she was everything to us', Sara's father said about his daughter.
Image:
‘She was like a butterfly, like a bird, she was everything to us’, Sara’s father said about his daughter

The story of cross-Channel migration is a long one, and it is pockmarked with victims. But Sara is unusual in this. Her parents were Iraqis, but they met in Belgium, where Sara was born while her parents lived in Antwerp.

The family spent some time in Finland, but then tried to make their lives in Sweden. Sara went to school there and learned the language.

Other members of her extended family had been given asylum in the country but, for some reason, Ahmed’s immediate family were denied that status.

They feared being deported back to Iraq and so, instead, decided to try to reach the United Kingdom.

“We were in Sweden for seven years and we did not even think of leaving” Ahmed tells me. “Our children would go to school and live their normal lives. But when we were obliged to leave Sweden, when we received the deportation letter, I was left with no alternative.

“I had no choice,” Ahmed says. “I wanted to protect her life, I wanted her to have a future, a life with dignity like other children, but I could not. Everything went against me.

“The Swedish government, and the immigration officials, are the reason behind the tragedy we suffered. We are talking about children, who were born here in Europe. How could you send them to Iraq?”

I wonder whether he has thought of the future, of what would happen to his family now. Does he still hope to cross the Channel?

Ahmed shakes his head. “Of course not, of course not,” he says, gently. “I do not think of that any more, just the thought of that hurts me.

“I lost my child, I lost my daughter. She was like a butterfly, like a bird, she was everything to us, the light in our home, our source of laughter, she was everything. I lost her and I do not want to lose her brothers.”

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He says the boat on which they were travelling was packed, but safe until it was boarded by a rival group of migrants.

“They attacked us,” he tells me. “The water was only a metre deep but there was chaos. That’s when people suffocated.”

His hope now is that the British government will see his pain, feel his loss, and offer hope.

“I call on the British people and the government to help me reach Britain legally. I don’t want assistance. I can work, so can my wife. I just want security and safety for my children. That is all.”

Sara lies now under the shade of a tree in Lille’s cemetery. A girl born in Belgium, to Iraqi parents, who grew up in Sweden and was bound for Britain – now laid to rest in northern France.

It is an awful reminder that there is nothing simple about the challenge of migration. The questions are profound, and the tentacles spread far. And it is also a dire warning – this has been a record year for crossings, and for deaths.

So far this year, I have already been to the funerals of two seven-year-old girls who died trying to cross the Channel on a small boat. There will, inevitably, be another tragedy. The only question is when.

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Zelenskyy calls on Biden and Xi to join Ukraine peace summit

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Zelenskyy calls on Biden and Xi to join Ukraine peace summit

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has directly called on his US and Chinese counterparts to join his latest summit for peace in Ukraine.

Speaking from Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine on Friday, Mr Zelenskyy announced a “global peace summit”, co-hosted by Switzerland, starting on 15 June.

He claimed 80 countries have already confirmed their attendance.

But he said: “I am appealing to the global leaders of the world who are still outside the global efforts of the global peace summit.

“To President Biden, the leader of the United States, and to President Xi, the leader of China, we do not want the UN charter to be burned.

“Please show your leadership in advancing the peace.”

Residents evacuated from a building hit by strikes in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Residents evacuated from a building hit by strikes in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

He added that it must be “real peace – not just a pause in the strikes” after various ceasefire breaches by the Russians.

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Finally, he urged: “The efforts of the global majority are the best guarantee that all commitments will be fulfilled.”

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Shopping mall hit by strike in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

Printworks and shopping centre targeted this week

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, with a pre-war population of 1.5 million people, is close to the frontline, and has been consistently targeted since the initial invasion in February 2022.

On Thursday, its ‘Vivat’ printworks, which is the country’s largest, was hit by missiles, killing seven people, and destroying an estimated 50,000 books. A further 21 people were injured, Ukrainian officials said.

On Saturday, a strike on a shopping centre killed six people, injured 40, and left a further 16 unaccounted for, local authorities said.

Elsewhere in the city, an additional 11 people were injured as a result of strikes, including a 13-year-old boy.

Just over the border, in Russia’s Belgorod region, the regional governor there said four residents died as a result of Ukrainian attacks on Saturday.

Aftermath of Russian strike on Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Aftermath of Russian strike on Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

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Crowded DIY stores hit by strikes
Ukrainians training without firing due to shortages
Putin thanks Xi for his Ukraine efforts

Mr Zelenskyy warned a new Russian offensive is being planned northwest of Kharkiv.

Ukrainians and military analysts have repeatedly warned of depleting weapon supplies on the frontline.

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Earlier this month the US agreed to a further $2bn (£1.6bn) in military support for Ukraine.

It has consistently resisted calls to send US troops there, in line with NATO’s refusal for direct involvement in the conflict.

China has resisted calls by NATO and its member states to take a direct stance against Russia in support of Ukraine.

President Xi hosted Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a show of “friendship” earlier this month.

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Hamas launches first rocket attack on Israel from Gaza in months

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Hamas launches first rocket attack on Israel from Gaza in months

Hamas has launched rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza for the first time in months.

The barrage of rockets set off air raid sirens in cities as far away as Tel Aviv.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January, although Palestinian militants have continued to sporadically fire rockets and mortar rounds at communities along the Gaza border since then.

Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Israeli military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from the area of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israeli forces recently launched an incursion.

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India: Newborn babies killed in fire at hospital in Delhi after ‘chain of explosions’

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India: Newborn babies killed in fire at hospital in Delhi after 'chain of explosions'

At least six newborn babies have died after a fire broke out at a children’s hospital in India, according to reports.

Firefighters said they carried 12 newborns out of the centre in the Vivek Vihar district of east New Delhi late on Saturday night, but five of them died due to smoke inhalation.

Two other infants are believed to have already died, according to local media. There are differing reports as to whether six or seven infants have been killed so far.

Another five survived and are being treated in a nearby hospital, Delhi fire department chief Atul Garg said.

The blaze, which broke out on the first floor of the hospital, was put out after about an hour.

Burnt registration cards lie on the floor of a baby care center in New Delhi, India, Sunday, May 26, 2024. A fire broke out in the care center on Saturday night killing six infants, a fire service officer said on Sunday. (AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi)
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Burnt registration cards lie on the floor of the hospital. Pic: AP

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Mr Garg told the ANI news agency that an oxygen cylinder blast was the likely cause of the fire, but there has been no official confirmation.

“It was a very tough operation,” he was quoted as saying by India Today.

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“We made two teams. One team started firefighting because there was a blast of cylinders. We can say it was a chain of blasts of cylinders.

“We had to save ourselves also. We started rescue operations for babies as well. Unfortunately, we could not save all the children… That is a regrettable incident.”

The owner of the baby hospital has fled, according to Delhi police.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, called the fire “heartbreaking”, adding that the “causes of the incident are being investigated and whoever is responsible for this negligence will not be spared”.

Machines move the debris following a fire in a gaming zone in Rajkot, in the western state of Gujarat, India, May 26, 2024. REUTERS/Amit Dave
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Machines move debris after a fire in Rajkot. Pic: Reuters

Earlier on Saturday, at least 27 people were killed in a fire at a crowded amusement park in the city of Rajkot in Gujarat state in western India.

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