The emigrants, camped in Calais, renew their determination to attempt England
CALIS, France (Associated Press) – In makeshift camps in France near Calais and Dunkirk, migrants are digging, waiting for their chance to dash across the English Channel despite at least 27 people dying this week when their boat sank a few miles (kilometres) from the coast French.
Police have stepped up patrols in recent days and the weather is bad, making this a bad time to try to cross. But most migrants say tragedy will not prevent them from boarding a flimsy inflatable boat filled with up to 50 people in hopes of reaching Britain.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” said a 22-year-old from Iran, who identified himself only as Kawa, speaking in English. “Water? If we die…sorry to say this but we are already dead. Nobody accepts us anywhere. We are useful. He said correcting himself. “Just look at these people.”
Kawa and his father have spent the past six years in Denmark, where they say they never felt free because they had to constantly report to the police and other authorities. Now they want to get to England, and eventually Canada, because they are “good for the Iranians”.
They are among a group of about 150 Kurdish youths and a small group of families who camped on Saturday on an abandoned railway in hopes of escaping from the wetland below. Along with a group of bright red, green, and blue tents near Dunkirk, they pull on hoods, wrap their shoulders in winter jackets and huddle next to small fires to keep warm as the early winter cold grips northern Europe. The smell of burning plastic hangs in the air as migrants use anything they can find as fuel.
The coast around Calais has long been a springboard for migrants wanting to reach the UK, but this week’s disaster underscores the mix of dreams and desperation that is driving people to camp in torrential rain with temperatures approaching 40 F (4 C). An opportunity to risk their lives at sea.
But first they have to pay the smugglers 2,500 pounds ($3,300) for a seat on a boat.
Ari, who like other immigrants refused to give his last name for fear of being deported if arrested, is a physics teacher from Iraq who left home because he couldn’t find work.
He says he’s afraid to cross – but the chance for a better life is worth the risk.
“Everyone is frightened but everyone is here — dying (a little) every day,” he said, in a subtle reference to the camp filled with rotting banana peels, wet shoes, and tents abandoned by immigrants who had already left for England.
Wednesday’s tragedy came amid a jump in the number of migrants trying to cross the canal in inflatables and other small boats after the COVID-19 pandemic limited air and ship travel, and Brexit curtailed its cooperation with neighboring countries in processing asylum claims. and other immigrants.
More than 23,000 people have already entered the UK on small boats this year, up from 8,500 last year and just 300 in 2018, according to data compiled by Parliament.
Despite this increase, the number of people applying for asylum in Britain is still relatively low compared to other European countries. Nando Seguna, head of the department of international migration and forced displacement at the University of Birmingham, said migrants heading to Britain usually do so for family, historical or geopolitical reasons.
“So the people in Calais are there because they want to come here,” he said.
Britain has criticized France for not doing enough to stop the boats before they were launched, but the migrants say police have become more active since their deaths.
So they are simply waiting for things to calm down and for the weather to improve.
Amanj, 20, a Kurdish activist from Iran, says he has no choice but to move on. His father was recently imprisoned and the family does not know what happened to him. Aamang fears he will be next.
I would probably die if I were in Iran, you know. He said, “Maybe she was killed by the police with a gun, nobody knows. If it wasn’t today, you might die tomorrow anyway.”
Fifteen miles (25 kilometers) to the west at a camp outside Calais, migrants from Sudan kick a soccer ball around a barren patch of land and hang their clothes on a fence in the hope that it will dry out in the weak sunlight.
Patrick longs to get to Liverpool and study political science. He says he has tried to smuggle himself into a vehicle bound for Britain every day for the past six months. Now he is ready to try the boats, if he can find the money.
He said, “I dream of England, I know some people died at sea, but I will try by sea or any other way.”
In Calais, aid groups have taken over a warehouse where they collect supplies such as sleeping bags, food and firewood which they distribute to migrants at designated locations across the city.
Obi Cook, 27, is sorting vegetables for a salad bowl after taking time off from her job at HP to help immigrants.
“It is sad that such a tragedy has to happen again,” she said.
Back in the camps, the men take off their shoes and push their feet as close to the campfire as possible, trying to dry them out and stay warm.
Amid the desperation, there is also determination.
Ari, the Iraqi teacher, traveled first to Belarus before taking a train through Poland, and then through Germany to reach the canal coast.
His destination is Bournemouth, where he has a family. He intends to do so.
“We want to be free,” he says. “That’s why we’re here.”