‘We will all go to England, one hundred per cent’: Despite tragedy, migrants still determined to get to UK

Reuniting with family members, being able to speak English, and the quality of life are the main factors

Zoe Tidman
Saturday 04 December 2021 16:30
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Migrants determined to reach UK despite tragedy

The English Channel saw its deadliest shipwreck since the migrant crisis began last week: 27 people died when their boat sunk trying to reach the UK.

The tragedy, in which only two survived, has once again shone a spotlight on the dangers of making the crossing.

But in France, asylum seekers living in campsites in bitterly cold temperatures remained determined to make it to the UK.

Police routinely break up the camps and take down tents. After this, asylum seekers are typically transported to holding centres scattered across France where they are encouraged to file for asylum.

This happened to Ali, who described himself as a Kurdish LGBT+ teenager who has fled Iran, when the Grande-Synthe campsite was dismantled earlier this week. He was taken to a hotel near the Belgian border and asked why he did not apply for asylum in France.

He told The Independent this is not what he wants. He would make his way back to Dunkirk and continue trying to come to the UK.

“We will all go to England, one hundred per cent,” he said. “No one will apply for asylum in France.”

Ali, who said he was 18, said he wanted to go to the UK because his mother is there. He also speaks English and says the French language is difficult.

Police and workers in protective gear dismantle the Grande-Synthe camp earlier this week

Other asylum seekers who were in Grande-Synthe also wanted to come to England for family members or because they know the language.

Arish, a 22-year-old from Iraqi Kurdistan, was one of them. When asked why he wanted to go to England, he said: “Because the language is English.” He also has a brother in the UK, who has lived there for 18 years.

English is part of the public school curriculums of both Iraq and Iran, which were under the sway of the UK during long stretches of the 20th century.

Anna Richel, a charity worker in Dunkirk, told The Independent many asylum seekers want to come to the UK instead of staying in France because they already have family there.

Brexit has also meant people who have fled their home countries may have a better chance of being granted asylum in England rather than France, she adds.

There are lots of people who want to apply for asylum in France who can’t

Anna Richel from Dunkirk charity Utopia56

The UK used to be part of the EU’s Dublin agreement, which allows countries to send asylum seekers back to the first European country they arrived in, which is responsible for their application. The UK is no longer party to these regulations after Brexit – but France still is.

Ms Richel from Utopia 56 says the Dublin agreement has a “huge impact”. “If someone sets foot in another European country, they can’t apply for asylum in France.”

She adds: “It’s really problematic. There are lots of people who want to apply for asylum in France who can’t.”

The UK has changed domestic asylum laws so claims may be deemed inadmissible if the applicant has gone through another safe country first – but it has not come up with any bilateral agreements to send people back to these places. Instead, cases must now be individually negotiated.

Out of 25,700 people who have made it safely to the UK this year, just five have been sent back to Europe, according to ministers. This is compared to 294 the year before, when the UK was still in the Dublin agreement.

A man makes a phone call from the Grande-Synthe camp

“It isn’t said enough that England isn’t an eldorado,” Ms Richel told The Independent. Asylum seekers in France just “don’t have another choice for a free and decent life”, she says.

Some say they would rather come to England rather than stay in France, as they view it as a better place to try and get a job.

“The first and biggest reason for all asylum seekers is good economic conditions,” Pouya, a young Kurdish man from Iran, tells The Independent. England also has a good standard of living with good healthcare and education, he adds.

Omar, who was also in the Grande-Synthe camp last week, also spoke about job opportunities as one of the reasons why he wanted to come to England. He would like to continue working in marketing, like he did back in Iran.

Others simply say they view England as their best chance at safety. Some Iranians in Dunkirk told The Independent they did not feel safe in France, claiming there were Iranian links there. Iran allegedly sought to target a 2018 gathering of opponents to the regime outside Paris, and numerous dissidents have been targeted in clandestine operations across continental Europe.

Ali, the Kurdish teenager from Iran, said there were lots of people from his community in the UK already, which makes it an attractive place to go.

He remained determined to come to England, despite the setback of being sent miles away from Dunkirk – and the risks of the Channel crossing.

“We must go to England,” he told The Independent. “We must try.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our New Plan for Immigration, which is currently going through parliament, will overhaul the broken asylum system and reduce many of the historic pull factors by making it firmer on those coming here through parallel illegal routes and fairer for those using our safe asylum schemes.”

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