Migrants who ‘swam back to France’ after failed Channel crossing await another attempt

After a nearby camp was broken up by police, people with nowhere to go are camping on a disused railway line

Zoe Tidman
Saturday 27 November 2021 22:44
<p>Migrants describe life in the Dunkirk camp</p>

Migrants describe life in the Dunkirk camp

A group from Iraq and Iran stand near a fire in a campsite in Dunkirk in near-freezing temperatures.

They do not want to be in France. But they are here, in a makeshift campsite near old train tracks in the Grande-Synthe suburb, after failed attempts to cross the English Channel left them having to swim back to shore.

This happened four times, one of them says.

As they wait for their next try, they are camping out in Grand-Synthe in a site that has become popular with migrants since one nearby – which housed more than 1,000 – was broken up by police last week.

Tents are pitched in rows of two or three along a narrow stretch of land, fitting in between an old railway line and a road.

Fires burn and smoke billows throughout the camp on a cold Saturday morning, with temperatures hovering just above freezing.

“People’s lives are very bad,” a young woman from Iraq tells The Independent as she describes life in the camp. “There are no houses, it’s very very cold, we don’t eat.” She laughs as she adds: “No shower.”

Others in the group start listing what they are missing in the camp, including money and clothes. “There isn’t anything,” one young man says.

At a bus stop on a nearby main road, Kurdish teenager Ali tells The Independent he is looking to get a sleeping bag before heading to the campsite. He has come to Europe with his brother from Iran, a country he says is dangerous for certain people, including those in the LGBT+ community – to which he belongs.

He hopes it will be safer in England, where his parents live. He is already able to speak English.

To get to Europe, the brothers spent five days on a boat with no food or space to sit down, according to Ali – who tells The Independent he is 18, and that one of his favourite singers is Billie Eilish.

Now, they are thinking about taking another boat to England, which Ali says is the cheaper option. “We spent all the money we had. Now we do not have much money,” he says. “We have to go to England by boat.”

Other migrants in northern France tell The Independent they feel they have no other option but to try to reach England by sea, even if it puts their lives at risk, because it will give them the best chance of a new life.

Pleas for safe routes to England have been renewed after the deadly shipwreck earlier this week, which killed 27 people including three children. Maryam Nuri Hamdamin, a 20-year-old woman hoping to reach her fiance in the UK, was the first victim to be named.

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