‘We have to go, even if we die’: Refugees in France still determined to cross Channel despite risks

This week’s Channel tragedy has not deterred those still in France, they tell Zoe Tidman in Dunkirk

Friday 26 November 2021 17:35
Scores of tents pitched at makeshift migrant camp in France

Desperate people in Dunkirk told The Independent on Friday they were still prepared to try and get to the UK by sea even if it means they might die, and despite the boat tragedy this week which claimed the lives of 27 people trying to flee to Britain.

As charities warned of worsening conditions for displaced people in the area, a group of Iranian men sheltering from the pouring rain off a main road in Dunkirk’s Grande-Synthe suburb, close to where a large camp – broken up by police last week – used to be, said they would still try to cross the Channel in the next few days.

All had heard about the recent tragedy but were still planning on making the same journey when the weather – currently very cold, windy and wet – improved.

“If we cannot get out of here in a few days, we will have to go by boat or any other way, even though we may die, because we have to,” one of the men told The Independent.

As he sheltered from the wind just off a carpark, another said: “If the weather does not improve in another week, we would go by boat, even if we died.”

They explained they had fled Iran for political and religious reasons – “we may be executed or imprisoned” – and hoped to make it to England, where they would feel safer.

The group, which included a mechanic, a mobile phone repairer and someone who worked with solar panels, were gathered near a supermarket in Grande-Synthe, near where police dismantled a camp of around 1,000 migrants earlier this month.

Anna Richel from charity Utopia56 told The Independent people were forced on buses without any idea of where they were going and taken to centres across France when the eviction happened. Others have been left camping in the area in “worse conditions than before,” she said.

Groups of tents were still pitched near the supermarket in Grande-Synthe and displaced people were huddled under shelters on the side of the busy road near where the huge camp used to be.

“There is no access to water at the new campsite,” Ms Richel said. Access to the campsite is also difficult, which makes it hard for charities to get food to people who need it and evictions are continuing, she said.

Ms Richel said some people had spoken about this week’s tragedy, but others were more pre-occupied with day-to-day worries, including how to get food and water.

Some migrants were reduced to getting water from a canal, she said.

“The situation here is very bad,” a Kurdish man who fled Iran for fear of his safety told The Independent. “We want to get out of here.”

He said he has left his pregnant wife behind, and is hoping to find somewhere safe to bring her over.

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he wanted to British public to “look at asylum seekers differently”, describing them as “human beings” who have had to “leave their homeland because of the problems they have or have had”.

A 17-year-old who was with the group, which included a mechanic, someone who repaired phones and someone else who worked with solar panels, shivered as he showed a photo of the state of his feet from months of walking.

Migrants in nearby Calais told The Independent the day before they wanted to try and leave northern France by lorry - but that this was often difficult to do without being stopped by police.

Boris Johnson rejected pleas for the provision of safe routes for asylum seekers from continental Europe on the same day, following the death of 27 people in the Channel.

“The boat is very dangerous,” one Iranian in Grande-Synthe told The Independent on Friday. “But we have to go by boat because there is no other way.”

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