‘This is no life’: Migrants in bitterly cold Dunkirk camp ask why England isn’t doing more to help

·4-min read

Migrants living in the bitter cold in a Dunkirk campsite have asked why the UK does not do more to help them, just days after 27 people died crossing the English Channel.

Rows of tents have been pitched next to a disused railway track in Grande-Synthe in northern France, as people there told The Independent they dreamed of having a safe life in England.

Some had even tried to cross the English Channel several times, but ended up back in France after their attempts failed due to issues with the boat or being stopped by police.

Pleas for safe routes to England have been renewed after the deadly shipwreck earlier this week, the victims of which included at least three children.

At the campsite in the Dunkirk suburb on Friday, a young man from Iraqi Kurdistan made the same appeal.

“Why does England not take people? People wouldn’t die after,” Asir said. “If England takes people, everyone lives and has a safe life.”

The 22-year-old asked why England could not put on a bus or flight to help people desperate to reach its shores.

He has already tried three times to cross the Channel, with his boat failing the first time, the engine breaking the second, and police turning them back the third. But Asir – who wants to go to England as he speaks the language and his brother lives there – is ready to try again when he can.

“I don’t know what this life is here. It’s no life,” he told The Independent.

His tent sits near the end of the campsite and contains two sleeping bags – one for him and one for his friend. They also have a candle in a mug, to keep warm outside in the bitter cold.

A tent for two men at the Grande-Synthe camp (Zoe Tidman/The Independent)
A tent for two men at the Grande-Synthe camp (Zoe Tidman/The Independent)

Both have come from Iraqi Kurdistan. Asir said bombing was a constant part of life, even destroying his shop and killing his brother.

“In 22 years, I haven’t seen a good life in my own land,” he added.

A 15-year-old from Iraq also told The Independent he had to flee his native country, saying it was “dangerous” for him.

His father had been killed by Islamic militant group Isis, the teenager said. Other family were in Iraq but were not safe, he added.

The boy, who did not want to be named, said life was “very bad” in the camp and was cold. “Why doesn’t Britain help us?” he asked.

Charity workers said the camp in Dunkirk has grown in size since last week, when it was set up following the dismantlement of a large campsite that housed around 1,000 migrants nearby.

Matthew Cowling, an aid worker, told The Independent it was a “ridiculous situation where people are sleeping on the side of a train track in tents”.

“It is getting incredibly cold at the moment as well,” he added.

A group of migrants told The Independent earlier – as they sheltered from the rain in a nearby carpark – they were going to wait until the weather was better before crossing by boat – but if it takes too long, they were going to try anyway, even if it risked their lives.

In the Dunkirk camp on Friday, 28-year-old Omar said he had tried to cross the Channel on a boat three times already – with water coming onto the boat each time, sending them back.

He said trying to go by boat was “too dangerous” so he was now thinking about trying to cross into England by lorry.

Migrants in nearby Calais said on Thursday they wanted to try and leave northern France this way – but that this was often difficult to do without being stopped by police.

Tents are pitched next to a disused railway in Dunkirk (Zoe Tidman / The Independent)
Tents are pitched next to a disused railway in Dunkirk (Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

Rakan, from Iraqi Kurdistan, told The Independent he got stranded in the English Channel on a boat two days ago – the same day 27 people died when their ship sunk.

The ship engine crashed while his boat was trying to make the crossing and they were stuck in the middle of the sea for five hours, he said. His boat were eventually brought back to shore by French police.

“I don’t have a place, I don’t have anything,” the 25-year-old, who has lots of family in the UK, said. “I want to go to Britain.”

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