Student nurse who fled Syria willing to risk death to cross Channel to UK

·4-min read

A student nurse forced to leave Syria amid the bloody civil war and now sleeping rough in Calais said he wants to help people in the UK.

Abbas, 28, is willing to risk his life crossing the English Channel “in any way we can” in order to escape desperate conditions in the French port.

He and others from his village are among up to 2,000 people in northern France waiting for their chance to cross to the UK, no matter the dangers.

With winter approaching, migrants scraping an existence in Calais now face dropping temperatures and biting rain.

Medical volunteers already contending with the pandemic have reported seeing cases of trench foot.

Abbas, a student nurse
Abbas (centre), a student nurse, said he wants to help people in the UK (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Nearly 20,000 people have made the dangerous crossing to the UK aboard small boats this year, more than double the total figure for 2020.

But despite the numbers arriving on British shores, the dangers of the route were laid bare last week in an incident off the coast of Harwich in which several people were feared to be lost at sea.

Beside a railway line in Sangatte, near Calais, around 400 people gathered in a rugged clearing as Care4Calais volunteers arrived to hand out food and drink, as well as provide medical services.

Speaking to the PA news agency while others queued, Abbas – whose name has been changed to protect his identity – said the journey from Syria had been “very hard and difficult… and risky”.

He said the prospect of crossing to the UK aboard a small boat was “scary” but that he and his compatriots planned to cross “in any way we can”.

Asked about his life in Syria, Abbas said he had been studying English and nursing at university and said he wanted to go to London and use his skills to help people.

“I hope to have a chance there,” he added.

A man studies at the makeshift Calias camp
A man studies at the makeshift Calias camp (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Abdo, 27, spoke proudly of how he taught himself English and programming languages in a bid for a better life.

“I have communication with people who left for the UK and they say it’s heaven for people like me,” he told PA.

“I just want a place that I have education; protection and education.”

Originally from Sudan, Abdo, whose name has been changed, said he was forced to walk for more than two weeks across a desert with just two cups of water a day.

“If you do not pay they will sell you as a slave,” he said, adding that people had been sent to gold mines to work off debt.

Another young man who visited the aid distribution area spoke of how he had been forced to flee Afghanistan after being attacked by the Taliban.

He described spending 16 months walking to Calais from his home country, where he had worked with the Afghan army.

All three men praised the work done by migrant aid charity Care4Calais, which provides support and supplies in and around Calais and Dunkirk.

Numbers of people who have succeeded in crossing the Channel – a dangerous trip that has claimed lives – have nearly reached 20,000 for 2021, according to data compiled by PA.

Despite this, the UK continues to see far fewer boat arrivals and asylum claims than many of its European counterparts.

At least 94,206 people have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea so far this year, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

At least 1,299 people are estimated to be dead or missing, according to the same data.

Men cut each other’s hair at the camp
Men cut each other’s hair at the camp (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said the charity is “very concerned” about the Government’s planned Nationality and Borders Bill and the effect it would have on those seeking to claim asylum in the UK.

She told PA: “It’s a really scary future for people who have become our friends.

“To us they are very, very real people.

“The situation in Calais is just dire, it’s shocking. We are going into winter, it’s going to get worse.”

Referring to the increasing numbers of people who have crossed the Channel in small boats, she added: “It’s just another year of the same evidence that these (Government) policies are not working.”

Ms Moseley called for a rethink by the Home Office and for more safe and legal routes to be established.

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