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In One Weekend, More than 50 Refugees Picked up in the English Channel

May 22, 2019
Aida Ghajar
6 min read
“Anyone crossing the Channel in a small boat is taking a huge risk with their life and the lives of their children,” says a British Home Office spokesman
“Anyone crossing the Channel in a small boat is taking a huge risk with their life and the lives of their children,” says a British Home Office spokesman

On Sunday, May 19, it was reported that more than 50 refugees, most of whom said that they were Iranians, were rescued in the English Channel while attempting to travel to the UK.

According to a spokesman for the British Home Office, and as reported by the Guardian, at 4am on Sunday, May 19, the Border Force was alerted to a small boat heading toward Dover. Six men, two women and five children were found on board. At 9am on the same day, the coastguard was informed about another boat with 19 people on board that had been intercepted by a Border Force cutter. The passengers were handed over to immigration officials.

A day earlier, on Saturday, May 18, the Border Force had been called to two incidents in the Channel. First, a group of 11 men, who stated that they were Iranians, were discovered at 5.50am. And at 7.50am, six men, two women and a 12-year-old, who said they were from Iraq and Iran, were found on another boat.

Since October 2018, numerous boats carrying refugees have left the northern French port of Calais, heading toward the UK. According to UK officials, since then more than 500 refugees, all Iranians, have crossed the English channel.

Last year, France and the United Kingdom agreed on tighter controls for their maritime borders, which Iranian refugees have crossed and attempted to cross hoping to seek refuge in the UK. The agreement meant the increase of the number of border patrols tracking human trafficking gangs and was drawn up to reduce the loss of life. Nevertheless, since the agreement was signed, the number of refugees who risk their lives by trying to cross the English Channel has increased.

“Anyone crossing the Channel in a small boat is taking a huge risk with their life and the lives of their children,” said a British Home Office spokesman, adding: “Since January more than 25 people who arrived illegally in the UK in small boats have been returned to Europe.”


Staring Death in the Face

The refugees who have arrived in England over the last eight months all tell similar stories. Most say that while crossing the channel they stared death in the face — some of them even risked their lives by crossing on rowboats. Others were stopped by French border patrols and were returned to France, while others faced deportation when they reached the UK. Some have taken no action to seek asylum and live in the UK without any documents.

Soheil is one of the Iranian refugees who has successfully made it to England. For four years he lived in the woods around the northern port city of Dunkirk near Calais, and several times each week tried to get to England any way he could. His application for asylum in France had been denied and he wanted to try his luck in the UK. Eventually, he paid a truck driver €7,000 ($7,810) to sneak him into England.

Soheil has been in the UK for less than a year, but he refuses to apply for asylum because, even without an ID he has been able to find a job and to rent a small apartment. “I am waiting so perhaps my fingerprints in France will disappear and the police will not deport me,” he says. In France he was involved in human trafficking but now that he has reached England he says that he would not do it again. He wants to live a wholesome life, he says.

One of the most important motives for refugees trying to reach the UK is the number of jobs on the black market that do not require IDs. Another reason is the English language, which most Iranians are familiar with, even if only at an elementary level. A third reason is the circulating rumor that if a refugee gets to the United Kingdom, he or she will immediately receive a few thousand pounds — a tempting motive to risk their lives.

Of course, under British law, refugees cannot work — but many of them gain access to the National Health Service. They do not have a say in choosing where they live and must live in shelters provided by the government. Each individual receives a weekly allowance of £37.75  (about €170 or $189.77 per month) and pregnant women or mothers of children younger than three receive an extra €13 per month. This of course does not tally with the unfounded rumors about thousands of pounds or euros making the rounds among Iranian refugees.

According to statistics published in 2018, in 2017 the UK received around 26,350 applications for asylum, of which one-fourth were granted, meaning that 14,512 applications were rejected and only 5,957 were accepted. Among these asylum seekers, Iranians were the biggest group.

And in 2018, European Union countries granted asylum to 333,400 refugees, 40 percent less than the previous year. Among those who were granted asylum, Iranians were the eighth biggest group. According to statistics published by the EU, three percent, or more than 10,000 of these asylum seekers, were Iranians.


Equal “Opportunity” for All Refugees

But EU countries have been restricting the flow of asylum seekers year on year and many governments have expressed an unwillingness to accept new refugees. Of course, many of these refugees might have left their own country in search of “a better future,” but many of them embark on these perilous journeys because they fear for their life and safety. Now, however, with the tightening of the laws against refugees and with extreme rightwing parties gaining power across many European countries, both groups suffer equally.

With European parliament elections scheduled to be held between May 23 and May 26, many political parties are trying to pull in more votes through adopting anti-immigrant positions. Forecasts say that extremist rightwing parties will increase their representation at the European Parliament, and this means refugees will have a harder time in European countries through which they travel. One of the results of this election could be that the European countries will take more serious measures to deport unwanted refugees.

The 2013 Dublin Regulation refuses refugees the right to choose the country where they seek asylum. The regulation states that the person must apply for asylum in the first country he or she arrives in, and in which authorities officially register them. As a result, if an asylum seeker has registered in France and manages to reach the UK, he or she will deported back to France.

Of course European countries do accept many applications for asylum from refugees who are staying in other countries but, to the refugees, this seems like a roll of the dice — where luck decides their fate, not the law.


Related Coverage:

Hundreds of Iranian and Afghan Refugees Thrown out on the Streets of Athens, April 23, 2019

Refugee “Caravan of Hope” Ends in Frustration and Violence, April 8, 2019

“Caravans of Hope” in Turkey and Greece as Rumors of Open Borders Spread, April 5, 2019

The “Hellhole of Athens”, April 3, 2019

Frustrated Iranian Refugees in Turkey Launch Twitterstorm, February 15, 2019

Asylum Seekers in Greece: A Life of Fear and Suffering, January 29, 2019

Iranian Refugee Rights Activist Faces Long Prison Sentence in Greece, January 28, 2019

From Asylum Seeking to Asylum Dealing, January 23, 2019

French Police Raid and Destroy Iranian Refugee Camp in Calais, January 11, 2019

Meeting with a Human Trafficker in Istanbul, December 18, 2018

Iranian Ambassador Shrugs Off Responsibility for Refugees, December 11, 2018

From France to Turkey: Human Trafficking and Asylum Seekers, November 13, 2018




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