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The War of Human Trafficking

January 14, 2020
Aida Ghajar
5 min read
The War of Human Trafficking

Aida Ghajar has been reporting on asylum seekers and refugees — from Iran, but from many other countries too — since 2017. Here, she looks back at some of the people she has met during that time. 


After a year and a half of reporting on asylum seekers, when I read the news about the bodies of 39 people found in a refrigerated trailer attached to a lorry in the United Kingdom, I suddenly saw the faces of all the asylum seekers who trusted me over that time as if they were right before my eyes again. They told me their stories, what it was like to take the high-risk route of human trafficking, tales of lives than have been steeped in displacement, for a few months or even several years.

I can now say that living in the world of asylum-seeking is a kind of war, a constant struggle to survive and live. I remember the eyes of the children who, instead of playing and studying, are part of the earth's refugees whose lives have been frozen. Any of those asylum seekers I met, children or adults, could have been those bodies found in the truck in Essex — humans who have nothing to lose and who become accustomed to an enormous set of dangers that threaten to annihilate them. Just like war.

When the bodies of those 39 people were found, the world's media focused on refugees' issues, at least for a few days. A trial began and several people involved in human trafficking were arrested. But this dreadful narrative was neither the first nor the last.

Although the 39 people who lost their lives in November 2019 started their journey in Belgium, stories like theirs happen everywhere.  Millions of people across the world from a huge range of nationalities take huge risks to get to the United Kingdom and countries in mainland Europe, crossing several borders sometimes, traveling by land or sea, and hoping to reach safety and to claim back their tired body and damaged spirit. Most of the time, the world pays little attention to them. 

Many of those who arrive at their destination hope to leave the memories of their journeys far behind. They hope their new home country will be a blank book, which they hope will be filled with their dreams coming true. However, for many of them, the pages of this book are torn apart, even before they reach their destination.

I remember the eyes of Maysam, half-drunk because of drugs, searching for travelers in the jungle in Calais, northern France. He spoke to every newcomer, trying to convince him or her that he could get them to their destination. After two years of living in the jungle, Maysam had become an "abductor" [trafficker] and asked for between €8,000 and €12,000 to put asylum seekers on lorries.

I remember Pari, a young woman who was sexually assaulted in northern France. She had been on lorries many times trying to get to the United Kingdom with her husband. She was left in a tire cargo for several hours and was short of breath. Every now and then when she was telling me her stories, she mentioned that she had seen death with her own eyes. Pari finally reached Britain by boat from France.

Ahmed, aged 25, has been out on the streets looking for a lorry to get him to his destination for the last two years. He had once traveled in a refrigerated lorry and told me that had the police not found him, he might have lost his life, just like one of those 39 victims.

Among the faces that came to my mind, I remember the cries of families who asked us to find their loved ones. They sent photos and information so that, after years, they could find a trace of their loved ones —  even if it was news of their death. Looking at the images of those lorry victims, I thought to myself that some of the missing asylum seekers whose families are waiting for them may have disappeared in a lorry like this one, and without the media and the cameras looking for them.

Images of children pass in front of my eyes, those traveling with their families or alone, and those who, instead of being a playful child, were forced to cross the border in lorries or other vehicles. I remember pregnant mothers risking their lives and being loaded into lorries.

Coping with the prospect of death has cast a huge shadow over all of their lives — again, like in a war. Every one of those asylum seekers might have been one of those 39 victims in a different scenario. Instead of a lorry, it could have been a train, or a boat, or it could have happened while they were on foot in the mountains or the jungle.

In Belgium, when they heard the news, all the asylum seekers I spoke to said, like Ahmad, "I could be one of them."

In the classical sense of war, human beings confront one another to defend borders and maintain security. In the world of asylum seekers, human beings fight against borders until they finally reach security. Violence in both instances of war is so outrageous that it can both take the life of a human being and also destroy the concept of humanity. In one scenario, there are tanks and armored vehicles, and in the other, there are lorries, trains, planes and boats. In both cases, human lives are lost in a horrific manner.


Read other articles in this series: 


Iranian Refugees in Zeebrugge: Desperate Dreams of Britain, January 11, 2019

Refugees in Belgium Desperately Dream of Reaching Britain, October 25, 2019

Racial Conflict Ends in Devastating Fire at Greece’s Samos Refugee Camp, October 17, 2019

Human Traffickers, Drug Smugglers and the British Channel, October 7, 2019

Refugees Fight Racism and Insults in Greece, October 1, 2019

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