Living in Syria 'scarier' than risking life in Channel: LBC speaks to migrants in Calais

25 November 2021, 15:35 | Updated: 25 November 2021, 18:47

  • Groups of people wait anxiously in Calais to be given 'green light' to cross by people smuggling gangs
  • One migrant told LBC that life in Syria is 'scarier' than attempting the crossing
  • LBC also spoke to a boy, 16, whose dad paid £10,000 in the hope of him reaching the UK to become a doctor
  • Home Secretary says there's 'no quick fix' as row with France escalates
  • 27 migrants died crossing the Channel yesterday in the worst ever tragedy of its kind
LBC spoke to migrants waiting in Calais to try to reach the UK in dinghies
LBC spoke to migrants waiting in Calais to try to reach the UK in dinghies. Picture: LBC/Sky/Alamy
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

LBC today spoke to migrants desperately waiting for the green light in Calais before they risk their lives by boarding small inflatable craft to try and reach the UK by crossing the Channel.

Groups of migrants had gathered at Gare De Calais Ville waiting to be given the go ahead by people smugglers to board tiny dinghies to try and reach Britain in search of a better life.

One of them, aged just 16, told LBC his dad in Syria raised £10,000 to secure him a place on a boat to try get to the UK so that he could one day study to be a doctor.

LBC spoke to a boy, 16, whose dad had paid £10,000 to people smugglers in the hope of him becoming a doctor in the UK
LBC spoke to a boy, 16, whose dad had paid £10,000 to people smugglers in the hope of him becoming a doctor in the UK. Picture: LBC

The boy said he is "a little bit" scared after 27 people died making the crossing yesterday, but his dad wants him to "have a better life."

When asked if his father knows he is going on the boat, he replied "yes."

The boy was with a group of five Syrian men, one of whom since decided he will no longer make the crossing.

Hamada, 29, told LBC he knew two people who were on the boat that sank yesterday.

He said: "When I see what happened yesterday, I say ok I don't want to go, I'm scared."

Groups of migrants wait anxiously for the call-up to make the crossing
Groups of migrants wait anxiously for the call-up to make the crossing. Picture: LBC

He said he had tried to tell the boy to go back to Germany with him, but the boy said he "did not like" Germany.

When asked why he left Syria, Hamada said it was "scarier" than crossing the channel in a boat.

He told LBC, "I know it is dangerous, but here it is just one day [being scared]. Syria everyday is the same thing, everyday you have to be scared all the time."

Migrants crossing the Channel in small boats face "terrifying" conditions that even commercial fishermen would not risk.

Yesterday 27 people died, including a pregnant woman and children, when their dinghy, described by rescue officials as a "floating death trap" with a capacity of 10, sank in the Channel. Only two people were rescued.

Police confirmed today that an adult male had been found on a beach in between Calais and Sangatte but it is not known if it's connected to last night's tragedy.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said today there is "no quick fix" to tackle the issue.

Read more: RNLI receive outpouring of support for migrant rescue efforts after latest Channel tragedy

A recent timeline of lives lost crossing the English Channel

France has demanded fresh assistance and dozens more made the perilous crossing in the wake of the deadliest day of the crisis on record.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was requesting "extra help" from the UK.

Authorities have revealed that pregnant women and children were among the at least 27 people who died when a dinghy capsized off the coast of Calais.

Groups of migrants at Gare De Calais Ville today
Groups of migrants at Gare De Calais Ville today. Picture: LBC

Ms Patel said the drownings were a "dreadful shock" and described the crossings as "absolutely unnecessary" after renewing an offer of sending British officers to join patrols on French beaches during a call with French interior minister Gerald Darmanin.

But the scale of the problem was further illustrated by new figures from the Home Office showing asylum claims in the UK have hit their highest level for nearly 20 years, fuelled by soaring Channel migrant crossings and a rise in numbers following the coronavirus pandemic.

Giving an urgent statement to MPs, Ms Patel said: "What happened yesterday was a dreadful shock, it was not a surprise but it is also a reminder of how vulnerable people are put at peril when in the hands of criminal gangs.

"There is also no quick fix. This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo and tackling supply chains."

After the Prime Minister was understood to have made the same offer in an emergency call with Mr Macron, Ms Patel said she had made a "very clear" offer to her French counterpart of British officers taking part in "joint patrols to prevent these dangerous journeys from taking place".

But Pierre-Henri Dumont, the MP for Calais, dismissed the "crazy" proposal that he said "will not change anything" along the vast shoreline.

Speaking during a visit to Croatia, Mr Macron said: "We are going to ask for extra help from the British because all these men and these women don't want to stay in France.

"We tell them they're obviously able to do so, and there are centres in Calais and Dunkirk where they can go, but we're going to reinforce in fact saving them at sea."

Mr Darmanin earlier described the loss of 27 lives on Wednesday as an "absolute tragedy" as he blamed human trafficking gangs who promised people the "El Dorado of England" for a large fee.

As French politicians pointed the finger at UK authorities for failing to tackle the issue, two more small boats carrying desperate individuals were believed to have arrived on British shores.

One group wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets were seen huddled together on board an RNLI lifeboat before disembarking in Dover on Thursday morning. High winds put a stop to the crossings later in the day.

Mr Darmanin told French radio network RTL the smugglers are "criminals, people who exploit the misery of others, of women and children - there were pregnant women, children who died yesterday on that boat... and for a few thousand euros they promise them 'El Dorado in England'.

"And, sadly, this has been repeated every day for the last 20 years."

A joint search and rescue operation by the French and British authorities that was launched after a fishing boat spotted people in the sea off France was finally called off late on Wednesday.

The French prosecutors' office tasked with investigating the incident said the dead included 17 men, seven women and two boys and one girl believed to be teenagers.

Mr Darmanin said the boat which sank had been very flimsy, likening it to "a pool you blow up in your garden".

He was unable to state the nationalities of the victims, but said the two survivors were Somali and Iraqi and had been treated for severe hypothermia.

The French authorities have arrested five suspected people traffickers in connection with the incident, and the French prosecutors' office said magistrates are investigating potential charges of homicide, unintentional wounding, assisting illegal migration and criminal conspiracy.

Following a meeting of the Cobra emergencies committee, Mr Johnson said it is clear that French operations to stop the migrant boats leaving "haven't been enough" despite £54 million of UK support, adding that the people traffickers are "literally getting away with murder".

However, Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said it is the British who are to blame and called on Mr Johnson to "face up to his responsibilities".

"The British Government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France," she said, according to French media reports.

Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the "mafia chiefs" at the top of the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be arrested.

"And the mafia chiefs live in London... They live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City," he told French TV station BFMTV.

A number of people are also believed to have reached Britain in small boats on Wednesday, with an Afghan soldier who had worked with British forces reported to be among those landing at Dungeness in Kent.

The Dover Strait is the busiest shipping lane in the world and has claimed many lives of people trying to cross to Britain in inflatable dinghies.