‘I swam 600 metres’ for the human rights land

Migrants now swimming from Calais to Dover.

After reading an article published by the BBC ‘Calais migrant crisis: France sends extra police to Channel Tunnel’ I decided to question whether this extra policing, really is a solution?

Thomas (a migrant whom I’ve interviewed and blogged about in the past) has lived the Calais migrant experience which I will try to summarise for you. This blog will try to uncover whether or not these government funded measures are effective.

After being sailed to a camp in Naples, on a navy ship by Italian Coastguards (continuation from previous ‘Question to Government’ blog, Thomas escaped the open camps before getting his fingerprints taken by police and the settling-in facilitators. He envisioned England, not Italy.

Taking a train, leaving Naples for Milan, Thomas found Eritrean migrants who told him in order to get to the UK, he needed to get to France, Calais. Next step or should I say next stop: train from Milan to Nice. This was the only way he knew how to cross the border into France.

“How, did you not get asked for ID at any point when approaching the border?” ‘

I got lucky’ his response was. After a 7 hour journey, he then got on a train at 8pm from Nice to Paris and arrived at about 7am. Next step was to get a train from Paris to the next stop Calais.

“I spent 2 to 3 days with people in the jungle who are like me waiting to find any car any way to get into the boat to get from Calais to Dover.”

For those of you who don’t know about the jungle, it is a refugee camp located in Calais, a walkable distance from the port of Calais. Some camps previously have been demolished like ones in May 2014. The latest, most interesting insight into the camp life can be found in this article:

http://www.theguardian.com/media/ng-interactive/2015/aug/10/migrant-life-in-calais-jungle-refugee-camp-a-photo-essay

jungle camp
I do not own this photo, all rights belong to http://www.straitstimes.com Photo showing Calais Jungle camps

The idea is to get into any vehicle like a lorry or a car that will board a ship or ferry taking migrants over from Calais to what they refer to as ‘good life’: England (this was Thomas’ initial plan), but as a result of increased security checks, this method has become more difficult. Especially since there had been occasions where drivers who spotted migrants would call police or authorities and report them. Thomas had gotten this far, and was not going to give up. He had to think of another way.

Walking on tracks (another popular migrant method) was no longer a possibility due to greater levels of security in that area.

Migrants walk along railway tracks at the Eurotunnel terminal on July 28, 2015 in Calais-Frethun. Attempts by migrants desperate to reach England through the Channel Tunnel reached a new peak overnight July 27/28, as about 2,000 migrants tried to enter the Eurotunnel terminal in the French port town of Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Migrants walk along railway tracks at the Eurotunnel terminal on July 28, 2015 in Calais-Frethun. Attempts by migrants desperate to reach England through the Channel Tunnel reached a new peak overnight July 27/28, as about 2,000 migrants tried to enter the Eurotunnel terminal in the French port town of Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Thomas thought of a plan B.

Plan B: Swim.

Swim? What? Now, hold on. That’s just absurd. (I bet your thinking it too.) The moment I heard those words ‘I decided to swim’, I thought OK now he’s being ridiculous, he’s making this up as he goes along. He thinks that because I’m young (fair enough) and naïve (I’m not) that I’m going to go along with whatever he says.

I did.

Leaving late at night, making sure the sky is pitch black, Thomas found it the perfect opportunity to begin the end of this never-ending journey. Wrapping his phone in cling film and securing it with layers of plastic bags and tape, Thomas was preparing for his crazy, last resort approach, to make it to England. His suffocated phone was then placed in a pocket within a spare change of trousers, which was then placed inside a hoodie, stuffed into more layers of white plastic bags that he tied in a knot. The plastic bags were white so that they looked like seagulls from a far (in the case of being spotted by other passing ships, lighthouses or coastguards), Thomas then positioned the floatable plastic bags in front of his head so that he was covered, but also as a float he could hold on to.

Heading in the direction of Dover, Thomas swam extremely slowly avoiding large splashes whilst clutching onto his made-in-minutes, personal belonging-holding, seagull impersonating float. He managed to avoid attention of coast guards, but gain attention from seagulls, he explained his frustration when numerous seagulls approached the white bag with their beaks trying to pick it up or burst it open. To which he found, the only solution was to be to spit-squirt them with sea water: he described this technique as “successful”.

“I had all my clothes on, the water was still freezing, and I swam for 600 metres”.

Thomas thought he was lucky as he didn’t have to swim the full English Channel, since he’d managed to sneak onto a passing ship. Others, however were unfortunate, an example – the tragic case of Shadi Omar Kataf a migrant from Damascus whose body was found ‘washed up’ (according to BBC) in Norway wearing a wetsuit (after being traced back to its origins) he purchased from Calais, where it’s apparent he swam from. This story was heart breaking and just highlights the extent of desperation there is to make it to England. Shadi Kataf is just one of the thousands of migrants who flee religious extremist-war torn Syria.

Thomas hid on the ship immediately after he’d snuck onto it. Once the ship had reached Dover, Thomas opened one of the doors to where there were parked cars and Lorries. Hoping to get onto one of them, the moment he’d pulled the door, an alarm had gone off. A demanding notification of foreign body on board alerted the sailors. Thomas had been caught.

Last year, 563 migrants have been arrested or detained in the ports of Dover by police officers (according to the independent newspaper) – like Thomas they’d been caught. If he had been caught in Calais he would have been passed onto the Calais officials, but he was now in Dover, in England – and therefore, was passed onto the British police. Thomas had explained his story and his journey and the reasons why he fled his country Eritrea (story found in ‘Question to Government: Are you human?’ previous blog) to the migration officials, and so an asylum case was filed. On 19th of December, a decision had been made Thomas was allowed to remain in England.

Thomas’ case has revealed that regardless of tight restrictions on immigration, there will always be a new imaginative, creative way that a desperate migrant will think of to make it across the sea. It seems that the extra policing have caused migrants to be cautious in their decisions to cross the border and consequently remain in Calais for a while before making their journey to England which is their intention. Extra policing, therefore due to this can be considered a temporary fix. You ever heard the saying, if there is a will there is a way. This concept could work for those trying to decrease the amount of migrant numbers also, as there are migrants learning the language of French and are coming to terms with the French lifestyle which is an indication of endeavouring for French citizenship, not characteristics of seeking UK citizenship. It appears that the will and desperation of the migrants is stronger than the border restrictors.

The will of these migrants is not only a matter of survival, but a determination to live.

Sources: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/desperate-migrants-try-to-swim-from-calais-to-britain-10401236.html http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-33584706 http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/aug/10/10-truths-about-europes-refugee-crisis

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