21 Apr 2015

Calais migrants: ‘We are not animals’

The boat tragedy that claimed the lives of an estimated 900 people attempting to enter Europe is being sorely felt by migrants in Calais who made similar trips. Watch Paraic O’Brien’s report.

For those asylum seekers and migrants living in the new permanent camp, Sunday’s boat tragedy is a stark reminder of their own journeys into Europe. The Jules Ferry camp opened in January this year and is situated next to the Calais port. Built on a former children’s summer camp, it is a marked improvement on the previous informal settlement in the nearby sand dunes, though outside its gates hundreds of people continue to live in dire conditions in makeshift tents.

The new camp, spread over several acres of parkland, is home to several thousand people, including around 50 women and children. Those living there have each made their own treacherous journeys over many countries and oceans, and the memories of those lost along the way remain vivid. Fathi Awad, from Sudan, travelled from Libya to Italy on a boat a few months ago.

Speaking to Channel 4 News Reporter Paraic O’Brien, he described how his travelling companion on another boat within the flotilla of trafficked people died after their dingy capsized. A picture on his phone of the over-packed vessel he travelled on reminds him of how lucky he was to survive the seas.

Syrian refugee Hamada Morshedy made his journey from Damascus, arriving in Greece from Turkey. Working as a lawyer’s apprentice before the outbreak of the uprisings and civil war, he said he had a good life along with his family. As the conflict dragged on, fleeing was his only option.

“You stay indoors, and you may be dead. You visit friends, and they may be dead.”

Nearly 1,800 people have drowned attempting to make the trip across the Mediterranean into Europe this year, compared to less than a 100 deaths at the same time last year when a similar number attempted the crossing.

In the face of the most recent tragedy leaders are facing intense pressure to reinstate a rescue operation in the islands around southern Europe. The number of people attempting the treacherous journey usually peaks in the late spring and summer months, which is adding to the sense of urgency, but leaders have yet to agree a plan.