Socialist Worker

Eight hours battling three foot waves

Issue No. 1712

Eight hours battling three foot waves

THERE WAS nearly another tragedy of desperate refugees dying on their journey to seek asylum in Britain on Friday of last week. Five asylum seekers from Ukraine rowed across the Channel from Calais in a five foot long plastic dinghy.

For eight hours the refugees battled three foot high waves with two plastic oars. The men, aged between 20 and 40 years old, bailed out the boat with cupped hands.

"They would never have made it to our shore-only as bodies," said the coastguard. "They were in a precarious position as strong winds and bad weather were forecast for later."

The crossing is the world's busiest shipping route. A supertanker or a ferry could have run over the small craft and never noticed it. An emergency vessel picked up the refugees while they were still seven miles from the Kent coast.

The refugees were so frightened when they saw the authorities that they started to paddle in the opposite direction.

They had to be persuaded to leave the dinghy to board the emergency vessel. All five were taken to Kent immigration services where they have asked for asylum. The five Ukrainians did not have any documents on them. This means the government would not have allowed them into the country.

New Labour's restrictions on lorry and freight travel force refugees to seek other, more dangerous, methods of travel. This is what caused the death of 58 Chinese refugees who were found suffocated in the back of a lorry in Dover in June.

The ordeal for the families of the Chinese refugees is still not over. Most of them are too frightened to come forward to identify the bodies because Kent police say any informants' details will be passed on to the immigration service.

Two months after the tragedy only two of the 58 people have been positively identified. The bodies are now being held in a deep freeze style mortuary to prevent them from decomposing.

Jabez Lam, from the Dover 58 Co-ordinating Committee support group, explains, "Relatives have to wait two to four hours for a body to defrost after requesting to view it. It's terrible."

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Sat 2 Sep 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1712
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