Lost amid the Tory scaremongering over refugees entering Britain are the voices of the refugees themselves.
The right wing press demands more is done to keep refugees trapped in France. But Socialist Worker spoke to some refugees about why it’s so important for them to be allowed to come safely to Britain.
One refugee from Sudan, who we’ve named Ahmed, is one of those who have made it into Britain. “I’ve been in the UK for about three months,” he told Socialist Worker. “I was just seeking safety and security—wherever it was.
“I heard about Britain and how people are suffering to get here, but I didn’t find safety in any of the other European countries that I went through.”
Ahmed had to try many times until he successfully got onto a lorry that brought him to Britain. “We had three or four people in our group,” he said. “I had a friend who knew how to open trucks and we would try to get into them.”
He added, “I feel safe now, but I still don’t have a work licence or permanent residence in Britain.”
Refugees have fled the West’s wars in the Middle East, poverty or dictatorship and come to Europe in search of a better life.
Ahmed was forced to flee the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled Sudan for 30 years after taking power in a coup in 1989. Many try to get away from a regime that conscripts 16 year old boys into the armed forces and militia.
“I’m not really a political person,” he said. “I worked as a mobile technician in market to help my wife and mum while I was studying as a medical student.
“The people who are living in the village need a doctor to help them.”
The regime arrested and tortured Ahmed when he tried to avoid conscription. “It’s not safe for me in Sudan,” he said. “I talked to my mum a few weeks ago and she said that she was asked by the authorities about me and where I am.”
Many of the refugees who are still in Calais have similar reasons for leaving their home countries.
In Caen in northern France there are about 150 refugees from Sudan like Ahmed.
There are also Iraqi Kurdish refugees who have fled the destruction and sectarianism unleashed by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. And there are a number of Afghans also forced to leave their war-torn country.
A new group from Iran has set up another makeshift settlement in Calais.
Many of the refugees described as Iranian in the press are in fact Iranian Kurds, who have ling faced national oppression. As one Iranian Kurdish refugee explained, “There are no rights for the Kurdish people in Iran”.
It’s not just Kurds now. Donald Trump’s renewed sanctions against Iran have made life unbearable even for middle class Iranians. They still have the means to escape the country compared to workers and the poor.
Across the five sites in Calais there are around 450-500 refugees.
These sites often reflect national groups. One site is known as “The Eritrean Roundabout” where there are about 90 young refugees.
Filimon, a 17 year old, sleeps rough under a bridge there. “I had to leave Eritrea because of the dictatorship,” he told Socialist Worker. “There is no democracy in my country.
“There is no work, no industry, everything has closed.”
The Eritrean regime of Isaias Afwerki has the right to conscript people into the armed forces indefinitely.
Another refugee, who we’ve called Mohammed, is a Bidoon from Kuwait. The Bidoon, which means “without citizenship”, are a tens of thousands-strong group of stateless Arabs from the Gulf states.
After Britain gave up control of Kuwait in 1961, around one third of people in the country weren’t given citizenship by the ruling dynasty.
Mohammed explained that Bidoons have “little rights” in Kuwait. “I’ve been in Calais and Dunkirk for around seven months,” he told Socialist Worker. “My brother is already in the UK and I want to join him.”
Around 1,500 refugees spread across five sites in Calais and Dunkirk and Caen in France and Brussels in nearby Belgium. And, while more Iranians have arrived, there hasn’t been a big jump in the overall population.
The UK Border Force patrol boats had intercepted and detained around 100 refugees since 25 December. Around 220 have been rescued after trying to cross in dinghies or fishing boats since November 2018.
The real epicentre of the refugee crisis is the Mediterranean Sea.
Every closed door only forces refugees to attempt more difficult—and more dangerous—routes into Britain
Sneaking onto the back of a truck in Calais wasn’t Ahmed’s first journey across perilous borders. After fleeing the Sudanese dictatorship’s jailers and torturers, Ahmed made his way towards the North African coast.
“I left Sudan at the beginning of December 2017,” he explained. “It took us about 28 days until we reached Libya.”
There were an estimated 662,000 migrants in Libya in 2018, according to the International Migration Organisation (IOM). It represented a massive jump from 40,000 during the previous year.
Ahmed said, “I stayed there for maybe ten days. After I got there I was talking to my mum and she told me, ‘You’ve got to cross’.
“So I crossed the Mediterranean in a plastic boat. It was really difficult—but I really wanted to feel safe.”
The European Union’s (EU) Fortress Europe policy has turned the Mediterranean into a mass grave, with some 2,262 people reported dead or missing in 2018.
A deal between the EU and Turkey in 2016 effectively blocked the safer route into Greece. This has forced refugees to take longer, deadlier sea routes from North Africa to Italy.
Filimon travelled from Eritrea through Sudan into Libya, then came to Calais through Italy. “I went by boat between Libya and Italy,” he said. “It was a very difficult journey. Sometimes it takes 24 hours, there’s big waves and a lot of people on the boat.”
The EU is trying to stop refugees even entering Europe by beefing up its external borders and paying money to North African governments. It has pumped money into the Sudanese regime, including a £15 million payment to help to “manage migration”.
The racist Italian government’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has also led the charge to make it harder for refugees to come to Italy. He blocked a rescue ship—the Aquarius—organised by charity Doctors Without Borders from docking in Italy last year.
This has seen more refugees making their way into Europe through Spain.
Now the Tories are using the same deadly tactics against refugees trying to come to Britain.
Home secretary Sajid Javid last week floated the idea of making it harder to apply for asylum seeker status in Britain in order to deter people from coming.
He has sent two more Border Patrol boats to the Channel, claiming he wants to deter people from attempting the dangerous crossing. It’s a disgusting attempt to dress up a brutal policy as a way of protecting migrants.
The reality is that every closed door only forces refugees to attempt more difficult—and more dangerous—routes into Britain.
Is Britain really so great?
Tories and right wingers try to present Britain as a particular magnet for refugees.
In reality, most refugees who make it into Europe are not trying to get into Britain and there are far more refugees and asylum claims in Germany, Italy and France.
Many of those who do want to come already have family in Britain or can speak English rather than French or German. And the racist policies pushed by the EU and national governments force many refugees to keep moving in search of safety.
Ahmed tried to claim asylum seeker when he got to France, but was stone-walled by the French immigration authorities.
“After that I went to Belgium to ask for asylum there. Unfortunately, we had to take the train without paying money and we were arrested and sent deportation letters telling is we had to leave.
“I was in the camp in Brussels centre, eventually returned to Calais and then took the truck.”
He added, “I want safety and security and unfortunately I didn’t find it in any of the European countries I went through.”
Filimon agreed. “It’s difficult in France,” he said. “You are seen as a parasite, it’s hard to get asylum here.”
The refugees in Calais live in squalid conditions, relying on help from charities. And the French riot police have free rein to harass them because none of the makeshift settlements are official refugee camps
“It’s very difficult to stay in Calais because there are always raids,” said Filimon. “The police come at night, they break tents and then you have to stay outside without shelter. I can’t sleep anywhere apart from under the bridge.”
“I want to apply for asylum in England and continue with my education,” he added.
The solution is to the Calais crisis is to open the border and let the refugees into Britain. Capital is allowed to move around the globe in search of profit. People should be able to move - whether it’s in search of safety or a better life.