‘He didn’t come back’: the grim camps from where refugees set off for UK | Refugees

For 4 days this week Karwan Tahir shared a tent in the woods round Dunkirk with a younger man named Karim. In the early hours of Wednesday morning Karim set off for the UK – a journey in darkness to the close by seaside, and from there into the huge and unsure Channel in a flimsy dinghy.

“I don’t know if he made it or if he drowned,” Tahir mentioned on Friday, exhibiting off the residing area he and Karim had briefly shared. “He didn’t come again. I solely knew he got here from [Iraqi] Kurdistan, like me. We met at the camp. He knew I spoke English and so he invited me to share his tent.

“Now it’s mine,” he added.

Karim’s final identified location was a sprawling encampment of shelters on the outskirts of Grande-Synthe, subsequent to a bridge and a canal. The camp is residence to a number of hundred individuals, nearly all Kurds from Iraq. Most likely the 27 individuals who died in the icy waters on Wednesday had lived and slept right here earlier than they set off on their ultimate journey.


Exact info, nonetheless, is tough to come by. On this makeshift group, individuals look out for one another, however aside from household or buddy teams, relations are momentary and transient. Though everyone has a cell phone to be in contact with household and buddies, agency details about the lifeless is tough to come by.

Grieving family will most likely be again at residence.

Karwan Tahir, from the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, display a life jacket
Karwan Tahir, from the Kurdish metropolis of Sulaymaniyah, shows the lifejacket he has purchased in readiness for crossing the Channel. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

It doesn’t pay to ask too many questions. The environment adjustments after darkish, when offers are struck and the Kurdish mafia who run smuggling operations are current.

In keeping with native support staff, a 23-year-old Iraqi Kurd was shot twice in the leg on Wednesday after an argument, and was taken by ambulance to hospital. A smuggler is alleged to have opened hearth after the man refused to get on a ship, hours after information unfold that 29 individuals had died. He had paid £1,500 – half his price – with the different £1,500 promised as soon as he had landed in the UK.

It isn’t clear if Karim was amongst the 17 males who drowned, along with seven ladies – one in every of them pregnant – and three youngsters, or if he made it to Dover. Tahir confirmed off the lifejacket he had purchased in anticipation of his personal crossing – “it value me €35 [about £30]”, he mentioned – in addition to a cuddly tiger left by a newly departed household.

Tahir described the tortuous journey that had taken him to the north coast of France. He mentioned he had left the Kurdish metropolis of Sulaymaniyah a month in the past after which flew from Dubai to the Belarus capital, Minsk. He reached the EU border with assist from Belarusian border guards who confirmed him where to cross, he mentioned. From Poland he travelled by automotive to northern France. The journey thus far had value £12,000, he mentioned, together with £3,000 paid to smugglers upfront for his forthcoming boat journey.

Ahmed, 2 and Leah, 6 - two of Adil and Sarah Ali’s four children.
Ahmed, two, and Leah, six, two of Adil and Sarah’s 4 youngsters. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Most of these tenting out in the rain and dirt are younger, unaccompanied males however there are a number of households, too.

One small boy, Muhammad, was taking part in with a plastic helicopter below a tarpaulin, subsequent to an open log hearth constructed by his father, Adil. Adil’s spouse, Sarah, and child son, Malik, sheltered in a tent.

The camp is grim and rubbish-strewn, with no bathrooms or working water. Charities present garments and meals.

Regardless of Wednesday’s tragedy, lots of these tenting right here mentioned they have been nonetheless decided to succeed in the UK.

Sokar Mawlud, 20, from the Iraqi metropolis of Kirkuk, admitted the dangerous climate made the journey much more perilous and he was “caught”. He was desiring to go to London along with his brother Sarhand, 13, and their mom, Shawbo, 42.

Mawlud’s odyssey has been a protracted one. He mentioned he left Iraq in 2015 and spent six years in the German metropolis of Nuremberg, going to highschool, earlier than he was compelled to go away and placed on a flight to Turkey. From there he tracked again to France. Why the UK? “My sister lives there. She’s a hairdresser,” he mentioned. He thought he knew one in every of the individuals who had drowned, however was unsure.


On Thursday Mawlud and his household headed for Loon-Plage, the seaside west of Dunkirk from where the 29 victims are believed to have set off. A ship was ready. They turned again, Mawlud mentioned, after recognizing a French police patrol on the sands. “It’s harmful, really. The smugglers purchase a dinghy meant for 20 individuals after which cram 50 individuals on board.”

On Loon-Plage there have been haunting indicators of the migrants who had left. A collapsed dinghy lay amid the dunes; additional alongside, towards a backdrop of Dunkirk’s busy port with its cranes and smoke, was one other deserted dinghy, made by the German agency MaRe Boote. Close by was a crimson lifejacket and a left shoe, half full of sand. Its proprietor’s destiny was unknown.

Most of these camped round Calais and Dunkirk have some household reference to Britain – uncles, siblings, buddies. Others mentioned that they had realized from social media that it was straightforward to get a job. Tahir mentioned he had lived in Bury St Edmunds for seven years, working in Pizza Specific, and had gone residence to Iraq in 2006, considering his nation was protected. “A mistake,” he mentioned.

Sokar Mawlud, 20 (left), with his brother Sarhand, 13, and mother Shawbo, 42
Sokar Mawlud (left), 20, along with his brother Sarhand, 13, and mom, Shawbo, 42, from Kirkuk, Iraq, is hoping to hitch his sister, a hairdresser in the UK. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Nationalities are likely to clump collectively in numerous camps alongside the Nord-Pas de Calais coast. Akhmed Wikky, 21, was one in every of a handful of Afghans who had ended up in Grande-Synthe, a suburb of Dunkirk. He mentioned he left Afghanistan 5 months in the past on foot from his residence in the metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif. By the time he reached Turkey in August, the Taliban had seized his hometown and the capital, Kabul.

What would he do now?

“My brother lives in Luton. I’ll attempt to be part of him there. If I can’t, my plan B is to remain and study French,” he mentioned.

The larger politics of the migrant disaster, he mentioned, had handed him by. “I’m not a drug seller, or a terrorist, or a foul man. I simply need my human rights,” he mentioned. “My ambition is to review in the UK. I wish to be a city planner”.

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