Migrants in Calais yesterday swore to keep trying to make the perilous sea crossing to Britain, saying they are fearful of religious persecution in Iran and worried that claiming asylum in the UK will become harder after Brexit.
One young Iranian who said he was on a boat stopped in the water over Christmas insisted he would try ‘200 times’ to reach the UK despite having been terrified of drowning during the journey. Another said he would ‘keep trying to get to England’ despite having been in France since 2017.
One Iranian said the Afghan people-smuggling gangs who control access to the coast are becoming bolder, coming into the camp armed with with ‘guns and swords’.
Around 200 Iranian men, along with half that number of Africans mainly from Sudan and Nigeria, are currently living in a makeshift camp on a patch of unused industrial scrubland less than a mile from the Calais docks. Yesterday morning when MailOnline visited the camp – one of several close to the French shoreline – the men huddled around small fires for warmth.
A young man who gave his name as Mehdi said he made the crossing to England ‘two or three days ago’.
He said: ‘The boat got very close to England. We called 999 but the French police came. We were only two hundred metres from Dover.
‘I will try again. I will try 200 times. Because England people is not so much racist. People in England is very good, here is not good.’
He said he had made the trip to Calais from the Tehran suburb of Mina a month ago because: ‘People want to kill me. I converted from Islam to Christianity.’
He said traffickers had come into the camp last week and asked which men wanted to make the crossing. He volunteered, paying E4000 to the traffickers for his seat in the dinghy – money he said had been sent to him from family in Iran.
He and ten others were taken down to the shoreline at around 9pm one night, avoiding police checkpoints.
The migrants in the makeshift camp on scrubland outside Calais claimed to have been persistently harassed by French police and said England was their ‘last chance’ to avoid persceution
On Saturday morning Iranian migrants stood by campfires for warmth. One said armed Afghan trafficking gangs were on-site but that it would be too dangerous to point them out
One man who gave his name as Sam, but asked MailOnline not to reveal his face, said he had been tortured in Iran for political activities and because he was a Christian. The religious regime in Tehran has enacted a crackdown on Muslims converts in recent months
He thought he was going to drown during the crossing, when the small dinghy’s outboard motor stopped working in the midst of the world’s busiest shipping lane.
‘It was so so dangerous,’ he said. ‘I was so scared, I cried.’
He said at one point he was so frightened of drowning that he wet himself.
‘When I thought I was going to die I called 999’. He said French authorities brought him back to the camp after his boat was rescued.
In this camp close to the Calais docks there are around 200 Iranian men and half that number of Africans mainly from Sudan and Nigeria. It is one of a number of small temporary encampments along the coast which have sprung up since the Jungle was bulldozed.
At midday a queue formed when French charity workers appeared briefly and distributed food including bananas and jam sandwiches
Several of the men said French police regularly raided the camp, taking tents and sleeping bags and leaving migrants to sleep in the open on freezing nights
The French Patrolman of Gendarmerie boat, the Athos, rescued 11 migrants 15 miles off Calais at 1.45am yesterday on December 27.
Ninety-five migrants in 12 boats have been detained trying to cross from France since Christmas morning
A 31-year-old who called himself Sam said he had been tortured in an Iranian prison for his political and religious beliefs, before proudly displaying a crucifix pendant worn around his neck.
He added: ‘I will keep trying to get to England. Here there is much problems, everyone wants to go.
He said he had been ordered to leave France within 48 hours of being arrested earlier this year, but was not deported. He said: ‘They just gave me the letter and told me to go’.
Lucy Moreton, a spokesman for the Immigration Services Union, said this week it was ‘very difficult to know’ how much the French authorities were doing to resolve the problems in Calais.
She said: ‘We are being told that those touting for these crossings are absolutely open about it. They are around and about in the camps, they are in the cafes in Calais.
‘If it’s that obvious to journalists and staff in those areas, then presumably it is obvious to the French authorities too.’
An Iranian who gave his name as Sia said the criminal gangs were getting bolder and more dangerous.
He said: ‘There are Afghan smugglers in the camps today. They are dangerous for us. They make fear in the camps. They have swords. Guns and swords.’
He said it would be too dangerous, both for him and MailOnilne, to point the traffickers out.
French authorities have come under fire for not doing more either to help migrants or stop traffickers. One Iranian told MailOnline he had been arrested and instructed to leave France within 48 hours – but not deported
Elsewhere in the city, close to the Calais Hospital, food is distributed after dark by aid workers
Some of the men at the camp said they had been in Calais for as long as two years
There has been speculation that the rise in attempted crossings over the Christmas period is a result of a lack of Border Patrol vessels in the Channel.
If that is a reason for the traffickers’ recent boldness, the rumour had not reached the 50 or 60 people MailOnline asked through the handful of English speaking Iranians in the camp yesterday – but some said they were conscious of a different time pressure.
A 30-year-old Iranian who also gave his name as Mehdi, who said he had been in the camp for a year, said: ‘People think after 2019 people make the process harder, because Brexit, we see on the news.
‘People are under so much pressure and stress, they try to cross and they can’t. It’s like people go mad with the pressure.
‘The sea is very very dangerous. We don’t want to go to sea, but we have to. In France, in the camps, the behaviour no good, the food no good, the asylum process no good. We want to go to England.’
MailOnline has approached the Home Office for comment.