Everyone at the camp on the outskirts of Dunkirk, little more than a set of dilapidated tents with no toilets or running water, have heard of the 27 people who drowned on Wednesday.
Everyone knows the risks. But everyone says they still have the same plan, to try to get on a boat to the UK, because they don’t believe death will come to them – and because of their hope of a lifetime. better.
Mira, an Iraqi Kurd, said he left the town of Sulaymaniyah because “there is no life” at home, a simple phrase repeated by many people in and around the camp. He admits that traveling by boat to Britain “is very dangerous; there will be big waves ”, but he is ready to make the perilous journey in the hope of eventually making some money to send home.
Like Mira, many in the camp say they came via Belarus. Muhammed, who looks much older than the 17 he says he is, said he flew to Qatar and then Minsk before crossing the border with Poland. After that, crossing Germany to northern France was straightforward, but the next part was not.
“The police found me and transferred me to a hotel near the Spanish border. But I don’t want to go to Spain, I want to come to England. I have friends in Nottingham, London and Birmingham, ”he said. “So I came back here and I will try to cross over and join them” – to conclude a journey that has already taken her well over a month.
Mohammed said he would have to find $ 2,000 to pay a courier for a trip that costs a fraction of that price on a ferry. It was not immediately clear where this money would come from, although others in the camp said family members at home paid on their behalf.
Campsites like the one outside Dunkirk, which sits alongside a canal and disused railway line, are at the mercy of French authorities, where charities say police raids can also take place. frequently than every other day.
As a result, the site is extremely basic; protection against the cold is minimal, heating being provided by open fires during the day. There is food aid and charities that provide free wifi and electricity, allowing people to congregate and charge their cell phones, but there are no toilets.
Ten days ago, a neighboring site near a shopping center was dismantled on the order of the French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin. The directive came after the number of migrants, the majority of whom are young adult men, more than doubled from around 400 to more than 1,000.
The change in numbers, it seems, came after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko opened his country to people wishing to come to Europe. But charities say the number of people in camps in the northern region of France is generally declining due to the cold autumn.
Iraqi Kurds dominate the camp near Dunkirk, but residents of countries like Sudan and Eritrea tend to settle in the nearby city of Calais. “Just in Calais and the surrounding area, we think the number is now closer to 1,000; it was 2,000 before summer, ”says Álvaro Lucas, coordinator of the Refugee Info Bus charity, which provides advice and support.
What has given more importance to the crisis is the increasing number of attempts to cross the Channel by boat, with the greatest risk to life. Matt Cowling, operations coordinator at Care4Calais, a relief charity, said: “What is so frustrating is that we are talking about only 1,500 or 2,000 people who want to come to the UK; it is a problem that could easily be solved if there was a different approach.