'Journey to UK was torture but if I'd stayed home the torture would never end'
Aref Baghhlani came to Britain seeking asylum four years ago. The former law student, 29, was forced to flee his home country of Iran after speaking out against the government. Aref said: “I travelled to Istanbul in April 2016 and arranged with a smuggler to take me to the UK in the back of a lorry for nearly £6,000 (GBP4,500), which were all my life savings.
“I… could not communicate with the smuggler because of the language. I could not say back any word, they were gangs and could kill us. “I did not wish to be back in my country because I know I will be locked in a cell and tortured, yet, the journey felt like torture as well.
“On the journey we were crammed in a small space and were unable to move. The truck was constantly shaking. I became ill from the cold.”
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover by Border Force officers on Wednesday (Image: PA)
They travelled for 39 days across the Balkans and southern Europe, sleeping in the woods.
Aref was detained in Dover and applied for asylum straight away. He was housed in a hostel in Croydon, South London for a fortnight, then with his aunt in Hastings, East Sussex. After almost six months he received a letter rejecting his asylum, saying there was no substantial evidence to prove he was a genuine asylum-seeker.
An appeal failed even though Aref explained that his circumstances made it hard to gather the necessary evidence. Aref says: “I was rejected in February 2017, and ever since I fear deportation to a place where my life will be taken.” Desperate migrants seized the chance to cross to Britain during a sudden patch of calm weather.
A barefoot baby seen in the arms of a Border Force official was among several children brought into Dover. The migrants were brought to the UK aboard Border Force patrol vessels and lifeboats after getting into difficulties at sea. After waiting to be brought ashore for up to an hour, the migrants were led up a gangway towards the Border Force processing centre, where they were assessed for coronavirus symptoms.
One man could be seen with two young boys wearing life jackets. Some youngsters appeared to collapse from exhaustion on the gangway’s metal steps. Several empty dinghies with outboard motors attached were seen being towed into the port throughout the morning.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the migrants were “falling prey to criminal gangs”, a claim disputed by many working to help refugees.
He added: “I have a great deal of sympathy with those who are so desperate as to put their children in dinghies or even children’s paddling pools and try to cross the Channel.”
He told MPs the Government would “address the rigidities in our laws” that make the UK a “target”.
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