Despite being in the middle of winter and the infamous weather in the british isles, the sun shines bright in Dover on a Thursday in January in a sky without a single cloud. The sea, of an intense blue, is like a plate. It’s cold, and don’t be fooled by the sight of three women in their seventies wading into the frigid waters off the coast of Dover only to emerge ten minutes later. I praise their bravery aloud when they pass me, and one of them tells me that she does it whenever the weather allows it because “the sea is life”.
A phrase loaded, unintentionally, with irony, considering that only a couple of months ago 27 people died in that strait between the United Kingdom and France in the worst tragedy since data is recorded.
And they have not been the only ones. Although there is no accurate and official count, it is estimated that some 150 people have drowned trying to reach British territory in the last five years, although the data is not entirely reliable and the NGOs denounce that it could be much more. Last year alone, around 30,000 people, according to data from the British government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, attempted the dangerous crossing between France and the United Kingdom.
Arrivals happen day after day. This sunny Thursday in Dover the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the organization that rescues migrants at sea, confirmed that just a few hours earlier, at 6 a.m., they had brought some 30 people to the city, after receiving a tip that some small boats were adrift. on a cold morning. One of them was a baby wrapped in a blanket.
«In the United Kingdom, in general, those who come in small boats do not reach the coast as in Spain, since most are collected at sea», they explain from the organization. “It’s rare that the first thing you see when you come ashore is the yachts moored in the marina,” Fatema Asil, a Syrian nurse of Kurdish origin who now works as a social worker, tells me. As we look at the yachts next to the salvage boat, he tells me that he arrived in the country a few years ago in a truck. «My boyfriend tried to cross also later but he couldn’t. He considered doing it by sea but he backed out because it’s too dangerous, I asked him not to do it,” he says, before lamenting that he doesn’t know when he will see him again.
She cannot leave the country for a couple of years due to the requirements of the asylum application, which she defines as “a bureaucratic hell” and he has no possibility of entering “although he has tried by all legal means” . He is a nurse like her and they have family in the UK. “Y this country needs health professionals, especially after many Europeans left due to Brexit». points. Their relationship continues at a distance, and Fatema’s consolation is that at least they are both alive and that the idea of crossing the Channel is ruled out.
They don’t think the same 2,000 people, including 300 minors, estimated by Human Rights Watch to live in subhuman conditions in Calais and they are waiting for their opportunity to cross. Many more could be encouraged because, according to reports from NGOs, after the November tragedy, human traffickers have lowered the price of the journey. If before they asked about 3,000 euros per person, now they have lowered the price to about 2,000 due to the risk of dying. At the end of November, officials from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the EU, Frontex and Europol met in Calais in a meeting that sought to put solutions on the table and in which they blamed smuggling networks for the deaths at sea.
“France will not allow the English Channel to become a graveyard,” French President Emmanuel Macron reacted after the November tragedy, but this promise could be difficult to keep. Organizations working with immigrants and refugees say that, despite the fact that the numbers are much lower than in the Mediterranean, each year there are more people willing to go to sea in small inflatable boats from the French coast, and many will inevitably die. , in waters that are not only cold, but usually agitated and with strong currents that make the journey considered one of the most dangerous in the world.
Although attempts are made to repatriate the deceased to their places of origin, it is not always possible and in the cemeteries of Calais there are unmarked graves with plates that simply say ‘Monsieur X’ (Mr. X) or ‘Madame X’ (Mrs. X), next to the year, and in France there are associations dedicated to giving a decent burial to people whose families will never again know nothing.
There is no record of the same happening in British territory. What there is in Dover is a boat cemetery in an industrial warehouse, inaccessible to the press and whose only available images were taken with drones, police sources confirmed to ABC. They are kept “as evidence” for investigations into human smuggling gangs.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism