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 Lost in France: the Iraqi Kurds seeking a new life in Britain

 Source : Guardian.UK
  Kurd Net does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news information on this page

 


Lost in France: the Iraqi Kurds seeking a new life in Britain  1.10.2007

 



October 1, 2007

In a makeshift tent on wasteland behind a French lycée, a former peshmerga soldier from Iraq's Kurdistan sat huddled in a sleeping bag, cleaning his ears with a cotton bud.
Ali, 23, insisted on maintaining personal hygiene amid the detritus of food wrappers, old garden furniture and shopping trolleys dotted around the camp of Iraqis with no toilets or running water. "I'm going to get out of here if it's the last thing I do," he muttered.

Two months ago, Ali paid $10,000 (£5,000) to people traffickers to be smuggled out of northern Iraq, through Turkey, to the "great country" of England. He had learnt basic English from dealings with US troops in Kurdistan. But after 40 "terrible" days, instead of being deposited in Britain, he was dumped in Cherbourg, the windswept Normandy port famous for its umbrellas and ferries to Poole and Portsmouth.

For the past few weeks, Ali, like the Iraqis from Kurdistan or Baghdad sleeping rough alongside him, has repeatedly attempted to smuggle himself on to freight lorries making the ferry crossing to Britain. The men break into the port at night while drivers are asleep, and hide in the underbelly of lorries, squeezed up against axles.

Ali has been caught under trucks by French police several times, and was once briefly held in a detention centre, but he is determined to keep trying. Some of his friends have made it as far as Poole before being turned back.   

Iraqi Kurds await their chance at the camp in Cherbourg AFP
The build-up of Iraqis sleeping rough in Cherbourg is now alarming local politicians. The northern French port has become a no man's land of Iraqis desperately trying to get to England to claim asylum. Known as the "ghosts of Cherbourg", the young Iraqis have only one goal: Britain. They know they have one chance at claiming asylum in Europe and must pick their country carefully. France, they believe, is a miserable place for them. "But England is a good country," said Ali. "It gives you a job, gives you a passport, gives you a house."

Because Iraq is at war, the Iraqis cannot be forcibly deported. Caught by French police at the ferry terminal, they end up being released and head straight back to Cherbourg. Caught at a British ferry terminal, they are escorted back to their port of departure - Cherbourg, where the cycle restarts.

In the leftwing town, people are proud of France's anti-war stance and see the fleeing Iraqis as victims. But Bernard Cazeneuve, Cherbourg's Socialist mayor, recently spoke out in the French National Assembly demanding the government take responsibility for the "extreme suffering" of the migrants risking their lives.

In July, one Iraqi was injured by a bullet as a driver fired a gun, trying to stop stowaways. This week the government sent riot police to guard the terminal. On Tuesday, the courts will rule whether the camp can be evicted.

At the port this week, workers were mending patches of the perimeter fence that had been forced by would-be stowaways.
One lorry driver, who had worked the Cherbourg-England route for 30 years, said: "I secure my truck with padlocks. Drivers often have no idea if someone has cut into their tarpaulin or hidden below the lorry.

But if you're caught with someone stowed away, you're treated like a people trafficker." Some said drivers carried baseball bats to protect themselves from stowaways. Serge Henry, of the port authority, said: "At the worst stage, 100 to 150 people would try and get into the port each night. It has improved since the riot police arrived, but there's a risk that if they leave, it will get worse."

Marie-Thérèse Chauvin, from Brittany Ferries, said the company had to pay fines for every illegal immigrant caught and meet costs for police to escort them back to Cherbourg. "We used to see the same people night after night, trying again."

At the camp, around 40 people sat in tents, biding their time. One Iraqi Kurd, aged 27, said he had once reached Poole hidden beneath a truck but was sent back. "Hiding yourself away under a lorry and hanging there is like dying. But what can you do? In our country, things are terrible. What choice is there?"

Another Iraqi Kurd had slept rough in France for two years, including several months outside Paris's Gare du Nord. "It's only England I want," he said. "In France, you can't even get a shower."

Also sleeping in the camp were some Afghans, an Iranian, a Palestinian and some Somalis. Some Africans who arrived here have survived the perilous boat trips from Libya to the coast of Malta or Lampedusa.

Most chance Cherbourg's port on their own initiative. But people traffickers have offered to help newcomers for €500 to €600 (£350-£420). Pascal Besuelle, of the local Collective against Racism, said: "These people must be allowed to apply for British asylum from here and have their cases dealt with."

No one on the French coast wants to return to the days of Sangatte, the notorious refugee centre near Calais, shut in 2002.
But charity workers say homeless migrants have turned up on the streets ever since its closure.

In the Iraqi tents, mobile phones rang with calls from home. Cherbourg is now a familiar place name among families sending their brightest sons to find a new life.

Ali said: "My mother cries to me, she says, 'Get out of Cherbourg, no more Cherbourg, get to England'."

guardian co.uk 

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