“I survived traveling in a dinghy in the English Channel after traveling 3,000 miles fleeing for safety”

With the devastating deaths of at least 27 people in the English Channel last month, we are only scratching the surface of the horrific conditions faced by those fleeing their countries for safety reasons.

On November 24, seven women, three children and 17 men were among those who drowned in the English Channel while traveling aboard a dinghy that set out from France, Calais.

Those on board the ship were mainly from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, hoping to find a better life in the UK.

READ MORE: Why Sudanese, Yemenis and Eritreans are risking their lives to cross the English Channel

MyLondon spoke to Arman*, an asylum seeker who arrived in the UK in 2020 after fleeing the Iranian part of Kurdistan, about his journey and how he managed to survive where many do not survive.

The former electrician who also worked in a bank for the past five years in Iran, spoke about his experience and said crossing the English Channel was the most dangerous thing he had ever done.

The 32-year-old said it took him a year and a half to get to London and the trip, which began in early 2018, marked him for life.

Arman had been ordered to leave the country he was born and raised in within 30 minutes due to a political situation, he said.

His passport was seized in Iran when his house was raided, so he was unable to take any documents with him.

He said: “I had been doing political activities, one of them was distributing leaflets and posters and we had probably been seen at some point.

“I then found out that we were being called by my older brother, things weren’t right and ‘you have to hide or go’.

“He said to call these people and they can help you.”

Arman marched to Turkey which he said was an extremely dangerous border to cross as they have a shoot on sight order.

“They have the right to shoot every creature that moves, it’s very dangerous,” he added.

Arman said he traveled with families, including children

“The other borders are like mountains where they don’t really care.”

But it wasn’t just him and his brother who were fleeing, there were families with children he remembers helping at the Turkish border for different reasons.

Some fleeing persecution, others hoping for safety in a war-torn region.

He said the physical and mental strain along the journey would drive “anyone crazy”.

After Turkey, Arman managed to walk to Greece but found himself stuck there for a year with weeks sleeping on the streets – he was given a date of 2023 for an asylum interview.

During his trip, he said he felt lucky that the weather was good for some parts, but it was hard to warm up at times.

“Some days it was sunny, but some days and nights it was raining, so it was a bit dangerous to make a fire, after soaking in the rain,” he said.

However, he said those who travel at this time of year face extreme conditions and it is nearly impossible to survive.

“It was cold, I slept with my hat and a few layers of clothes.

“That’s why so many people don’t, because it can get really cold.

“But for me it was the right season, and I must have walked about 3,000 miles, if not more,” he said.

Speaking about his time in Greece, he said: “I was stuck in Greece for a year, I applied for asylum there but there is no kind of support and the language is different.

“So basically there was no home to stay in and we were homeless, sleeping on the streets for a month and a half and then found a squat.”

The pandemic then hit while he was in Greece which made things more difficult.

Arman has covered over 3,000 miles
Arman has covered over 3,000 miles

He says they couldn’t go and ask for help, they couldn’t do anything to speed up the asylum process.

By word of mouth Arman says he had heard it was much faster in the UK to get asylum and of course he could speak English so that was another reason.

It was then that he started walking again and finally arrived in France from Italy by train where he began the most dangerous part of his journey.

He added: “It changes you, I almost had a near death experience, especially crossing the English Channel.

“It was a foggy day, early in the morning, it was very foggy, you couldn’t see more than 10 to 5 meters.

“We were lucky that the dinghy was small and we could ride on top of the waves.

“If the dinghy was bigger it would probably flip over, we were in the dinghy for five hours from Calais to Dover.

“There were eight people, of all ages.”

It was part of an art exhibit that showcased the journeys of migrants
It was part of an art exhibit that showcased the journeys of migrants

When the dinghy reached Dover, the party had to wait an hour and a half, waiting for the border force.

Arman was then taken to temporary offices, and later that evening they were taken on a bus to a detention center before being transferred to Lewisham, south London.

“Surviving the dinghy was like being given a second chance at life,” he said.

“You’re full of energy, you’re like okay, I’m going to get my life back, I have to try more than ever to do whatever it takes to get my life back.

“But the process shows there is no chance, I don’t have a work permit, a lawyer told me I will get a work permit after a year, but I’m still waiting.”

Now Arman is in Swansea, Wales, having been transferred there pending a decision on his status.

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Although he can’t work, Arman tries to occupy himself through art.

He received art supplies from Life Seekers’ Aid Art and took part in an art exhibition in November in south London, with the exhibit showcasing the journeys of asylum seekers.

Names have been changed to preserve anonymity*

Saturday 18 December is International Migrants Day – if you have any stories to share, please email [email protected]