When I was in Dunkirk last week, I talked to a Kurdish guy called Destan. He was hoping to cross by boat to the UK. He had tried to cross a few weeks ago, but the boat had got into trouble just off the French coast and he had been rescued.
Naively, I asked if he wasn’t now afraid to try. “Yes of course,” he said. “I am scared. We are all scared. But what else can we do?”
He indicated a friend a few metres away and told me that he had been in three boats that had gone down.
Destan had been a journalist in Kurdistan. He had bravely written stories exposing corruption among local and foreign organisations in his country. Death threats had become familiar to him. “I wrote the stories because I love my country and I love my people. The people I wrote about were taking money from them, and they didn’t want to lose that money, so yes of course they wanted to kill me.”
Eventually he had to leave. He had written a story about a very corrupt property deal, and those involved came to his home to get him. Fortunately, he was out, and he left the next day. He made a cut-throat gesture and laughed. “If not – this!”
I was struck by how close and real the risk of dying had become for Destan. He couldn’t go back because certain death awaited him. His only hope lay with friends in the UK who would shelter him. The mortal risk of crossing in a small boat had become his only option.
When I get home after volunteering in Calais and meeting guys like Destan, it makes me mad as hell when I hear the media talking about refugees getting into small boats as if they’ve weighed up all the options and made a choice. It’s as if they were deciding where to go on a nice little mini-break.
In fact, they do it for one reason only – it’s their only choice.