A migrant mother has told how she and her two young children nearly drowned trying to reach the UK by boat – but she is still planning another perilous crossing.
Joan, 32, revealed that she and her son Zanyar, ten, and daughter Sidra, nine, were among 33 would-be asylum-seekers who nearly died last week when their ramshackle vessel capsized at night after seven hours at sea.
After they were rescued, French authorities put them up in a hotel for three days, before returning them to a squalid camp in Dunkirk where they are planning their next attempt.
Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, the Kurdistani national said of the ill-fated journey: ‘I felt that something bad would happen and I was very scared.
Joan, 32, revealed that she and her son Zanyar, ten, and daughter Sidra, nine, were among 33 would-be asylum-seekers who nearly died last week when their vessel capsized at night
‘The waves became bigger and then the engine failed. We were in the boat for about seven hours during the night and then it flipped over and tipped us all into the water.’
Earlier, as darkness fell, they had been picked up from the camp by a car and driven several miles to a beach, where she and her children were given just one lifejacket – even though none of them can swim.
Joan said: ‘There were 33 people who were going on this small rigid inflatable boat from the beach.
‘We had to wade through the water to get to it. I was carrying my children and the water came up to my neck.
‘I had to be helped into the boat and when we were all in, the guy in charge of the outboard motor had to start it by touching two wires together.
‘But he made a mistake and everyone got an electric shock because we were all wet.
‘My son passed out because of the shock and I was very worried because I didn’t even know if he was alive. I told them, ‘Please, I want to go back because I think my son is dead’.
‘They said, ‘No, you cannot leave and, if you do, it will be a problem for you,’ and we set off as my son came round.’
Joan, her two children and their uncle, Karim (pictured with Zanyar), are now among 300 migrants in one such Dunkirk camp where people live in tents under tarpaulins
With the sea becoming increasingly choppy as the journey progressed, Joan took some string from her bag and used it to tie the children to her. Speaking about being thrown into the water, she added: ‘All I could do was hang on to my children.
‘But it was difficult because we only had the one lifejacket.
‘Luckily, one of the other guys came to help me.
‘It was really cold and I thought we were all going to die.
‘After about one hour in the water, the French arrived and put us in a boat to take us back to France. I felt like we were already dead.
‘They took us to a police station which was a bit like a hospital.
‘They fed us and looked after us, and we stayed for a day.
‘Then the police took us to a hotel, where we were looked after for three days before being told to leave.’
Last week, The Mail on Sunday became one of the first media organisations to visit new camps in northern France where more than 2,000 people are living.
Record numbers of migrants from these camps have launched crossings spanning the Channel to the UK this year.
Attempts by French police to prevent migrants gathering en masse in busy areas around Calais – the site of the infamous Jungle camp – and Dunkirk have resulted in them dispersing over a huge areas, making it harder for the authorities to monitor them.
As a result, nearly 8,000 migrants have attempted the dangerous crossing so far this year – around the same number as during the whole of last year.
Joan, her two children and their uncle, Karim, are now among 300 migrants in one such Dunkirk camp where people live in tents under tarpaulins.
Although there are no toilets, they do have running water and food and clothing are provided by local and British charities.
Among the other child migrants in the camp are Islam, seven, and Aya, ten, whose happy smiles masked the horrors of their journey to northern France.
Among the other child migrants in the camp are Islam (right), seven, and Aya (left), ten, whose happy smiles masked the horrors of their journey to northern France
Meanwhile, in anticipation of a new life – or perhaps in a bid to fit in more easily in this country – one adult migrant has already had the slogan ‘I love London’ tattooed on his arm, with a heart in place of the word ‘love’.
For her part, Joan – widowed when her husband was shot dead in 2014 while serving with Kurdish forces against Islamic State fighters – said she had spent around a year travelling to France and that she had no choice but to attempt to reach Britain again.
While she previously led a comfortable life, she claimed her father-in-law took away the family home and car following her husband’s death.
Joan said she worked for two years as a cleaner and, with the help of her brother, who sent money to her from the UK, she managed to buy her own house – only for her father-in-law to return and take away her son, too.
When she managed to get Zanyar back, she decided that she had no option but to leave.
She managed to get as far as Serbia, where people smugglers arranged for her to travel in a van to Italy.
She and her children then went to France after being hidden in a container and arrived in an unknown city where she was given a train ticket to Dunkirk.
Joan said she was too scared to reveal the part played by people smugglers in arranging the journey she has made so far across Europe and her potential trip across the Channel.
However, another source at the camp told The Mail on Sunday that traffickers charged around £2,000 to smuggle adults over the Channel to the UK and around £1,000 each for children.
Last night, Joan said: ‘I am very sad and very afraid.’
She added: ‘How can I do this with my children? How can I go in a boat again?
‘I am so afraid when I remember what happened in the boat before – but I have to try and cross again. I have no choice.’
Dozens of migrants are living in a plush hotel close to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridges’ home in Kensington Palace – with 55 asylum seekers put up for as long as nine months
By Jonathan Bucks for the Mail on Sunday
Dozens of asylum seekers are being housed in a hotel in one of London’s most upmarket postcodes.
The Best Western Kensington Olympia, a short walk from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s residence Kensington Palace, has been closed to paying customers and is instead putting up 55 migrants – in some cases for up to nine months.
The hotel is nestled in a corner of West London where three-bedroom flats sell for about £1.2 million.
The Mail on Sunday watched on last week as a group of young men gathered outside the hotel casually chatting and smoking together.
The Best Western Kensington Olympia (pictured) has been closed to paying customers and is instead putting up 55 migrants – in some cases for up to nine months
One strolled out of the building watching a video on an iPad.
Inside, rooms are equipped with wi-fi, air conditioning and flat-screen TVs.
Most of the residents said they did not understand or speak any English. One man named Mosin, 28, who said he was from Iran, told the MoS he had been living in the hotel for more than nine months.
He said: ‘There are 55 of us. We are all refugees. Many of us are waiting to know what will happen to us next.
‘We survive here but we are f****** bored. There is nothing to do and we cannot work.’
Another man, who claimed to be from El Salvador, said that he was not allowed to talk about why he was staying there.
A neighbour, who declined to give his name, said: ‘It does sometimes feel like you’re living next to a refugee camp when they’re all outside smoking, which is quite strange for West London.’
The Best Western Kensington Olympia is one of dozens of hotels up and down the country being used to house migrants.
There are around 64,000 people in Home Office accommodation. While the majority are in shared housing, about 10,000 people are in hotels.
Home Office officials have admitted that 90 hotels are being used to house migrants and that the hotels are ‘not great value for the taxpayer’.
The accommodation, which includes four-star hotels, is part of a £4 billion contract between the Home Office and a string of outsourcing giants.
The Government plans to move migrants out of hotels and into housing, known as dispersed accommodation, in a scheme called Operation Oak.
There are around 64,000 people in Home Office accommodation. While the majority are in shared housing, about 10,000 people are in hotels
The number of migrants crossing the Channel between 2019-21 has been increasing year-on-year. The red line for 2021 soars above the lines for previous years, showing the monthly total is now at its highest ever
In Hull, where dozens of migrants are being housed in a hotel, local MPs and the council have objected, saying it is ‘totally unsuitable for the vulnerable individuals’.
Analysis by the National Audit Office has shown that the average cost of accommodating an asylum seeker is £560 a month, up from £437 a month, plus a weekly allowance of £39.63 for food and other costs.
Figures published by the Home Office reveal that asylum costs stood at £956 million in 2019-20.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The asylum system is being exploited by criminal gangs who facilitate dangerous, unnecessary and illegal small boat crossings.
‘Our Nationality and Borders Bill will fix this broken system to deter these crossings.
‘In the meantime, due to the unprecedented demand, we need to use temporary facilities such as hotels to manage demands on our existing accommodation and the immigration detention estate.’
Best Western did not respond to request for comment.
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