Channel crossings – how many more tragedies ?

Artin, Rasoul, Shiva, Anita and Armin

Last week this family lost their lives at sea, trying to cross the English Channel. 22 people were crammed into a 20foot rigid inflatable boat. This family and perhaps two more people drowned when the boat capsized off the French coast in rough seas and strong offshore winds.

What makes people so desperate that they risk their lives to cross the sea in bad weather in small boats?

War, persecution, extreme poverty are all reasons why people leave their homes and try to forge a new and better life in another country. This family of Iranian Kurds from Sardasht in Northern Iran, may have suffered persecution as well as economic hardship. The media reports that Rasoul Iran-Nejad was 35, a construction worker, who with his wife Shiva Mohammad-panahi, daughter Anita, 9, and two sons Armin 6 and Artin 15 months, left Iran in August.

Trafficking gangs may have facilitated the family’s long and difficult journey through Turkey, Italy and Greece to France. While in Greece, the family were arrested, searched and lost all their belongings, according to a migrant who lent them money to buy clothes. Rasoul had told his family they were heading for Germany and Switzerland but they ended up in France living in the squalid tented Puythouck camp near Dunkirk that is shelter for some 200 migrants mainly from Iran and Iraq.

From there it is likely that they paid up to £20,000 to people smugglers for a place on the small inadequate boat which capsized barely a mile off the coast of France.

It is reported that fellow migrants in the camp had tried to warn the family that the crossing was too dangerous. One said the family felt they had no choice but to go as they were worrying about money which they had borrowed, even though they were fearful for the children’s lives on such a tiny boat.

Another migrant who turned back when he saw how overcrowded and unsafe the boat was, tried to persuade the family not to board, saying that the smugglers were only interested in money and the “middle man” was forcing people to get on the boat.

People might say this family made a choice and they knew the risks, but trafficking gangs exploit vulnerable people in difficult situations, enticing them with false promises of a golden future in the UK to uproot themselves . Families like Rasoul’s, desperate for a better life for their children, are lured by people traffickers claiming that the asylum process in the UK is quick and easy, that high earning jobs are freely available and government help is generous.

The news headlines have moved on from the tragic loss of this family. Coronavirus, the USA election, the terrible earthquake in Turkey have pushed the plights of these migrants out of the press once more. The situation has not gone away, even though it has dropped out of the news for now. The issue of people trying to reach the UK remains critical, complex and problematic. The deteriorating weather and winter seas may not be enough to deter vulnerable desperate people from stepping into small boats to risk crossing the Channel to reach the UK.

Please pray for God’s help for all people thinking about trying to cross the Channel and risking their lives. Pray that there will be no more tragedies in the Channel and that no more lives will be lost at sea. Pray for a more compassionate and constructive attitude towards migrants from those who have power and influence to improve their situation.

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