Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

Air Algerie investigation continues

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Dozens of youths trampled to death on Conakry beach

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Ebola death toll tops 700

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

UNRWA official breaks down over Gaza deaths

Read more

DEBATE

Argentina Defaults - Kirchner Cries Foul Over 'Vulture Funds' (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Argentina Defaults - Kirchner Cries Foul Over 'Vulture Funds'

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Renault's women drivers ad deemed sexist

Read more

FOCUS

Constitution prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president

Read more

THE BUSINESS INTERVIEW

War and Markets, with Steen Jakobsen, Chief Economist at Saxo Bank

Read more

  • Kerry, Ban announce 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza

    Read more

  • 24 killed¸ 271 injured in South Taiwan gas blast

    Read more

  • Argentinian markets plummet following default

    Read more

  • Interactive: France’s new plan to counter jihadism in Africa

    Read more

  • French Jews speak of growing fear in Paris amid Gaza conflict

    Read more

  • Video: Inside Hamas ‘terror’ tunnels in Gaza

    Read more

  • Sierra Leone declares state of emergency over spread of Ebola

    Read more

  • Investigators reach MH17 site amid 24-hour ceasefire

    Read more

  • France remembers murdered socialist hero Jean Jaurès

    Read more

  • Air France ground workers to strike on August 2

    Read more

  • Scores feared dead in India landslide

    Read more

  • Russia ordered to pay further €1.9 billion to Yukos shareholders

    Read more

  • Iraq's Christians: Nowhere to Run?

    Read more

  • Russia defiant as US, EU unveil 'phase three' sanctions

    Read more

  • US House votes to sue Obama for over-reaching his powers

    Read more

France

Syrian refugees in France 'ready to die' to reach UK

© © Marie Goudeseune/ "La Voix du Nord"

Text by Amara MAKHOUL

Latest update : 2013-10-04

Dozens of Syrian refugees have blocked an entry ramp to English Channel ferries in northern France’s port of Calais. Displaced by war, hounded by misery and tracked by police, they say the journey will only end once they reach England, or die trying.

Mohamed Al Kayed left Syria to escape the bloody civil war one year ago. He has since travelled through Jordan, Egypt, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Italy, before arriving in France.

The young refugee says he walked for two months straight until he reached the northern port of Calais. But his final destination lies on the other side of the English Channel, in London. He swears he will get there, or die trying.

Mohamed is part of a group of 65 Syrian migrants whom police attempted to dislodge on Friday morning from an access ramp to a Calais ferry port. Two-thirds of them began a hunger strike at the sit-in this week, aimed at gaining the attention of the British Home Office.

“We have two options left. Either we die in Calais or we get to England. We call on the British authorities to study our case,” Mohamed, who unsuccessfully appealed for asylum in the British diplomatic mission in Jordan months ago, says. “We are also calling on members of the Syrian National Coalition in France. Aren’t they supposed to represent us? Where are they?”

The young man admits he has no interest in staying in France. His fellow Syrians blocking the ferry ramp brandish signs pleading their cause and appealing directly to Britain’s prime minister: “Help us Mr. Cameron, we are Syrians”.

Tracked by French police

Mohamed also deplores the “inhuman” conditions that he has suffered in France. “I did not flee one regime to face repression elsewhere,” he told FRANCE 24 by telephone on Thursday.

He recalls how French police continuously tracked him and other Syrian migrants during the past few weeks, repeatedly expelling them from several makeshift homes and barely giving them a moment’s rest.

“Every time we find a place to stay they kick us out. We can’t even sleep in the streets,” complains Mohamed, adding that after being detained by police for 16 hours last week, he was allowed to walk free after signing a document he was unable to read.

“Later, some interpreters told us that it was an order to leave the French territory. In my case, according to French authorities, I must be back in Syria one week from today!” he said incredulously.

Mohamed Ouhab, who works for the humanitarian group Doctors of the World and was at the scene of the Syrian sit-in in Calais, says the Syrian refugees have been left with no other recourse than the sit-in and hunger strike.

“Their plight has not received much media attention, but there have been several heavy-handed evictions from places where the Syrians and their families had found refuge,” says Ouhab. The activist added that many of the evictions were carried out without the court order French law mandates whenever a squat has been occupied for more than 48 hours.

French authorities appeared to be singing a different tune on Friday. In an attempt to negotiate the Syrians' voluntary departure from the ferry port, police prefect Denis Robin promised to help them obtain the legal paperwork that would allow them to stay in France while they applied for asylum in the country.

Sweetening the offer, Robin told them Syrian asylum seekers were now considered a priority by authorities and that they had 95-percent chance of securing a new life in France.

Time running out

However, the refugee Mohamed says that after his experience in Calais, he expects nothing from French officials. His dreams lie on the opposite shore. “All of us here have family or friends in [England]. My father and brother are in London, where they obtained refugee status is less than a month,” he says.

“In theory, the British authorities could offer visas to these Syrians, which would allow them to cross the Channel and file their asylum applications over there,” said Maël Galisson, a volunteer with a local Calais migrant protection group. “These people are within their legal right to ask for Europe’s protection.”

The offer of asylum in Calais now poses a new and difficult question for Mohamed and his friends. Because of international and European accords, being granted asylum in France would make it almost impossible for the refugees to claim asylum elsewhere. An open door in France will likely mean closing the door to the dream of life in England.

Date created : 2013-10-04

  • GERMANY - SYRIA

    Syrian refugees make a new home in Germany

    Read more

  • FRANCE - SYRIA

    Syrian asylum-seekers face a tough path in France

    Read more

  • SYRIA

    More than two million have fled Syrian conflict, UN says

    Read more

COMMENT(S)