Responding to news of today’s incident in the Channel, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:
“We send our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to all those affected by today’s appalling tragedy. We are thinking of them and their families. We also pay tribute to those whose actions today have saved lives in harrowing circumstances.
“Those who have lost their lives today were people like all of us, with friends and family, hopes and dreams. It is heartbreaking that we are reacting to yet another tragedy just a year on from the incident in which 32 people lost their lives in the Channel. Like those who have perished today, they too made a desperate decision to risk their lives to flee unimaginable horrors – doing what any one of us would do for their family.
“The time for a more rational conversation about these Channel crossings is long overdue. At every turn, those who can take meaningful steps to address it in ways which will make a difference simply decline to do so. Instead of taking compassionate and careful measures, they turn instead to rhetoric and bluster, and choose unworkable punitive measures and deterrence despite all the evidence that they just don’t work.
“That evidence is never more apparent than today, with lives lost, hopes and dreams shattered, families in mourning.
“These journeys take place because there are simply no alternatives for people from most countries, no safe routes to take to make a claim for asylum – which will more often than not be granted. The time for a serious conversation about such measures is long overdue. The Prime Minister has promised action. He must now rethink the government’s approach and respond in a more compassionate way that will actually address the issue.”
Zahra Shaheer, a Refugee Council volunteer and herself a refugee from Afghanistan, said:
“When I was in my country I had never had the plan to come to the UK. I had a very good life in Afghanistan, I was well known and held a good position in society as I was a TV presenter, I had a beautiful house, a job I loved and my kids attended a private school. If I’d been in danger or had some issue, I knew I could resort to the law and defend myself, but when the Taliban took over I knew I couldn’t stand against them. My life and those of my children were at risk.
“When you hear about refugees coming to the UK, they are coming here because they are looking for safety and not for a better life, because just like me, they might have had a very good life in their own country. Of course, we are grateful for the opportunity the UK has given us and we feel safe here.
“Today’s loss of life at sea leaves me deeply saddened for the families. I heard about another tragedy in the Mediterranean last week. The families of those who lost their lives at sea must be in great pain. Leaving behind their families, these people escaped their countries in hopes of finding safe haven elsewhere. The loss of a family member, however, ends all hopes. Ten years ago, my brothers went missing for six months after fleeing Afghanistan. My mother thought they died; she was stressed and couldn’t stop crying. She kept saying she wanted her boys alive. Thankfully, my brothers were able to reach Germany, but my mother is still dealing with the trauma and is still triggered whenever she hears about people dying as they try to reach safer places.
“My thoughts are with the families of those who were lost at sea today. Scars like this never heal entirely.”