The migrants desperate to reach Britain

More than 500 migrants have tried to cross the English Channel in tiny dinghies in the last few months.
It is one of the busiest stretches of water in the world: a collision with any of the ships that ply its lanes would probably result in rapid and terrifying death.
Migrants and refugees from abroad have been trying to get to the UK for years, but very few have felt their only option was a dangerous sea crossing in a small rubber craft.
So why are they making the journey now?
In the whole of 2018, the number who attempted to make the journey was 539.
Sky News analysis has found that at least 239 migrants made it to UK shores after 3 November, meaning a huge recent spike.
Of those who made it to the UK in November, December and early January, at least 176 presented themselves as Iranian.
A census in November by a coalition of NGOs including Help Refugees that help migrants found that, while Iranians are the largest group in Calais (38.8%), they did not form the majority, with Eritreans, Afghans and Sudanese forming a similar proportion overall, and a wide variety of other nationalities making up the rest.
Most of the migrants had arrived in the last three months.

The phenomenon of Iranians coming to the UK is not new. For the last two years, Iranians have been the biggest group among those seeking asylum in Britain.
The numbers appear to be rising, although not as rapidly as they are for some other countries.
Some 857 Iranians sought asylum in the UK in the third quarter of 2018, compared with 643 in Q3 of 2017 – a rise of 33%. By comparison, the number of Eritreans seeking the status rose 164% over the same period.
Like those from other countries, most Iranians who come to the UK use a variety of ways.
More than 4,000 Iranians claimed asylum in 2016 and more than 2,500 in 2017.
Although complete figures for 2018 are not yet available, the figures showing the number of Iranians in Calais suggest they may also be among the highest again.
Those who work at the sharp end of dealing with the migrant crisis say they have seen a clear rise in the number of Iranians.
Maddy Allen, from Help Refugees, which works with migrants in Calais, said: "There has definitely been a spike in the Iranian population here… but it's very diverse. We did a census of the people we are supporting not just in Calais but including Dunkirk, which is predominantly Kurdish, and found there are 28 nationalities. But the people who are making the boat crossings are predominantly Iranian and Iraqi, which is to do with access to those networks."

Bridget Chapman of Kent Refugee Action Network, which offers support for refugees and those seeking asylum, says out of roughly 30 under-18s she is working with at a reception centre in the county, about 10 are Iranians who have recently arrived by boat.

The Route

Frontex, the EU body responsible for the bloc's borders, says the patterns of migration have changed since the crisis that saw hundreds of thousands cross the Mediterranean in 2016, when the majority came overland through the Balkans.
Frontex data suggests that part of the explanation for a spike in Iranians coming to Calais may be down to visa requirements - or lack of them - in countries along the route.
Turkey does not require visas for Iranians staying less than 90 days, meaning they are free to enter as they wish. And, in 2017, Serbia unilaterally removed visa requirements for citizens of Iran.

Frontex said in its 2018 report on the Balkan route for migrants that the changes in Serbia’s visa policy made it more likely Iranians would use it as a jump off point if they wanted to reach western Europe as migrants, in addition to taking advantage of Turkey’s liberal visa policy.
The possibility grew in spring 2018, when two of Iran’s air carriers began regular flights from Tehran to Belgrade.
In the early part of 2018, the German news group Deutsche Welle reported a rise in the number of Iranian refugees arriving in Belgrade, and the following September, Bosnian TV channel N1 said the number of Iranians entering their country had increased by 10,000%, after 20,000 people arrived in Belgrade using the visa system.

But the Serbian link may not explain why Iranians are heading to Calais, or why they are choosing to cross by boat.
Ms Allen says those making the boat journeys are likely to have access to networks in France and "possibly further afield".
"Corridors open and close across Europe constantly. They [the migrants] see borders opening and closing in Macedonia, in Croatia and Germany and Sweden, the Turkish-Greece land border open and close. It's clear at the moment that a very specific route has opened up but these things fluctuate and change." 

Hamad's Story

Hamad, a 27-year-old from Iran, who had attempted to cross by boat but failed, told Sky News in Calais he was afraid he would be tracked down and killed by Iranian agents if he stayed in mainland Europe.
He cited the example of Iranian singer Fereydoun Farrokhzad, who died in Germany in 1992, who he said had been murdered by the regime.

About a month ago, Hamad said he was approached by a person who came to the makeshift camp where he was staying and said "if you want to go to the UK, I have a boat and you can go".
He said he paid €500 (£450) and, after dark, was taken with seven other migrants to a small boat arranged by a suspected trafficker, where they were told if they did not go across the Channel, they would be killed.
After eight hours, the small engine cut out and they were stranded, unable to call for help because water in their vessel had risen and affected their mobiles.
In the end, he had to be rescued by a boat and was taken back to France.

"I got a message and then I got out of my country because I protest against government, and after I go out of my country I got a message – they said if you are everywhere I come… there and I want to kill you.
He said he wants to get to the UK because it is "safe", but would go to the US or Canada if he could for the same reasons.
"If I can go, my enemy can’t get in the UK easily."

Ali's Story

Ali, 34, another Iranian migrant in Calais trying to reach the UK, told Sky News his wife and child live in Britain.
He tried just after Christmas but says he was picked up by British authorities as his boat was sinking and taken back to France.
He had tried to get to the UK by lorry but had been caught many times and the reason he tried to cross by boat was because smugglers were offering the chance.

He said, through a translator: "You can find smugglers very easily here, maybe Afghan, maybe Kurdish."
His wife and child managed to reach the UK by lorry three months ago but he had not been successful. "We tried everywhere," he added.
He would try again because he wanted to be with his family and "the port, with ships, and lorries, it is closed (to us now)… I want to see my wife and my child".


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