Hopes and sacrifices: Refugees share why they risked everything to reach the UK

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People who have risked their lives by trying to cross from France to Britain have told the PA news agency how they faced violence, enslavement and were threatened at gunpoint.

Men, women and children have been charged thousands of pounds for spaces aboard tiny boats that are often unseaworthy and dangerous while others have stowed away in lorries.

Many have fled warzones and have experienced violence and torture as they travelled thousands of miles from their home countries in search of safety.

Over the course of 2020, the PA news agency sought to give voice to people who have crossed the English Channel in small boats or aboard lorries.

A selection of their stories is below, with names changed to protect their identities.

– Zartosht, a poet from Iran

Persecuted for his beliefs, talented Iranian poet Zartosht found his life at risk and was forced to flee his country.

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He and his son endured terror and violence as they travelled through Europe, just wanting to survive.

Zartosht told PA about how he was forced aboard a dinghy boat with 14 others by a smuggler.

“They pulled a gun on me and said: ‘You either get in the boat or you lose your money and your life’.”

Every second of the 13-hour journey across the English Channel, Zartosht was terrified he and the others in the dinghy would fall out and drown.

He is now reunited with his son in the UK and is receiving psychotherapy from Freedom from Torture after being tortured in an Iranian prison.

The pair were housed in Birmingham while they wait for their asylum application to be processed.

He said he “absolutely adores” their new home because the UK is “such a green country”.

– Mussarrat, from Ethiopia

She left Ethiopia fearing political persecution and during her harrowing journey to Britain Mussarrat was enslaved and tortured.

After reaching Libya she was imprisoned in a large house with 30 other people and forced to work.

“They kept me like a slave. They enslaved me,” she told PA.

“Outside you hear the guns. People are shooting. This country, it’s very, very scary.”

When she was able to leave Libya she crossed the Mediterranean, one of around 250 people packed onto a small boat and put out to sea.

The journey to Italy took three days and only ended when a larger ship picked them up.

She eventually reached Britain after being smuggled into a lorry which then drove onto a boat and made the crossing to the UK.

“We were hiding in the lorry. There was not enough space, it was difficult to breathe.”

Mussarrat has been living in temporary accommodation with her daughter while awaiting the outcome of her asylum application.

– Jackson, from Sudan

Forced to leave his home after his mother and brother were killed and his own life was in danger, it took him years to reach the UK.

He told PA: “I am still scared, I don’t feel safe because maybe any time I could go back to Sudan.”

He is one of thousands of migrants who crossed the English Channel by boat in 2020.

Speaking through an interpreter, he described his time in the war-ravaged region of Darfur in Sudan.

Jackson said: “For me it’s so hard. They killed my mum and my older brother and my cousin. I don’t have any contact with my father for more than two years.”

His journey across the English Channel in a rowing boat took 10 hours with all four aboard constantly having to paddle.

“To be honest, in the middle of the sea I was not scared because everyone has to sacrifice something in their life.”

For more information about Freedom From Torture visit: https://www.freedomfromtorture.org/

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