A father seeking asylum in Europe has described how brutal conditions in Calais have traumatised his daughter as he re-lived their failed bids to cross the English Channel in a small dinghy.
Ahmad, his wife and his two children, Maryam, seven, and Benjamin, two, have attempted the perilous journey across the English Channel – one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes – three times.
They were stopped on the beach by police during their first attempt, and made it 1km offshore the second time before waves started to sink their boat and they were forced to swim back.
On a third occasion, just before Christmas, they travelled about 10km (6.2 miles) in a fishing boat before armed police intercepted them.
The family were taken to hospital in Calais after their ordeal.
Ahmad, 36, said he will not try to get to England by boat again because it is too dangerous and distressing for his daughter, who is now being seen twice a week by a psychologist.
A few months ago the little girl was happy and playing “all the time” but now she is scared and cries about having no friends or school, he said.
Speaking through a translator, he said: “Now my daughter is not normal, not good.
“She’s (in a) very bad situation, she feels not good at all and the doctor told me we need to take good care of her because she don’t feel good because she’s lonely, she doesn’t have any friends, no school, no child to play with or have the same language to talk.”
Ahmad spoke outside temporary accommodation the family has been placed in after a doctor said they needed shelter.
But within a few days, their time will be up and Ahmad said the family is very “frightened” about having to return to hiding in the woods in tents.
He added: “We have no home, but there is no other choice – we are forced to go back.”
Describing the effect it has had on his children, the dad-of-two sighed and said: “Two weeks ago here in the snow my son and my daughter all night cry: ‘Here it is cold, we cannot sleep here.’”
Referring to it as the ‘Jungle’ – the name given to the large migrant camp demolished in 2016 – he said: “Here is hell in the jungle, hell. Not for living with a family, not for living with my daughter, my son, here (is) very, very dangerous in the jungle.”
While he speaks some English, Ahmad said he will “happily” live in any country that will accept him and his family.
He said his asylum claim was rejected in Denmark, and he has been told by lawyers in France that he could be sent back there.
Ahmad said he is afraid the family will then be deported to Iran, which he left due to fearing for his safety after converting to Christianity.
But, with no money, all he can do is wait.
He said: “I am happy to go anywhere where they accept me. I need only one country (to accept me and not send me back to Denmark) – no problem for me going to Africa, going to Australia, going to Japan.”
Clare Moseley, from charity Care4Calais which has been helping the family, said their plight was a symptom of a system that was “quite widely” seen as not working.
The Dublin Regulation, which covers the EU, aims to prevent multiple asylum applications, known as “asylum-shopping”, by making one country responsible for an asylum application.
She said: “We are ending up more and more now with people wandering around Europe who haven’t been able to claim asylum (successfully) but are stopped from making a further claim because of the Dublin laws.”
Moseley added that she was “horrified” to see the way Ahmad’s daughter Maryam had been affected.
She said: “I can’t even begin to describe how shocked and sad that made me feel, that basically the system is letting people down... she ran to us for protection and look what we’ve done to her. It’s absolutely devastating that we can’t do more to help people.”