Samer Naveed is originally from Afghanistan, but has been settled in the UK with his wife and children for many years. After the death of his brother-in-law in Calais, he has been an advocate for Safe Passage, campaigning for safe and legal routes for child refugees.
Today he has written this comment piece in the Guardian.
Today Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron are meeting in Sandhurst to discuss cooperation around the border in Calais. I urge them to use this meeting to prevent the deaths of any more vulnerable asylum-seeking children.
I lost my brother-in-law, Masud, in Calais in December 2015. Masud was 15 years old. He had been living in the ‘Jungle’ for three months, and was hoping to join me and my wife– his older sister – in London. Instead, he died.
My wife was trying to get him to the UK with the help of lawyers from Safe Passage, a charity which works to help unaccompanied child refugees access safe routes to sanctuary. He should have been brought legally to join us under Dublin III, which allows child refugees in Europe to live with their relatives while their asylum claims are assessed. But the government was not letting people come that way, so he decided that his only option was to hide himself in a truck.
Masud was missing for two weeks. We called his phone every day, and it rang and rang but nobody picked up. I knew something was wrong; we used to speak every day so it was unusual for him not to call us back. Eventually I received a call from Masud’s phone. But it was not Masud; it was a French police officer, who simply said ‘You have to come here’. I sped to Calais, to the police station, where they took me to see his body. That’s when I found out he was dead. My heart broke.
We later found out that Masud had been looking out of the lorry to check whether it was going the right way, and his head hit a bridge. He died immediately.
He just wanted to join his family and have a proper life. In our country, Afghanistan, there is Daesh, there is the Taliban, there is no life for young people. You have to leave or you will die.
At the time Masud travelled, thousands of people were dying between Turkey and Greece in the Mediterranean, even before they reached Calais. We thought that was the dangerous bit – the boat. I never imagined he would die after that.
Once he was in Calais, he felt so close. We imagined he would arrive in a couple of days – we were just waiting for the phone call from him. My children were asking me every day, ‘Where is Masud? Will he come today?’ They kept asking after he died, but we could not bear to tell them what happened.
It is such a waste.
Less than a month after Masud’s death, the courts ruled that the government was wrong to not consider reuniting families like ours. But still, the government dragged its feet, and many more children have died after Masud, trying to travel from France to reach a home in the UK. Raheemullah. Samir. Mohammad. Abdullah, the most recent, died just days before Christmas.
Some things have changed since Masud’s death. Family reunion sped up and around 1,000 young people arrived from France in the year after his death. It felt good that these people were helped.
And I felt good for Masud. He died, but maybe he changed something, changed some minds, changed the government’s mind. Maybe his death meant that another child could join their family.
But still, today, there are children in and around Calais, hoping to be reunited with their family in the UK. The waiting times for the legal route are stretching into months, sometimes years, and some are unable to even enter the system at all as there is no longer any way to claim asylum in Calais. Calais is dangerous, no place for children.
Now May and Macron have the opportunity to ensure the safe routes work for these children. In their talks, I hope they remember that the children they are discussing are children like Masud. These are children who deserve to be protected and reunited with their families, rather than left to fend for themselves and risk their lives.
For the sake of my family, for Masud, and for the other children who died, the least the UK and French governments could do is protect those children still waiting, to ensure not one more child will die on our doorstep.