An Iranian asylum seeker who spent eight hours clinging to a dinghy battered by rough waves in the English Channel has relived the “miracle” of his rescue.
Ali, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, attempted the perilous crossing from Calais to England with seven others in December.
The civil engineer boarded the small boat to cross one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world in a desperate attempt to reach England, where he has a brother, sister and friends.
But the 26-year-old thought he would die in the Channel and never see France nor England when the weather worsened and they lost control of the dinghy in the rough water.
He said: “I saw one and half metre waves (and the beginning of a storm) and you can’t understand – you climb up with the waves, you can’t go for example some place you want to go, the waves transfer you, they lead you.
“And you just go with the waves, you don’t have any choice.
“It’s very, very dangerous. I saw with my eyes, one-metre, maybe two-metre high waves.”
Ali said he was warned by friends not to try to cross by boat as it was too dangerous – a “bad memory” at the forefront of his mind as the group, including a family, clung to the tiny boat.
Explaining his terror, he said: “We are lost in ocean for eight hours … we don’t have a chance, never, never the police will find us, because we didn’t have a phone in the ocean and we didn’t have any sign, and after eight hours, finally, I think it’s a miracle – the police find us.”
In December, Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared a “major incident” following an increase in attempts to cross the Channel in small boats.
Last year, more than 500 migrants tried to travel to the UK on small vessels, with four in five of them attempting the journey in the final three months of 2018.
Around 90 people attempted the trip in January, according to the Home Office, and on Monday a boat of 34 people including women and children was intercepted by the UK Border Force and brought to Dover.
Ali said his group were first discovered by a boat with UK flags, but within minutes a French boat arrived and took them back to France.
Speaking at a rubbish tip near to where he sleeps, Ali said he left Iran because he was in danger after protesting against the government.
He said: “I had a house, I had a car, I had a job, I had money, and just I go out of my country because my life was at risk.”
Believing Ali would be executed for his views, his father paid a smuggler £15,000 to take him from Iran to England.
After three weeks he reached Calais, where the smuggler asked for more money, disappearing when he learned there was no more.
Ali is now concerned he may be tracked down in Europe.
He said he tries every day to reach the safety of England, opting to try to stow away on lorries without being sure of their destination because “it’s safe. Maybe you go to Germany but this means you’re alive”.
He desperately wants to join his sister, who came to the UK after marrying a British-born man of Iranian descent, and his brother, who stayed in the country after studying at university.
He said: “I stay here for more than four months and every night I try, maybe I get to UK … because my sister and my brother live there and the UK is safe for me, because more than four months I try but I can’t get to the UK.
“It means it’s good, it’s safe for me, but I arrived in France easily and it means they can find me here.”
Asked how he would feel to make it to England, he said: “I’m happy because I arrived in a safe place and my enemy can’t find me and can’t kill me and I can one night sleep very well without stress.”
He added: “I try, I am sure, one day I can get there. I am sure.”