Response to Article: Coach driver finds Sudanese boy, 16, clinging on under vehicle after school trip to Calais

Original Article here

Upon reading the article above I was appalled at the attitude conveyed towards a 16-year old minor who had gone to such lengths and taken such a risk to reach the UK. I cannot comprehend how anyone can place an once of blame on this young boy or label him with words like ‘illegal’ (NO ONE IS ILLEGAL!). There was no mention of the fact that it is in fact NOT illegal to enter a country through deceptive means, including on false documents, in order to seek asylum. Furthermore, the only sense of concern seemed to be for the driver of the bus and ensuring the readership that obligations had been met. What about the boy? Was he even offered food and water or simply handed over to the police as a legal problem to be dealt with?

The simple fact that he held on to the undercarriage of a bus tells me everything that I need to know – he was desperate to find safety and held the belief that he would find this in the UK. For those people who want to claim that someone would take that risk to receive benefits – you are ridiculous and unaware of the current conditions in most of the world outside of the European fortress you hide behind.

See here for really important documentary about conditions in Calais and why people are there – Current conditions and hunger strike in Calais

A key issue that I have with this article is the sheer inaccuracies and inappropriate use of language that convey that the Sudanese minor who held onto the lorry is some sort of criminal or has done something wrong. I would like the author to think for a moment about the boy’s welfare and how petrified he must have been and how relieved the author would be if he knew the boy, to know he was safe and alive. Yet, the first line of the article refers to the boy as ‘a suspected illegal immigrant’. He is a CHILD and unaccompanied whom the author later refers to as a man! Furthermore, the schoolchildren are correctly referred to for their age and this boy is only one year older than many of the schoolchildren in the coach. The clear juxtaposition of the boy’s life and the schoolchildren should be apparent to the author but I can spell it out as is clearly needed – children returning from a school trip, receiving an education and being cared for compared to an alone child who has had to fend for himself and taken the huge risk of clinging to the bottom of a bus to seek sanctuary.

What should matter is that the young boy is a human being and because he is crossing from Calais and originally from Sudan it can reasonably be assumed he is a refugee and trying to reach the UK for sanctuary. It is no accident that individuals in need of safety and protection aim for the UK, it is because this country loudly boasts such concern and respect for human rights. What is important is to realise that in actuality hardly any of the massive numbers of refugees in existence, currently at an all time high since World War II, make it to the UK nor to Europe. In Europe, however, most refugees are in Greece and Italy – simply due to geography.

Despite the human rights record boasted in the UK, in actuality the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants is appalling and these boasted rights are simply not respected by the UK Home Office at all. Detention facilities across the country house massive numbers, over 3,000, detainees who have not committed crimes yet are treated as criminals and left for indefinite periods in these centres. Detainees regularly complain about conditions and treatment and medical care available inside the centres is abhorrent. Reports of detainee deaths have filled the media recently and staff have been dismissed from one centre (Yarlswood) due to numerous instances of sexual abuse. Deaths of individuals who have fled to the UK in a similar manner to this boy are not isolated to detention, the Institute of Race Relations reporting large numbers of deaths that can be related to policies and practices within the asylum and immigration system including racial violence, suicide and poor access to medical treatment. And above all else, on a daily basis, refused asylum seekers are forcibly removed from the UK back to war-torn countries, into imminent danger and often disappear.

The article continues and refers to the fact that the boy didn’t have any identifying documents. This is a common problem that asylum seekers face, where they have documents these have often been lost along their journeys yet for most they simply do not possess even a birth certificate. This is because these are not issued routinely in their countries of origin, in this case Sudan. This should not come as a surprise when we consider the differences in countries like Sudan where there is war, rebellion massive number of refugees and displaced persons in camps and chaos – there is not going to be a government department chasing up every newly-born child nor a nice neat line to stand in to register babies. And as may be of interest to the author and the UK Home Office – not all countries run like the UK.

It is such a huge problem that the UK Home Office is not culturally sensitive nor culturally aware of really important and obvious differences cross-culturally. A classic example is the way individuals who have claimed asylum are interrogated with questions that simply do not make sense from their perspective or in terms that do not make sense to them. Assumptions are as simply as believing that time and distance use understood uniformly and universally. Sometimes individuals are asked to do telephone interviews when they have never even used a telephone before and these interviews are assumed to be accurate! Stereotypes are also often relied upon when the Home Office make decisions on asylum claims – LGBT asylum seekers, for example, are often refused on the basis that they did not go clubbing to seek a partner or were not promiscuous. This is an incorrect assumption to make of any individuals member of the LGBT community not to mention completely withdrawn from an understanding of how sexuality plays out in different cultures where homosexuality is forbidden or following traumatic experiences as a result of ones sexuality.

For me, an article reporting this event would focus on the huge risk the individual took, the fact that he needs to be taken care of as an unaccompanied minor, the UK’s obligations to provide protection under international and European laws and also the wonder at how someone could make that journey and survive and the numerous ways in which people take such a risk everyday. Calais Migrant Solidarity report at least 8 deaths this year of individuals crossing from Calais to the UK. It would also be nice for some recognition for those who do not survive when fleeing the African continent and countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq as these numbers are huge and terrifying to someone like me sitting comfortably in my flat, knowing with certainty that because I happened to be born in an already developed country I will never face such an ordeal.

What I pray for now is that the boy is treated as a minor and that the UK Home Office doesn’t pull one of it’s favourite tricks of pulling a number out of a hat and determining that the boy is in fact that random age they choose, which is almost always over 18, as they so often enjoy doing.

Please note that the situation in Calais is ever worsening and Calais Migrant Solidarity and No Borders are in need of urgent support in the form of visits and donations. Racist attacks and raids of squats and camps are regular and on the 2nd July 2014 over 600 people were evicted from a makeshift camp outside the food distribution point SALAM where people had been staying after evictions of other camps that occurred a month ago under the guise of stopping a scabies outbreak.

See here for details and what you can do to support, if anyone is planning to go to Calais from Scotland or wants to try and organise a trip please get in touch with UNITY and we will do what we can to support.