The Ferret has obtained disturbing footage of terrified refugees trapped inside a lorry as oxygen runs out, as they desperately try to reach Britain from Calais.
Outrage has been expressed by human rights organisations at the video, which we are publishing exclusively today, and which mirrors an incident in Austria last year in which 71 people were found dead.
The footage from inside the lorry is part of a short video, entitled Trapped and directed by award-winning filmmaker Frederik Subei, which features the story of 27-year-old Syrian refugee Joe and his near-death experience in the truck.
In an attempt to reach the UK, he and others enter a tanker truck but someone closes the door from outside and they become trapped. They hammer against the walls for the driver to stop as they run out of oxygen and only survive because Joe calls the police and gives their coordinates.
“It was like entering my own grave,” Joe explains in the video. He says he was keen to make it to the UK, despite the challenges of getting there, because he speaks good English and has extended family there. As an informatics engineer, he had a good life in Syria before war broke out.
“If the situation was safe I’d return to Syria right now. I have no problem with that,” he says in the video. “I survived war in Syria, but almost died in a tanker in Europe.”
In Austria last year, 71 people, including a baby girl, were found dead in the back of an abandoned truck next to the motorway. Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News tweeted about the “terrible smell of death” coming from the van.
Just drove past truck on A4 in Austria with 50 dead refugees inside. Terrible smell of death as we passed. pic.twitter.com/a2AiDnsy5V
— Lindsey Hilsum (@lindseyhilsum) August 27, 2015
Graham O’Neill, policy officer at Scottish Refugee Council, said that despite its harrowing nature Joe’s story was common.
“He and the 17 other men packed into that tanker truck were lucky; the 71 women, children and men who died in a motorway in Austria in August last year were not so fortunate. Nor were those that have died in motorways across Europe or in the Mediterranean.”
“But the truth is Joe hasn’t been that lucky. Like other desperate people who have fled to Europe from war and human rights abuse in Syria, Eritrea and so many other countries in turmoil, Joe reached not protection but the threat of destitution or death.”
“European institutions and the UK Government’s response to the humanitarian and refugee crisis has, with some laudable exceptions, been one of persistent panic, futile deterrence, and at times quite inhumane containment; as opposed to one of coordination, welcome, and integration.”
Like other desperate people who have fled to Europe from war and human rights abuse, Joe reached not protection but the threat of destitution or death. Graham O'Neill, Scottish Refugee Council
Speaking to The Ferret this week, Joe, now in the UK, said that what he wants “and what I believe every Syrian wants is to go back to our beloved country and live there the remainder of our life to help build a new Syria, a Syria that guarantees dignity and peace”.
“No matter what I say or how I try to describe the situation that I faced it’s hard to give the full picture. The only ones who can truly understand our struggle to survive are those who suffered, lived and felt the experience themselves.”
Joe said that the UK was helping Syrian refugees but that it isn’t doing enough to alleviate the crisis.
“I would say that the UK and EU, rather than making deals with the Turkish government to take refugees and trying to regulate the flow of refugees through European soil, should help address the roots of the problem itself as this will end the refugee crisis once and for all.
“The majority of us would love to go back to our beloved home country to help build up the country back for a better brighter future. In my point of view this will end the biggest catastrophe that mankind has ever witnessed.”
Filmmaker Frederik Subei, who also directed Calais camp documentary Transit Zone, said that the policies and business practices of European governments and companies were responsible for much of the misery in the countries refugees are fleeing from, but that they do not take responsibility.
“People are treated like third class human beings. There would be a massive outcry if UK citizens would have to endure just a fraction of the hardship they go through but if you are from Africa or the Middle East then that’s acceptable.”
Axel Scrivener, policy officer at Global Justice Now, which last month published a report on the issue, said there was no such thing as the so-called ‘migrant crisis’.
The real crisis is one of war, poverty and inequality. The crisis is not the fact that people are arriving here, it’s what they’re fleeing from. Axel Scrivener, Global Justice Now
“The real crisis is one of war, poverty and inequality. The crisis is not the fact that people are arriving here, it’s what they’re fleeing from – the terrible situation in countries like Syria and Libya.
“People in the UK feel they have the right to live wherever they choose if they want to. Surely, this country has a duty to allow entry to people leaving Syria because they have to. Especially so, considering the role the UK played in neighbouring Iraq that has enabled ISIS to thrive.”
Around 200,000 people are thought to have arrived to Europe as migrants in 2016, says the International Organization for Migration, 188,000 of these by sea. At least 1,357 people are thought to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean already this year.
Of people claiming asylum in the EU, many people have fled conflict in Syria, but other refugee-producing countries are Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iran and Ukraine. All are countries with a recent history of conflict or human rights abuses.
O’Neill added that there was a need for solidarity not self-interest from European governments, and that they needed to agree to share responsibility for managing safe and legal routes to protection across all of Europe, including the UK.
“We would all do the same if Scotland was racked with civil war. We and so many refugee and humanitarian organisations continue to question why so many governments choose not to realise that basic fact.
“Until European and UK governments understand that it is push not pull factors that drive people from the Middle East and many countries in Africa and Asia then it will never get a handle on this.”