Belfast Telegraph

Hostile environment policy 'putting refugees at risk'

Gulwali Passarlay
Gulwali Passarlay
Ahmad al-Rashid
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

An Afghan man who risked his life travelling to the UK in a banana lorry has said the Government must show more compassion and humanity to refugees.

Gulwali Passarlay was 12 years old when his mother paid a smuggler to take him from his home country to Europe.

He made the last leg of his journey, from Calais to the UK, in the back of a refrigerated lorry in 2006.

Mr Passarlay (25) said the UK's "hostile environment" policy was partly responsible for the people-smuggling trade, adding he thought the Government should make things safer for refugees.

"We can blame the smugglers and traffickers, but ultimately we have a moral and legal responsibility," he said.

"We have made it so difficult for refugees to come through safe and legal routes.

"The smugglers will take extreme measures and exploit them (the refugees), which is just heartbreaking.

"The Government could start by accepting more asylum seekers from Europe who may have a right to be in the UK for family reasons and so on but are left stranded in Calais.

"The Government has the right and privilege to do that but chooses not to."

Gulwali said Wednesday's discovery of 39 bodies in the back of a lorry in Essex brought back upsetting memories of his own journey to the UK, which he was lucky to survive.

"I was shocked and heartbroken, but not surprised since refugees are dying all over the world," he explained.

"It hit me hard and it was very upsetting to think that the victims' lives ended in such a tragic way.

"Right now we should be thinking about them and asking, 'Could this have been prevented?'. The answer is yes, if we had better systems in place.

Ahmad al-Rashid (29) is one of thousands of Syrian refugees who have settled in the UK since being displaced by the civil war.

He travelled for 55 days from Aleppo to London at a cost of around £2,000 and spent some of his journey in the back of a refrigerated meat lorry.

"I was in their shoes and when I heard the news yesterday I was shocked and devastated," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"Over four years ago, I was in the back of a refrigerator lorry and almost suffocating to death, but I was lucky because the driver and police let me out."

When asked if he was fearful for his life while making the journey, Ahmad replied: "At the time, I wasn't thinking about my life, I was thinking about my family back in Syria because I couldn't get them out.

"It was a case of I needed to do it. I had no other option."

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