Being smuggled in a truck can be deadly. So why do people do it?

Refugees in Calais who attempt dangerous crossing to UK in trucks explain why they risk their lives.

Refugees in Calais are trying to escape devastating living conditions in French camps and believe the UK would offer them more security [Courtesy of Adrian Abbott]

*All names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities.

Calais, France On October 23, 39 bodies were found in the back of a refrigerated truck in an industrial park in Essex.

The victims were identified as Vietnamese nationals who had travelled thousands of miles looking for a new life in the United Kingdom.

The discovery highlighted the perilous and lengthy journeys many make.

On Monday, the driver of the truck, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, admitted to plotting to assist undocumented migration.

In northern France, organisations working with displaced people are concerned that the people they work with might meet a similar fate.

In the port city of Calais, refugees and migrants Al Jazeera interviewed said they wanted to escape the constant police presence and deteriorating living conditions, and were willing to take risks to arrive in the UK.

 Refugees and migrants in Calais say they face hostility from authorities [Courtesy of Medecins Du Monde]
Refugees and migrants in Calais say they face hostility from authorities [Courtesy of Medecins Du Monde]

Recently, a cross-channel ferry, The Pride of Canterbury, turned around to rescue an Iraqi man out of the water. He had been attempting to swim to Dover, a southern coastal English town.

Meanwhile, as temperatures plummet, fears are growing. Cold conditions mean increased risks for people sleeping outside, among them hundreds of minors.

Earlier this month, a 25-year-old Nigerian man died in his tent in Calais from smoke inhalation after lighting a fire to keep warm.

Al Jazeera spoke to people living in Calais and Dunkirk about why they are willing to risk their lives on boats or trucks in order to get to the UK.

You pass or you die. We don't have really any other options

by Yusuf, 34, Eritrea

“It’s taken me two years to get here since I left Eritrea and I’ve been living in Calais for five to six months and the conditions are very bad. The problem is that everywhere else has rejected us, so where should we go?

“We can’t live in Eritrea: We left there because of problems; they try to make many people be a soldier. I’m trying to get to the UK because I speak English and I think it will be better there. In France, the police don’t treat us well. They take our tents and our belongings and now we need more tents, blankets and socks. Who can help us? I don’t know if the UK government supports what the French police are doing to us but I hope it will be better there. It’s just so cold here right now and we need better living conditions.

“There are some really young people here, some are only 16 and they should be learning and studying not passing their time here. I worry about them too because they should be getting an education so that they can help to change things in the future. I will do whatever job I can when I get to the UK. Many of us want to be educated and settled. We’ve all come a long way; we made the journey to Libya and then crossed the sea to Italy.

“I’m always trying to get to the UK on lorries. We just need to cross this border. I know getting on a boat or a truck is dangerous but I’ll keep trying, it is worth the risk.

“You pass or you die. We don’t have really any other options.”

I was smuggled from Greece up to France in a lorry

by Mertal, 24, Kurdish region of northern Iraq

“I’ve been here six months and I try every day. I have problems with the police here, they want to know why I have a mobile phone or nice shoes but I tell them that I have family in the UK and I want to join them. I also say, just because I have nice trainers doesn’t mean I’m not a refugee.

“I speak to my family on the phone every day. They are living in Birmingham right now but I think I’d actually like to live in Glasgow: It looks like a great city. I think the UK is very good.

“I joined the Peshmerga when I was very young but I had a problem with [ISIL], so I had to leave Kurdistan. This is why I’m here.

“The journey to get here has been very long: I’ve been to many countries like Greece and Bulgaria. I was smuggled from Greece up to France in a lorry.

“It is the same every day: I wake up and eat, sometimes maybe I will play football and then I will go to try to get on a lorry or a boat in the evening. If there is no chance then I will come back and sleep and then try again.”

I've tried maybe 20 times to get to the UK on a lorry

by Omar, 15, Afghanistan

“I’ve been living in Calais for one month but I want to get to the UK. I travelled a long way from Afghanistan: I went to Iran, Turkey then to Greece, Slovakia and Serbia. The conditions here are terrible, you only need to look around here to see, I really don’t have to describe it to you.

“We were sleeping in the woods nearby before but we felt unsafe there, so we are now sleeping by a train track. We light a small fire to keep warm and to cook our food out here.

“I’ll try to go at night to get onto the lorries. I think I’ve tried maybe 20 times to get to the UK on a lorry. The police have found me every time and then they take me to a detention centre for the day.

“Why do I want to go to the UK? Well, I don’t want to stay in France and I think the conditions are better there. I hope that if I go there I will be able to work and to make my future. I’d like to go to school and finish my education. I’m a good boxer so maybe after I study I will be a boxer.

“I will go at any time day or night to try to get onto a lorry. You eat and then you go and try. Until I manage to get there I won’t stop trying.”

Police in Calais during an operatoin to clear a makeshift camp, taking tents and migrants' belongings [Courtesy of Refugee Youth Service]
Police in Calais during an operatoin to clear a makeshift camp, taking tents and migrants’ belongings [Courtesy of Refugee Youth Service]
Source: Al Jazeera