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03.11.2019 Africa

UK migrant 'Big M' describes 'hard pain' of smuggling victims

Chadian asylum seeker
NOV 3, 2019 AFRICA
Chadian asylum seeker "Big M" says illegal migrants do not know the dangers they face and adds that those who do not try live a miserable life. By PAUL ELLIS (AFP)

Soaking wet and wedged between wheels under a truck, "Big M" arrived in Britain in 2015, saying he had "no choice" but to risk his life.

"You have to do it if you want a better life," the 34-year-old Chadian told AFP in Manchester, northern England, at the offices of an association that is helping him to apply for asylum.

Big M, as he is known, survived his Channel crossing, unlike 39 people -- all believed to be Vietnamese -- found dead in Essex, southeastern England, last week.

They had been crammed into the container of a refrigerated truck.

Their tragedy illustrated once again the dangerous, hidden world of people smuggling, with illegal immigrants finding it increasingly difficult to reach Britain owing to tighter controls at Channel ports.

Big M described feeling "hard, hard pain" at the news, as he struggled to find words strong enough to convey his emotions.

"Big M" made it to Manchester from Chad by way of Libya, Italy and France, a journey he described as "a challenge". By PAUL ELLIS (AFP)

Lugging a large backpack filled with documents for his asylum application and English notebooks, the well-dressed Chadian said he understood the victim's fatal determination.

"It's very dangerous but it's life for the human, it's challenge, you must try to succeed, or you did not try and you live in miserable life," explained Big M, a nickname coined by his English teacher.

The dangers he fled were known quantities, but those that lay ahead "you don't know," he said.

"You need to try something you don't know, maybe you succeed, maybe you lose. This is what they did, and they lost."

'They killed me once'

His own journey began in Chad's eastern Ouaddai region in late 2006, when he saw soldiers beating a woman.

Big M says he was caught taking out his phone to film the incident, and was seized, tortured and left for dead.

Relatives came to the rescue, and he then fled to Libya, paying a truck driver around 50 euros ($30) to hide among a load of sheep.

Big M became a tailor in Libya and ran his own shop, but volatility triggered by the fall of Moamer Kadhafi's regime left him no better off.

Because "they killed me once" in Chad, he decided to aim for Europe, paying around $1,000 to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.

"Big M" says he wedged himself in between a truck's tires and held on for two hours between France and Britain. By PAUL ELLIS (AFP)

His next brush with death came at sea, as water flooded the bottom of the boat.

After asking other migrants to help bail it out, Big M was told "we can throw you in the sea," he recalled with a laugh, revealing his gallows humour.

Finding no work in Italy, the next stop was Calais, northern France in 2014, with a new goal of reaching Britain.

"The British government, if somebody has papers or not, can't leave him in the street," he said. "People in France lost themselves, got crazy."

He tried his luck without turning to people smugglers, whom he described as "very, very dangerous".

"I didn't have enough money," he also acknowledged.

After two failed attempts, Big M finally made it, recalling: "I wait beside the queue of the lorries and I waited until the fridge was coming, and then I hid."

"It was raining, all the rain, the tyres took all the water on my face, on my body, it was very hard that day, very dangerous," he said of the two-hour journey, clinging to the underside of the truck.

The asylum seeker was about to make his second application with medical certificates that he said attested to torture he had suffered in Chad.  By PAUL ELLIS (AFP) The asylum seeker was about to make his second application with medical certificates that he said attested to torture he had suffered in Chad. By PAUL ELLIS (AFP)

"Someone who does not have good health can be dead."

He was eventually detained near London's Heathrow Airport, and is now under the watch of authorities at a centre for asylum seekers.

Big M's first asylum application was rejected and he met AFP shortly before an appointment for his second attempt, taking with him medical certificates attesting to his torture in Chad.

"It's my last chance" he concluded.