UK rule change dilemma for Eritreans
By Jim Reed and Adam EleyBBC Victoria Derbyshire programme The number of Eritrean refugees arriving in the UK doubled last year to become the highest total from any single country. But could new Home Office guidance
The number of Eritrean refugees arriving in the UK doubled last year to become the highest total from any single country. But could new Home Office guidance mean many others are refused asylum?
“There’s no freedom of speech [in Eritrea]. You’re not allowed to ask anything or move freely, you need to show ID to move cities,” says Mohammed. He left his home country in east Africa because he said he felt more like an “animal” than a human being.
He was one of 3,239 Eritrean migrants who made the perilous journey to the UK in 2014 to apply for asylum, according to figures seen by the Victoria Derbyshire programme. In 2013, there were 1,377.
The 28-year-old left without telling his young children where he was going, in order to protect them. “If anyone knew I was planning to escape then there will be trouble for me and my family,” he explains.
In its latest report, US-based charity Human Rights Watch says: “Torture, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression… remain routine in Eritrea.”
‘Improve my education’
Mohammed’s journey began in the country’s capital, Asmara. He crossed the border to Sudan before a long, overland trip through Israel and Turkey to Greece, guided by people smugglers.
This eastern route is now more popular with smugglers after a lull in the last two years. The number arriving in Greece rose sharply in 2014 and is likely to rise again this summer.
When Mohammed left Eritrea, he says his ambition was simply to flee to safety. He only decided the UK would become his end destination on seeing the struggles faced by refugees in Italy and France as he continued across mainland Europe.
He also believed his desire “to improve my language and my life in terms of education” would be easier to fulfil in the UK.
The final leg of his journey was made via the French port of Calais, where thousands of migrants stay in makeshift camps in the hope of making it across the border.
It took 30 attempts before Mohammed successfully smuggled himself into the UK, stowed away on board a truck.
“I was very happy at that moment. I was always trying lorries and most of them were [stopped] by the police. But this time, I don’t know how it works, but I got through.”
On arrival, he was initially held in detention, before being granted a five-year visa.
He now lives in Bristol, where he says he has been accepted by locals. But new rules mean others making the same journey could be forced to return home.