Migrants protest after boy falls to his death during attempted lorry crossing to UK

'Yasser' died as police began an operation to break up a camp where he was living

Migrants and their supporters will march through the French coastal city of Calais today in protest after a 16-year-old Sudanese boy died while trying to board a UK-bound lorry.

The death of the teenager, identified only as Yasser, was the third this year following an attempted truck crossing, according to rights group Utopia 56, which works with migrants in the city.

The boy had been living in the Virval camp, the largest in the Calais area until it was dismantled by the French authorities on the day he died. More than 400 people were taken to migrant reception centres following the operation on September 28, according to local media.

Yasser’s body was found at a secure lorry parking area between the Eurotunnel terminal – the train service that runs beneath the English Channel – and the Calais port that operates a freight ferry to the UK.

Security camera footage from the area and a statement from a witness suggest the driver did not notice the accident and did not stop, according to officials.

“He was trying to get into the back of a truck,” said Utopia 56 spokeswoman Marguerite Combes. “His body was left in the middle of the street. This kind of tragedy will happen again if nothing is done by the French and English government to ensure these people are safe.”

Rights groups argue the hardship suffered by people in Calais stems from the refusal of the UK to allow a safe passage for people with a legitimate claim to asylum.

But Home Secretary Priti Patel told her party’s conference this week Britain had taken back control of its borders after Brexit and blamed criminal gangs for exploiting “mainly male, economic migrants” in “vast camps” outside of Calais.

About 300 people have died in and around the English Channel since 1999 while attempting to cross to the UK, according to the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

British police said the numbers crossing to the UK hidden in lorries decreased during 2020 because of improved security near the Channel ports and greater restrictions on travel owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2020 but record numbers also tried to cross to the UK in small boats from beaches in northern Europe. Ten people died in 2020 trying to cross in small boats or by swimming, according to the IRR.

Utopia 56 said Yasser’s friends, the Sudanese community and local French supporters would march to the centre of Calais on Friday evening in a protest against the repeated break-up of impromptu camps close to the port.

They say more than 2,000 people are living in the city and are subject to constant harassment as they seek to travel onwards to the UK.

“We came to this city because we have a small goal,” some of Yasser’s friends said in an open letter released by the charity. “We live in the hope that tomorrow will be maybe better.

“You [the police] know that we are not your enemies. We live in the woods, away from your eyes, because we fear you.

“Yet you come early in the morning and take our makeshift affairs as if they were nothing to you – but you know very well that they are everything to us. Our houses.

“Without humanity, you leave us out in the open with the cold that pinches us and the rain on our heads as if we were not human beings.”

Updated: October 8th 2021, 7:38 AM
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