‘At 17 I almost drowned swimming across sea to Europe to seek asylum b…

I washed up on the shore, depleted and unconscious when someone saved my life. Now I’m in the UK and can’t wait to start a new life, writes Ahmed*

Ahmed, not pictured, swam nearly 8km to a Greek island from Turkey in order to seek refuge

Let me tell you a short story.

Once upon a time, there was a boy who tried to go to Europe because his life was in danger.

He fled his home and set off on a long, difficult journey to try reach safety.

The boy tried to take a boat across the sea to Greece but he was caught by the police and was sent to prison. When he was finally released, his dream of reaching Europe felt impossible to him.

Like anyone else, he wanted to be in a safe country. So, he went to the shore, where he could see a Greek island from the Turkish coast. Looking at his dream lit up out in the sea, and as he had already lost everything in his life, he thought, ‘well, there’s nothing left to lose’.

At midnight he jumped into the water. He knew there was no chance to reach the other side; it was 7.6km away. But he was nevertheless swimming and fighting with death in the middle of the sea when dawn came, and he finally felt that he was getting closer.

The remains of the flimsy dinghy that sank in the Channel killing at the minimum 27 migrants

The lights of the island were approaching clearly, and he kept going and going and resting to try to catch his breath. When he had almost reached the shore, his muscles couldn’t manager any more and he drowned in the water. The groups pushed him back out.

Three days later, he woke up in a Greek hospital. He was, miraculously, alive.

The boy in that story is me. I know how it feels to risk your life, risk everything, to reach safety. Because when you have already lost everything, you have nothing left to lose.

When I got out of hospital, the authorities found out I was only 17 and they put me in a part of the camp which was a safe zone for unaccompanied children.

Nearly 40 people set afloat an inflatable dinghy from France as police watch on



The people there asked me if I had any relatives in Europe and I told them about my uncle who lives in the UK. They helped me with the family reunification course of action under the EU rules, and after a few months my application was accepted.

But just as I was preparing to take my flight to the UK, Covid-19 destroyed everything. My flight was cancelled, I had to wait in Greece alone and I suffered for a long time.

In May 2020, I finally arrived in the UK, just one day before my 18th birthday. I had left my home two years before as a child, and then just like that, my childhood was over. But my journey to find safety and rebuild my life isn’t over however. I have claimed asylum in the UK, but it is so difficult, long and stressful to seek asylum in this country – especially as an adult, although I became a refugee as a child.

The Calais migrant camp where scores of people live in tents, some with children


Phil Harris)

Others did not make it to the UK, like I did. Twenty-seven people drowned in the Channel last week. When governments close their borders, more and more people are going to risk their lives the way I had to. People will continue to do so until they are provided with a safe different.

It is sometimes thought that refugees come to the UK just to make money or cause trouble. Why would I risk my life to come here to ask for refuge if I didn’t have to? No-one knows the future; who knows, maybe one of these people is going to serve this country and rule it to a better future?

We need to help these people in desperate need of safety. Please rescue people drowning in the Channel and help them reach safety. Please stop people from drowning in the Channel by preventing them from needing to risk the crossing at all.

To save lives, the Government needs to open safe routes for refugees.

*Ahmed’s name has been changed for this article. He has been assisted by Safe Passage, a not-for-profit that helps child refugees access legal routes to safety

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