Since 3 November, 101 migrants – including four children – have attempted the 21-mile journey across the English Channel, which one policeman likened to “trying to cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot”. All claimed to be Iranian.
Why? The answer to the last question could lie 1,200 miles away in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Miodrag Ćakić, chief executive of Refugee Aid Serbia, which monitors migration through the Balkans, believes migrants arriving in the UK are among the thousands who flew into Serbia after the country began offering visa-free access to Iranians in August last year. The move was ostensibly intended to increase tourism and trade between Iran, the world’s 25th largest economy, and Serbia, the 90th. The visa scheme ended on 17 October, by which time some 40,000 Iranians were said to have flown to the Balkan nation. Serbian police estimate the number of Iranians who failed to return at 12,000.
Kaveh Kalantri, of the Iranian Association which supports refugees in the UK, said a lack of freedom and human rights violations were driving some Iranians out of their country. “People get arrested if they have liberal or left-wing views, or if they are from religious minorities. A lot of people experience violence on a daily basis.”
In the past two years, Iranian citizens have made more UK asylum applications than any other nationality, according to Home Office figures. In 2017, they accounted for 9% of the 26,350 applications. “Iranians coming to the UK is not unusual, but the way they are coming is,” Mr Kalantri said.
One theory as to why Iranians are choosing to risk their lives on boats stems from their comparative wealth to other refugees – simply put, they can afford to pay smuggling gangs to get them onboard a vessel.