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Channel crossings: Thanet councillor who fled Iraq as a refugee calls for safe routes to asylum to prevent more deaths

A councillor who fled Iraq to escape torture when he was just 17 says there needs to be a safe route to asylum to prevent more deaths in the Channel.

Cllr Aram Rawf, who represents the Beacon Road ward in Broadstairs, spoke out after the 27 asylum seekers tragically drowned trying to reach the UK from France last week.

Cllr Aram Rawf
Cllr Aram Rawf

He was a refugee himself, fleeing northern Iraq - at the time Kurdistan - in 1999 in the back of a lorry, after being tortured by extremists who wanted him to train with them as a suicide bomber.

He has since built a life for himself as a British citizen, working as a councillor on Thanet District Council, volunteering - including assisting with the Covid vaccination roll-out - and becoming a well-known face in the community.

During the pandemic he has also helped deliver food to vulnerable residents and people isolating.

Speaking about the tragic deaths, which included three children, he says there needs to be safe routes to asylum put in place.

"The reality is if you are not desperate you will not leave everything behind and put your life in danger," he said.

The sunk dinghy off Calais. At least 27 died when it capsized. Picture: Local lifeboat crew
The sunk dinghy off Calais. At least 27 died when it capsized. Picture: Local lifeboat crew

"We have seen unprecedented numbers of refugees arriving on our beaches in desperately perilous conditions and now we have evidence of a mass drowning of people trying to get to the Kent coast.

"I feel for these people. I was a refugee myself, forced to flee for my life."

It is believed that only two people survived the sinking of the doomed dinghy which was carrying men, women and children on the perilous journey across the Channel from France.

"It is heartbreaking to see people time after time losing their lives to try to get to safety and seek asylum," continued Cllr Rawf.

"This government created a hostile environment that denies safe and legal routes to asylum.

Cllr Aram Rawf
Cllr Aram Rawf

"This tragic migration will not stop until governments stop selling bombs and weapons to these people's enemies, until we stop destroying their stability, and disrupting their farming and basic supplies by invading their country.

"Countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen have been devastated by war. They have lost the basic infrastructure of life - homes, food, water and security.

"The message is clear: our government needs to stop thinking that by sending some kind of military force to France they will prevent deaths in the Channel.

"Instead they need to listen to the recommendations from the Refugee Council and Refugee Action. We need to provide safe routes to asylum."

Similar calls have been made by others, with campaigns mounted.

Don't Let Them Drown rallies were organised by action groups including Stand Up To Racism, Migrant Voice and Care4Calais.

Campaigners argue the deaths were a 'direct result of the British government refusing to allow safe and legal routes for refugees'.

They are also calling for the government's Nationality and Borders Bill to be scrapped.

The Home Office says the Bill will "fix the broken asylum system".

Among the changes are the introduction of tougher criminal offences for those attempting to enter the UK illegally. The penalty for illegal entry will be raised from six months’ to four years’ imprisonment and people smugglers could face life sentences.

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