Iranian refugee family's harrowing 2,000-mile journey to reach UK

My parents paid traffickers to bring me to Britain on a boat: Refugee, 12, reveals how he nearly drowned in the Channel after harrowing 2,000-mile journey from Iran with his family

  • EXCLUSIVE: Arvin Rasoolzadeh, 12, crossed Channel in a small boat with family
  • He has now asked Keir Starmer to create safe passages for refugees to the UK

An 12-year-old Iranian refugee who grilled Sir Keir Starmer about Labour’s asylum plans has revealed his family’s harrowing journey to the UK during which they nearly drowned and spent a year in fear of their lives as they were illegally ferried thousands of miles by callous people smugglers.

Arvin Rasoolzadeh arrived in the UK with his father Mohse, 42, mother Khadijeh, 32 and younger brother Mohamad, 8 in September 2019 after making the perilous journey across the English Channel in a dinghy, which took them 14 hours.

Khadijeh was pregnant at the time while Mohmad had been diagnosed with severe epilepsy and autism.

They left their native Iran in June 2018 because their lives were in danger spending almost a year being taken illegally across six countries and being removed from each one.

Arvin and his family travelled through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria and Germany before eventually making it to Dunkirk, northern France where they decided to try and make the hazardous crossing to the UK.

Arvin Rasoolzadeh arrived in the UK with his father Mohse, 42, mother Khadijeh, 32 and younger brother Mohamad, 8 in September 2019

Arvin made a perilous 14-hour journey across the Channel with his father Mohse, 42, mother Khadijeh, 32 and younger brother Mohamad, 8

Arvin and his family travelled through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria and Germany before eventually making it to Dunkirk

Footage captured the moment Arvin and his family were picked up in the Channel and brought to the UK

Sir Keir was questioned about his migration plans by Arvin during an appearance on Sky News show FYI, a current affairs programme aimed at youngsters, which will be broadcast at the weekend.

Arvin, who turned 12 in January, told MailOnline: ‘I wanted to tell Sir Keir my story, that that we had no choice about making the dangerous journey across the Channel and that there are lots of people like us.

‘Nobody does what we did unless you are desperate. It’s very hard to leave your country and come to the UK and there are many genuine refugees like us who really need help. They should not be putting their lives in danger to come here.’

He added: ‘There should be safe passages for genuine refugees like us. I don’t want anybody to go through what we did because we almost died. We are very lucky to have survived.’

Quizzing Sir Keir on the programme, Arvin asks if an incoming Labour government would seek to establish further safe routes for refugees.

He says: ‘Hi, I’m Arvin. I’m from Iran and I’m a refugee in the UK.

‘We ended up in Calais in France and then we had no choice but to cross the English Channel in a dinghy towards England like so many families before us.

‘Mr Starmer, the Government says that they want to work with the French authorities to stop people reaching the UK on a boat like my family did.

‘But what about working with the French to provide a safe route to the UK for genuine refugees like me. Would you do that?’

In response, the Labour leader insisted that Britain ‘should have safe passages’ for asylum seekers.

The Labour leader was quizzed by Arvin, who made a perilous journey to Britain across the English Channel on a dinghy

Arvin, pictured in a refugee camp in Dunkirk, arrived in the UK in 2019 with his family

Arvin told MailOnline: ‘I wanted to tell Sir Keir [Starmer] my story, that that we had no choice about making the dangerous journey across the Channel’

Arvin, who travelled to the UK from Calais in northern France, revealed how he and his family had ‘no choice’ but to make the 31-mile trip on a small boat

Arvin enjoys a meal with his family now that he is happily settled in the UK 

Arvin holds a sign referring to Article 22 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which protects child refugees

The camp in Dunkirk where Arvin and his family stayed before making the journey to the UK

After travelling almost 2,000 miles, much of it on foot, where they had to negotiate treacherous terrain as they crossed illegally into countries Arvin and his family found themselves in Dunkirk.

For seven months they lived in an overcrowded makeshift encampment with 3,000 other migrants located on a football field.

Arvin and his family survived on meagre food portions and put up with poor hygiene and insufficient toilets as they attempted to gather the funds to pay for their Channel crossing.

Battling the cold and wind, the family’s tent was often blown away in the harsh conditions.

Recalling his family’s dangerous crossing of the English Channel, Arvin, who was aged eight at the time, told MailOnline: ‘It was cold and dark, and water was coming into the dinghy up to my knees. We all thought we were going to drown. I felt like crying but didn’t because I had to be strong.

‘None of us can swim and the journey seemed to go on for a long time. If there was another safer way to get to the UK, we would have done it. There were very big waves, I thought that the boat was going to crash.’

Mohse added: ‘This was the first time in our lives that we had even been in a boat. My wife was pregnant at the time, my younger son was not well, and we were all very scared. But we were so desperate, what else could we do?’

The dinghy Arvin’s family was in was rescued by the RNLI and the family were brought ashore with the other migrants in it after the hazardous 14-hour crossing.

Recalling the moment they set foot on land, Arvin cried: ‘It was a wonderful feeling, we were all so happy. We knew that we had come to a safe place where we could have a new life.

‘We just hugged and then people started helping us. They gave us clothing, blankets and something to eat and drink. We were just so thankful that they were being nice to us and that we were all alive. I’ll never forget that day.’

Arvin speaks to a presenter on FYI at the refugee camp in 2019. He asked Keir Starmer about refugees on the same programme this week

Arvin added: ‘Nobody wants to risk their lives in the way we did, which is the point I wanted to make to Sir Keir. If our case was dealt with in France, then we could have crossed safely. That’s all I want; for genuine refugees to be given a chance to come to the UK or any other country safely.

‘I don’t want anybody to go through what I did.’

Since arriving in the UK, Arvin’s family have been given permission to remain in the country with the Government accepting that their lives were in danger. His parents have also been given the right to work as they attempt to build a new life.

Arvin, who is surprisingly articulate for his age only learnt English after coming to the UK and has integrated quickly into British society.

He attends a secondary school near his home in Enfield, North London and has developed a passion for football, becoming an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan.

He said: ‘I love playing football and riding my bike. When I grow up, I want to become a professional footballer and play for Spurs. If I don’t do that then I’d like to become a doctor so that I can help other people.

‘I love living in Britain and have made a lot of friends at school. It is a fun, safe country that I now think of as my home.’

Away from his hobbies, Arvin has also become a regular contributor on Sky’s FYI show about refugee issues.

Mohse works as a barber while Arvin’s mother Khadijeh is a full-time carer for his younger brother.

After surviving their perilous journey to the UK, she gave birth to Arvin’s younger sister Olivia, 3.

Mohse refused to reveal how much he paid people smugglers to get them to the UK and said he could not divulge details about the precise reasons why they fled Iran, maintaining that it could put relatives who are still there in danger.

He insisted that their intention was never to come to the UK but because they were expelled from a number of countries after fleeing Iran, they just ‘followed’ other migrants and ended up in northern France.

He said: ‘We didn’t know which country to go to after leaving Iran but we wanted to go to the safest one. Other countries we were in just moved us on, so we came to the conclusion that the UK is the safest country in the world and we’re very happy to be here.’

Arvin insisted that he could understand why the Government is unveiling new legislation to stop illegal migrant crossings but that it had to be careful about punishing genuine refugees.

Arvin is now a keen football fan and enjoys a kickabout with his brother in a park in the UK

Following his arrival in the UK in a small boat, Arvin is now looking forward to a happy future

He said: ‘I know a lot of people are annoyed in the UK about refugees and are complaining about overcrowding, saying there’s too many here and other rude things like that.

‘But what about genuine refugees like us? We have to help them and give them a safe country to live in. The people smugglers are very bad, they are criminals, they even scam a lot of migrants. So, I agree with Sir Keir, there should be a safer way for genuine refugees to get here.’

As they set about building their new lives, Mohse insisted that they will forever be grateful to the UK.

He said: ‘We are very honoured and thankful to be here with such good people. This country has done a lot for us. It has provided us with safety, and I now think of it as my home. We have very good neighbours and have made new friends.

‘I hope that one day I will be able to pay Britain back and help other people in the way they have helped us.’

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