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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Why I want to come to the UK
Asylum seekers try to find a way through the tunnel
Who are the asylum seekers trying to get into Britain? Often they are intelligent and motivated individuals. BBC News Online's chief feature writer Jonathan Duffy finds out why one has risked everything for a new life.

This is not the first time that Samir has been stuck in a country that he wants to get out of.

Back in the spring, the young Kurd risked his life when he deserted the army in Iraq. That left him only one option, he says - to flee his homeland.

Now he is staying at a refugee shelter near Calais, in north west France and like hundreds of others in the camp, he wants to come to England.


If they had found us they would have shot us - there is no question at all

Samir
But the UK Government is demanding tighter security at ports such as Calais.

Yet Samir - who asked not to be photographed - still believes he can get across. And judging by his story, one thing the 25-year-old does not lack is tenacity.

Samir was brought up in the Kerkuk region of Iraq, in a village 130km (81 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad. His respect for the English is matched by a good command of the language, which he has spoken since the age of five.

Conscripted from the lab

From school he went to Mousul University, where he obtained a degree in sciences, and then spent a short time working in a hospital laboratory.

But shortly after graduating he was conscripted into the military. Although his father served eight years in the Iraqi army, fighting the war with Iran, Samir dreaded the prospect of signing up.


Saddam Hussein: Feared for his oppression of Kurds
The persecution of Iraqi Kurds under the rule of Saddam Hussein is well documented. And although Samir's family have escaped the worst atrocities - they are all still alive - he feared he would be forced to turn on his own people.

Samir ran away from the army after only a month.

"It was as I had feared. They wanted me to attack other Kurds, to wage war on my own people," he says.

As a renegade, he adds, he risked execution. His only option was to escape from Iraq.

So he paid US$5,000 of family savings to a fixer to smuggle him out. His journey started in Mousul, his old university town. He and two others were squeezed into a secret compartment in a Turkish petrol delivery tanker.

Once inside, it wasn't that uncomfortable. They at least had room to sit. But crossing the Iraq-Turkey border was terrifying, admits Samir.

"If they had found us they would have shot us. There is no question at all."

The route he took

The first leg of his journey came to an end in Turkey, where he was dropped off by the tanker driver. He then took a bus ride across country to Istanbul.

He spent some time in a safe house, waiting for the right moment to make his onward connection. After a week he took a short taxi ride to a nearby port where his fixer had organised the next leg.

Samir and several others were loaded into a lorry where they were surrounded by crates to hide them from immigration officials. The truck then boarded a ferry.

The migrants were free to walk around the lower deck of the ferry during their six days at sea, but they couldn't go any further for fear of being discovered.


You see a lot of injuries at the camp - people come back with damage to their arms, cuts and broken legs.

Samir
Finally the ferry docked somewhere in Europe - Samir is unsure where exactly, although he suspects it was Italy - and, still hiding amid the crates, he snuck through immigration control.

Then he was fixed up with a minibus, which delivered him and several others to Paris, where he was left to his own devices.

Samir says he had two options: Germany or Britain. A fellow Iraqi who he had shared the entire journey with chose Germany. But Samir hopped on the train to Calais.

Why England?

He has been at the refugee shelter at Sangatte for eight days. He has thought about joining others in trying to jump the trains that run through the Channel Tunnel. But it is a high-risk option and he is looking for another way.

"You see a lot of injuries at the camp. People come back with damage to their arms, cuts and broken legs."

But why is he so fixed on England? Why not apply for asylum in France?

Samir likes the French but like so many at the camp, he believes in an almost mythical sense of British tolerance. He also has contacts in Britain and he speaks the language.

But there are other reasons too. His university teachers had studied in the UK during the 1960s and '70s and spoke highly of it.

Also, as a Kurd, he believes the UK's show of force against Baghdad bodes well for him. The authorities will be more sympathetic to his plight, he said.

And if he does make it, Samir would like to use his degree and experience by working as a laboratory assistant or maybe studying some more.

He is civil, undoubtedly intelligent and motivated and his goals are no different from most men his age - to live in a stable country, build a career and have the chance to meet a wife and start a family.

It's not too much to ask. Unless that is, you were unlucky enough to be born into Samir's shoes.

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