UK

Afghan boy smuggled in lorry texted: 'No oxygen'

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Media captionAhmed had been in a refugee camp in Calais

A seven-year-old Afghan boy who was in a sealed lorry was rescued by UK police after texting he was suffocating.

The boy, using a phone given by a charity in Calais, said he was running out of "oksijan" - meaning oxygen.

He and 14 adults were found in a container at services on the M1 after arriving from the Calais migrant camp commonly known as the Jungle.

Leicestershire Police said the group of migrants was recovered from a trailer at the Leicester Forest East services.

The force said immigration officials had now taken on the case and "safeguarding" measures had been put in place for the boy. Nobody was taken to hospital.

'I need help'

Image caption Message to charity contact: Call for help from back of the lorry
Image copyright PA
Image caption The lorry was tracked down to services on the M1

The incident on Thursday began when the boy, called Ahmed, and his older brother stowed away in a lorry bound for the UK.

Ahmed was carrying a mobile phone given to him by Help Refugees, a small charity working in the northern France camps.

The charity says it gives phones to children to help keep them safe.

During the day, he sent a text to Liz Clegg, one of the charity's team who works in the Jungle, who was at an international conference in New York at the time

The text, in broken English, read: "I ned halp darivar no stap car no oksijan in the car no sagnal iam in the cantenar. Iam no jokan valla".

Translated, it means "I need help, driver isn't stopping, no oxygen in the car. No signal, I am in the container. I am not joking." Valla means "I swear by God".

Ms Clegg alerted Tanya Freedman, another volunteer with the charity in the UK.

Ms Freedman told the BBC: "Liz had called him and heard his distress and could tell that it was a really serious situation.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The boy had travelled from the Jungle camp in Calais

"She gave him advice about how to stay as still as possible and to conserve energy."

'Lives have been saved'

Ms Freedman called Kent Police and the force, with the help of other agencies and a Pashto speaker, spoke again to the boy and identified and tracked down the lorry.

Leicestershire Police officers opened the trailer to free those inside. It said one man had been arrested on suspicion of assisting illegal immigration.

Ms Freedman said: "The boy was in a very dangerous situation. Some lives have been saved today."

Refugee charities are lobbying ministers to allow children who are in the camps to come to the UK.

Last month, the House of Lords backed a plan to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the UK from across Europe.

The amendment to the Immigration Bill was proposed by Labour's Lord Dubs, who came to the UK as part of the "Kindertransport" plan to save children from the Nazis.

The government opposes the proposal, which will be debated by MPs next month, but the Home Office is allowing children from the Jungle to seek asylum if they have relatives in the UK.

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