Kent

Migrants 'risk lives' with kayak Channel crossings

Masoud Mohammadifar in competition Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Masoud Mohammadifar fled Iran after being accused of spying

Migrants are risking their lives trying to cross the Channel in unsuitable inflatable kayaks, a former Iranian athlete who made the journey has said.

Masoud Mohammadifar, who represented his nation in international canoe competitions, paddled into British waters and was picked up by Border Force off the coast of Kent in August.

He warned others not to follow him and said: "I don't want to see people die."

Eight migrants have attempted the crossing in kayaks since August 2018.

On each occasion they used an inflatable Decathlon model, costing between €200 and €300, the BBC found

"This kayak is really not working in the Channel," Mr Mohammadifar said.

Image copyright Premar Manche
Image caption A migrant was found suffering hypothermia in French waters on 10 September

Since arriving in Britain, he said fellow migrants have contacted him from France asking for tips on how to survive the journey.

The 39-year-old said anyone attempting the crossing in an inflatable kayak was "playing with their life".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Three men were picked up by a French lifeboat in August 2018

More than 1,200 people have crossed the Channel in small boats this year, with authorities blaming organised smuggling gangs.

Seven men and a child landed in St Margaret's Bay, Kent, in a dinghy on Thursday and were held by Border Force.

However, some migrants are attempting to go it alone and cross the Channel in other ways.

Five people have tried to reach the coast of Kent by kayak in the past two months.

Two are believed to have attempted to swim to England, with one man found dead off the coast of Belgium with an improvised flotation aid made of plastic bottles.

Image copyright Masoud Mohammadifar
Image caption Mr Mohammadifar, right, posing in a USA shirt with Iranian teammates

Mr Mohammadifar, who is now living in Birmingham while the Home Office processes his asylum claim, said he fled Iran after being jailed over allegations of spying for the United States.

His problems with the regime began when he posed in a USA shirt while competing for Iran at an international dragon boat competition in Malaysia, he said.

He made his way to Romania where he worked as a lifeguard and water sports instructor at a Black Sea resort.

Fearing deportation to Iran after his asylum claim failed, he travelled to the Netherlands, then Germany, which both declined to offer refuge.

He reached Calais by bus in July and from there launched his inflatable kayak.

He paddled for more than two hours with a fellow migrant and said the kayak was nearly sunk in a storm, before the pair were rescued by Border Force and brought to Dover.

Despite his twenty years' experience, which he said included paddling for 25km each day, Mr Mohammadifar said "only God saved me" in the Channel.

Image copyright Masoud Mohammadifar
Image caption Mr Mohammadifar worked as a lifeguard and water sports instructor in Romania

Former coastguard Andy Roberts said Mr Mohammadifar, who was rescued about halfway across, was "extremely lucky to not have drowned, and that was with his strength and power, knowledge and skill".

Bridget Chapman, of Kent Refugee Action Network, said: "It terrifies me that people are feeling they have no other option but to try this."

Decathlon France has been contacted for comment.

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