By Layli Foroudi and Juan Medina
DUNKERQUE, France, Nov 30 (Reuters) – A couple of days after migrants began pitching tents along a former railway line in Dunkirk in northern France, Dawan Anwar Mahmud seized the opportunity to build the first restaurant in the makeshift camp.
Made from a wooden frame from nearby trees and covered with tarp, the restaurant was built in one day and is hardly sturdier than a tent.
But the situation is precarious, as on Tuesday the police arrived at the camp, evicted people and demolished their tents and shelters.
Speaking before the police arrived, the owner, Mahmud, a 30-year-old from Iraqi Kurdistan, described how he was eager to start earning cash, having lost 1,600 pounds ($ 2,100) to a smuggler when He first arrived in France towards the end of the boreal summer.
“I opened a little restaurant to go to England,” he said Monday. Attempts by Reuters reporters to reach him by phone after Tuesday’s eviction were unsuccessful.
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Last week, a ship with at least 29 people capsized in the English Channel. Only two occupants survived, highlighting the great risks migrants take to reach Britain via one of the world’s busiest waterways.
But even before this, Mahmud was terrified of the Channel crossing. A month ago, another smuggler took him to shore but left when he saw that he would share the boat with 47 people. “I said ‘no, I’m scared!’ He beat me and broke my phone to make sure I didn’t call the police. “
With his restaurant he planned to raise enough money to get on a boat with fewer people, or better yet, avoid the sea and make the trip in a truck. Today it is rare for people to cross the Canal hiding in vehicles due to increased controls.
As the route gets more complicated, the price goes up: a truck trip to England currently costs around £ 4,000, compared to £ 2,500-3,000 for a boat trip.
Mahmud earns between 40 and 70 euros a day and employs two workers, who receive 25 euros a day and are also looking to pay for his trip to Britain.
On Monday lunchtime, the restaurant served Kurdish-style chicken livers on a baguette with tomato and onion slices. One customer, Usman, 21, said he knows the food from his home in Pirashahr, Iran, but has not eaten it since leaving his country last year.
“It is the best sandwich in the camp because it is very national food,” he said.
At night, when he’s not cooking on his gas stove, Mahmud lights it up inside his one-man tent and watches movies. It is dangerous but it is frozen; the ground around his tent is muddy and his shoes are constantly wet.
The camp smells bad when people start burning bottles and packaging to keep the fires going. “Everyone is at home in front of their chimneys and we are here under a sheet of plastic,” he said.
Mahmud has a prolonged leg injury that is aggravated by the cold. The problem started in Iraq 10 years ago, he said, when he was arrested, jailed for six months and beaten by police after participating in protests against the regional government. Doctors said at the time that he may need to have his leg amputated.
After the violent repression of 2015, he said, he decided to leave his country. He moved to Sweden to join his sister, but his asylum application was rejected after six years of waiting.
Mahmud’s goal is to open a more permanent restaurant. For now, he feels that Britain is his best bet, but is keeping an open mind.
“For me, if it’s France or the UK or Germany or Belgium, it’s the same,” he said. “I came here to start a new life.”
($ 1 = 0.7495 pounds)
(Written by Layli Foroudi. Edited in Spanish by Javier Leira)