When 39 Chinese nationals were found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex, Jawad Amiri remembered vividly how he nearly suffocated as he was smuggled into the UK.
The 28-year-old from Afghanistan was one of 15 people pulled from a sealed container on the M1 as oxygen became perilously low.
He described his harrowing journey from a Calais migrant camp and how a text from his seven-year-old brother Ahmad saved their lives.
‘It was like a moving grave’
Every night the people smugglers would open a lorry and put groups of 20 to 30 people inside. They have taken your money and they don’t care if you live or die.
Me and my seven-year-old brother Ahmad got inside a refrigerated lorry with 13 others. They locked the door behind you and everybody was scared because you cannot open it from the inside.
Inside the lorry were cartons of medicine. There was a space of half a metre between the boxes and the roof. We had to lie there for 15 or 16 hours. We couldn’t move, or sit or stand. It was like a moving grave.
It was completely dark and in the beginning it was very cold because it was refrigerated. But then the air conditioning was broken and it got warmer and warmer.
We took off our blankets and clothes. All we had was water and then that was gone. There was nowhere to go to the toilet.
‘We were banging on the walls’
It was difficult to breathe. My brother was crying, he was scared and he was coughing. I kept saying to him: “You will be fine, they will open the door.”
We were sweating, it was getting hotter and hotter and you couldn’t talk very well.
We kept calling to the driver and banging on the roof. He stopped many times and we hoped he would open the doors but he did not want to.
He was using very bad language and shouting at us to be quiet.
Some of the others had phones but they did not want to call the police because they were scared they would be sent back.
‘There was no oxygen’
My phone battery had gone but Ahmad had a very small phone and he sent a message to the lady at the charity in the camp who had given him the phone.
He said we needed help, the driver would not stop and there was no oxygen.
She said: “Don’t move, relax, don’t talk too much we are going to call the police”.
They came with the dog and found the lorry and opened the door for us and by that time everyone was happy.
Some people were upset because they were scared they would be sent back.
A doctor came to check us and they said we were OK and they sent us to a hostel.
‘I am so sad for them’
Now I am very happy. I have my right to remain in the UK and I am at college training to be a builder.
My little brother is 10 now and he is in the process of creating a virtual reality experience of his journey and his dreams called Parwaz VR.
I was in the car talking to my friend and he had the news of the deaths in Essex on the radio. I was physically inside the car but inside my head I was back in the lorry.
It made me feel very sick and sad and brought back bad memories. I think for those people the oxygen stopped and I am so sad for them.
They are not just 39 people who died. They are 39 families who have lost a brother or sister.
People in the UK are intelligent, nice, kind people and I hope this will show that we should have more responsibility to look after people who have left their homes, their families, everything.
- 39 people found dead in a refrigerated lorry
- How are lorries checked for concealed migrants?
- How many migrants die entering the UK?
As told to Jennifer Meierhans.