Another death at the hands of the border

On Monday, 4th November 2013, at around 3pm the body of a young Eritrean was found dead in the water at Calais port. It has now been confirmed as the body of Robiel.


He was reported missing on the 9th October [1], after he and a friend had tried to swim across the outer harbour to try to get to a ferry heading for England. His friend was rescued and taken to hospital for hypothermia, the other was not found until his body was seen floating in the water last week, nearly a month later.

Once again, no autopsy has been undertaken despite the unusual circumstances [2], the forensic doctor who examined the body has closed the case as a ‘natural death’. [3]

Robiel was a refugee from Eritrea, his mother remains in Sudan, his uncle in England, his sister in Israel and cousin in Italy.

Eritrea is a country with one of the most repressive regimes in the world [4], with a quarter of its population now in exile in defiance of the authorities’ “shoot-to-kill policy“ against people escaping across the border. Those without the money or correct identity to afford travel documents into Europe have to travel through incredibly dangerous ‘clandestine’ means ; by foot or crammed into trucks across the Sahara, aboard overcrowded and unseaworthy boats that routinely capsize in the Mediterranean [5], only to face constant harassment and abuse at the hands of border controls in Europe.

People from the Eritrean and Ethiopian community are shocked and angry to hear of the death of their friend. After the recent sweep of evictions across Calais, including an Eritrean squat on 22nd October [6], people are exhausted and living now under worse conditions in a new jungle, which could get evicted every day. And at night people still risk their lives at the border, chased like animals by police and their dogs under the watchful eye of UK funded high-tech surveillance systems [7].

Uncountable lives are wasted and suffer from the violence of the border. Whether from the direct attacks by police and border forces, or in the attempt to escape their controls, or through the dangerous methods of transit, or at the hands of gang-masters and mafia. This is at least the twentieth reported death of a migrant at the hands of Calais’ border regime in the past four years [8].

Others go unnamed, without vigils and protests, without families to advocate on their behalf. The story of Calais is like that of all border regimes. The more controls increase the more desperate and dangerous the methods become to escape them. And the response of the authorities remains the same; rather than ease the harsh conditions, controls are fortified in the vain of ‘security’ to ensure the protection and privileges of the minority, at the expense of the rest.

The systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group, inflicting of suffering, harassment, isolation, imprisonment, fear, or pain are all factors that establish persecution. Through these border regimes people continue to be persecuted because of a combination of their race, nationality and income. This fear of ‘others’ promoted by the government makes xenophobia and racism normalised and institutionalized.

These deaths will not be silenced and people will continue the daily fight for survival against the death wish of the border regimes.

NOTES : [1] La Voix du Nord, 10/10/2013 : “An Eritrean rescued, another missing Wednesday night at the port of Calais”,

[2] It is normal practice in Calais for migrant deaths to be uninvestigated without inquiry or autopsy, despite unusual or suspicious circumstances and also in contempt of complaints by family.

For example see: “Calais : Noureddin Mohamed” : “A year since the death of Ismael” :

[3] La Voix du Nord, 4/11/2013 : “Body recovered at the port of Calais : prosecutors confirmed that they are brought the Eritrean disappeared” :

[4] ”Torture, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and religious freedom remain routine in Eritrea… forced labour and indefinite military service prompt thousands of Eritreans to flee the country every year” :


[6] Eritrean squat in Calais evicted 22/10/2013 :

[7] The Calais border is the most securitized in Europe, with a mass of fences, CCTV cameras, border patrols and sniffer dogs, CO2 monitors, heat and motion sensors, xray scanners and thermal imaging cameras which supposedly “are able to see the head and shoulders of a person floating in the water at a distance of just over 400 meters, supported by Thales Security Systems, all in the hunt to find migrants“ :

[8] See : Reported deaths at the Calais border