'Dead man walking' describes desperate seven-hour journey to UK in tiny dinghy


A refugee who was tortured in an Iranian prison says he faces 'certain death' if he is deported and has shared the reasons why he crossed the Channel in the dinghy to make his way to the UK. 

On a cold December night, Urmulu climbed into a tiny dingy in Calais alongside a dozen others to make the perilous journey across the English Channel.

He knew the dangers he faced, as many had died attempting the same crossing, but he knew that being forced to return to Iran would mean certain execution.

Urmulu told Mirror Online he had spent nine months in an Iranian jail after being arrested for making a business trip to Israel, and was tortured by security forces before he managed to escape.

Alongside him in the tiny vessel were families fleeing war-torn countries hoping for a new life in a country where they could be safe.

"I was already dead from what they had done to me, so I didn't have any fear," said the 45-year-old, speaking through an interpreter.

Urmulu said that he will be executed if he is forced to return to Iran (Image: supplied)

"I'd already taken the possibility of my death into account, if that happened it didn't really matter.

"There were families and they had children, they were scared. It was windy, it was turbulent, we got wet and it was cold."

The vessel spent seven hours in choppy waters before being met by police on the English coast in December 2018.

Urmulu, from South Azerbaijan - a region vying for independence from Iran - spent months in a detention centre near Heathrow, constantly fearful of being sent back.

"It was like a dungeon, they were treating people really badly, people were being deported, it was a very horrible time," he said.

Migrants on a small inflatable boat crossing the Channel in the hope of finding a better life (Image: Getty Images)

"If I go back they will hang me. Because I absconded from prison they will definitely kill me."

Last year Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported that at least 280 executions were carried out, and at the weekend former wrestler Navid Afkari was executed in spite of a global outcry.

Due to concerns about his safety, Urmulu, who is being supported by UK charity Freedom from Torture, requested that his real name is not used.

Urmulu said he was arrested in 2012 after a business trip to Israel, when security forces became suspicious he was involved in anti-government activities.

"I had a good life in Iran, but then I was picked up by the intelligence agency and spent nine months in prison," he said.

"It was a very painful time, I was kept in a dungeon and treated very badly."

Following the death of his parents, he was allowed to visit their graveyard, and while out of sight of security officials was able to escape across the border to Turkey.

From there he travelled by boat to Greece, desperate to get away from the clutches of his captors.

He boarded a train to Sweden, where he applied for asylum, but this was turned down.

Facing the prospect of deportation, he got on a flight to France, where he again risked being made to return to Iran.

Terrified of what would happen if the Iranian security forces located him, he set his sights on the UK, paying £5,000 for a place on a dingy.

"I didn't select to come here, there was nowhere else I could go," he said.

"I had no choice, I had to come here, in Sweden I would have been sent to Iran, and that would have meant death."

Urmulu, who does not know anyone in the UK, is currently living in Birmingham while he awaits the result of his asylum application.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has been accused of making migrants into scapegoats (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

He was referred to Freedom from Torture by a detention centre GP, and has been receiving specialist counselling to help him deal with the suffering he endured in Iran.

In recent weeks, the number of migrants crossing the Channel has again been in the spotlight, with the government announcing measures to dissuade people from trying to reach the UK.

"I can understand, but at the end of the day people are forced to do this," he said.

Last month Home Secretary Priti Patel hired a leading crimebuster to tackle migrant boats, and far-right vigilantes have been patrolling the waters trying to "persuade" migrants to turn back.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “The desperate men, women and children crossing the channel on these boats are fleeing some of the worst of humanity.

"Yet our government denies their heartbreaking stories and paints them as invaders for political ends.

"Official figures show asylum applications have halved since the pandemic began.

"But instead of solving the problem by creating safer travel routes, the government has whipped up hysteria about borders and launched an attack on lawyers.

"The far right attacks on asylum seekers we have seen in recent weeks show the hatred it has fomented for political ends is getting out of control.

"It’s time to end the hostile environment and protect the values of fairness, sanctuary and rule of law that Britain has long stood for.”