Foiled at first, bold refugee turns to bottles

By Henry Samuel

Afghan plucked from deathtrap raft is planning his next English Channel crossing attempt

Asif Hussainkhil was picked up by coastguards after joking with people on a passing ferry that his flimsy vessel was better than theirs.
Asif Hussainkhil was picked up by coastguards after joking with people on a passing ferry that his flimsy vessel was better than theirs.

An Afghan migrant who failed in his bid to reach Britain in a boat he made with crutches and a bed sheet has revealed plans for a new vessel made almost entirely from plastic bottles.

On Tuesday, French coastguards picked up Asif Hussainkhil 3.2km off Sangatte near Calais, after he was spotted from a ferry trying to make the 34km Channel crossing.

The 33-year-old spent three weeks making his boat out of six pieces of wood, with three buoys underneath and blue life jacket material to sit on.

Rescuers say he was lucky not to have capsized and died, and had "zero per cent chance of making it to Britain", but Hussainkhil is already hatching plans for a new craft.

Standing in the Fort Mahon sand dunes outside Calais, where he hid and built his first vessel, Hussainkhil said: "I am starting to make a new boat out of empty bottles, which I will tie together."

"This time it will be much more controllable, with a rudder," he said, pointing to three metal hoops lying beside some rusty nails and a plastic bottle.

"I will make a new 4m by 4m boat out of only empty bottles, some wood and some iron hoops that will serve as a rudder.

Hussainkhil left his native Kabul in 2000. Since then, he has lived in a string of countries, including Iran, Turkey, Greece and Switzerland, and had odd jobs as a builder, kitchen fitter, leather jacket maker and gardener.

Reacting to the news that some media in Britain had expressed admiration for the lengths he was prepared to go to reach the UK, he said: "I am very happy if that is the case. It has been my dream since I was a child and why I built this boat.

"If they let me come I will be very lucky."

On Tuesday, he set off in fine weather. He had no food or compass and only thin waterproof trousers and top. He did, however, have a slingshot which he said might come in handy to "defend myself against any sea birds that might attack me".

His flimsy raft was quickly swept into a busy ferry lane, with huge boats coming and going every 15 minutes. He was spotted by the P&O ferry Spirit of Britain which radioed coastguards to pick him up.

But Hussainkhil said his spirits had remained high at all times.

"I was singing in the water and was really happy. When I saw people standing on a ferry, I waved and said 'hi' to them, and they waved back. In sign language I joked with them that my small boat was better than theirs."

He was picked up by the Calais sea rescue services. His boat was confiscated by police who let him go without charge.

He is now back at a makeshift camp opposite the port, home to around 500 migrants, many of whom try to enter Britain every night by hiding in lorries.

Hussainkhil, however, said he had never considered getting into a lorry.

"Lots of people have been injured or have died and I don't want to do it. For me, cutting through a tarpaulin and hiding in a lorry is more of a crime than trying my luck in a boat. For me it's less illegal."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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