ONEs I paddled through billowing waves in the dark, stomach aches, so I our little dinghy start to fill up with water with a sinking feeling – it would not be long before we went overboard, and I was worried that at least one person in my boat paddled in the wrong direction. But again, it could have been me: I used an oar twice as big, and it was impossible to tell in madness.
Before we knew it, the odyssey was over and the lights were on again. I came through soaked – with sore muscles and shot nerves – relieved to be out of the water.
This was RNLI’s marine survival pool, which was used to train volunteers in rigor in life-or-death hiking. All I had done was cross a 25-meter swimming pool four times, but that was enough to assure me that repeating it at least 325 times more across the canal would be a deeply traumatic experience. What’s more, it’s a journey that would probably be much longer, as in many cases an immigrant is only guided by a smartphone compass.
The experience was meant to give me a sense of what it is like for migrants crossing the canal in small submarine boats filled with up to 50 passengers, who are all scared and desperately hoping that their long, difficult journeys through Europe, which have followed months or years of suffering and adversity are nearing the end.
But my experience was nowhere near as fraught with danger as what they would endure. The water was 20 ° C instead of the canal’s current 12 ° C (which even then is warm compared to other times of the year). We were also in a swimming pool, not one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and my four seafarers and I had a language in common, and our buoyancy aids were life jackets – not lemonade bottles.
The biggest difference, of course, was that we knew we would come out alive with clean towels waiting on the side and comfortable homes to return to.
However, even getting a little understanding of what it could be like to be driving with a group of strangers whose experience of the ocean would often be – like mine – limited, gave me a sense of how desperate someone must be to try such a ordeal.
Organized by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, the maritime survival session is part of its work to help the public understand and empathize with migrants’ human struggle. RNLI CEO Mark Dowie is concerned that photographs of migrants pushing boats out to calm seas on sunny afternoons promote criticism of their rescue efforts and persuade people that they are arriving on the British shores seeking asylum. a relaxed summer hunt through peaceful waters.
It is this lack of recognition of the human face of the crisis that RNLI believes supports Nigel Farage’s accusations that the voluntary charity runs a “taxi service for illegal immigration” – rather than fulfilling its duty to save lives at sea without judging , how they got there.
RNLI wants people to understand that migrants are real people just like those who go through a more upsetting experience than most of us can even begin to conceive.
I know that my short stay in wild waters will make me think for a long time about all those boats out there in the stormy night, full of men, women and children trying to survive towering waves, sobbing ships and the icy cold in hope that they will soon encounter dry land and human compassion.