Controversial Fateful Journey Of A Family Who Were Ready To Take Any Risk To Reach UK

Tejwant Singh

Fateful journey of a family who were ready to take any risk to reach UK

Patrick Sawer By Patrick Sawer, in London, and Zubair Babakarkhail in Kabul 8:30AM BST 07 Sep 2014

Fateful journey of a family who were ready to take any risk to reach UK
Meet Singh Kapoor put his life in the hands of traffickers, and was sent to his death

He had a simple, but heartfelt wish: a better existence for his wife and two young children. But it was an ambition that was to cost Meet Singh Kapoor his life.

Three weeks ago the 40-year-old was found dead inside a shipping container at Tilbury docks in Essex, the tragic end to a 4,600-mile journey he undertook with his family to escape debt and destitution in Afghanistan.

Also inside the container were Mr Kapoor’s two children, his wife and 31 other migrants, themselves close to suffocating.

On Friday, police arrested a third man on suspicion of manslaughter and facilitating illegal entry into the UK in connection with Mr Kapoor’s death. The 47-year-old, from Dungannon, Northern Ireland, was arrested in Liverpool and transferred into the custody of Essex Police.

Two other men have been charged with conspiring to facilitate illegal entry into the UK. Stephen McLaughlin, 34, and Timothy Murphy, 33, lorry drivers from Londonderry, were remanded to appear at Basildon Crown Court in November.

Now, following an investigation across two continents by The Sunday Telegraph, the full story of how Mr Kapoor and his family came to make the perilous journey, only for him to die shortly before reaching his intended destination, can be told for the first time.

Growing up in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, 95 miles east of the capital Kabul, Meet Singh was a member of the country’s minority Sikh community, and was known to be a studious, respectful and hard-working boy.

Although he left school at 13, his drive led him to open a spice and herb shop in Jalalabad’s centre. “Meet was a very humble, intelligent boy,” said his uncle, Daleep Singh, 55. “He would make jokes and make everyone laugh. He was one of my favourite nephews. I do not have any bad memories of him. He always respected me a lot.”

Times were not easy for Mr Kapoor, his wife, Jaktar Kor, and their two sons, Amandeep and Mandeep, who are 12 and nine. Though Jalalabad is Afghanistan’s second largest city and a centre of trade with neighbouring Pakistan, more than three decades of war, invasion and civil strife have devastated much of the country and left a legacy of poverty and instability.

Mr Kapoor’s family said that in recent years his spice business had begun to suffer and eventually failed, plunging him into debt as he tried to keep the business afloat. One of his principal creditors was a wealthy fruit importer, Haji Ghondai, who demanded $400,000 (£245,000) from Mr Kapoor as repayment for a loan of $70,000 he took out to set up a clothes shop with his uncle two years ago.

With Mr Kapoor unable to repay the debt, Mr Ghondai took over ownership of the family home, which had been left to Mr Kapoor by his father. This drove the spice trader further into poverty, leaving him reliant on his relations.
It was at this point that he took the decision to travel to Europe with his family, where — along with thousands of fellow migrants from around the world — he hoped he would find a better life. A little over 18 months ago he informed his uncle of his plans.

“He told me that he wanted to go abroad,” said Mr Singh. “He owed money on his businesses and people were pressing him to pay them back. We could not help him because we are also poor. Everyone suffers in this country.”
Daleep Singh, holding photographs of Meet Singh Kapoor's two sons and his wife

Mr Kapoor’s intention was to make it to Britain, where he had a brother and several other relations who had managed to enter the country and establish themselves among London’s 37,000-strong Afghan community.

Mr Singh said: “Meet wanted to leave in secret because he would face problems if people knew he was leaving without paying their money. He was a nice and humble guy, he was a hardworking man too, but he did not have good fortune.

“He had a terrible life here, there were problems everywhere for him. No one makes the decision to leave his country and his relations easily, but he was suffering here and he thought he and his children would have a better life in London.”

Though little is known about the precise journey Mr Kapoor and his family took, it is likely to have involved the payment of as much as £1,200 to human traffickers to smuggle them across the border into Iran, then through Turkey into Bulgaria or northern Greece. From there the journey, by lorry, would have taken them through Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.

Then, in June, Mr Kapoor rang his uncle in Jalalabad to tell him they had made it as far as Belgium, where they had been living for several months as transient migrants, and were now trying to secure their passage to Britain.
Once again this is likely to have involved placing their lives in the hands of human traffickers.

Figures released earlier this month showed that the numbers of people being smuggled into Britain is on the increase, with 566 potential victims of trafficking picked up by police in the first three months of this year, compared with 407 for the period last year.

Many come on the promise of jobs or education opportunities, only to find themselves working in conditions of near-slavery. Liam Vernon, the head of the National Crime Agency’s human trafficking centre, said: “Quite often people who are exploited start as smuggled migrants, paying people to come to Europe or the UK for a better life. They are aware it may take three or six months, but they are not aware they are going to be moved into exploitation.”

Mr Kapoor’s uncle put it succinctly. “Everyone gets the help of human traffickers; no one can get a visa for UK, so Meet Singh was also using those ways,” he said.

In the case of Mr Kapoor and his family, the final leg of their journey involved them being sealed inside the cargo container with 18 other adults and 13 children aged one to 12 some time before it was loaded by lorry on to a P&O roll-on, roll-off ferry at Zeebrugge in Belgium.

The port handles as much as 22 million tons of freight traffic every year — making it impossible to search every one of the containers loaded on to the thousands of ships leaving each week — and it was only when the P&O ferry docked at the Port of Tilbury at 6.37am on Saturday August 16, that the human cargo contained in one of its containers was discovered, along with the body of Mr Kapoor.

Dock workers broke into the container after hearing banging, screams and cries from inside. What they found was heartbreaking. Supt Trevor Roe, of Essex Police, said the migrants had been through “a horrendous ordeal”. A fleet of ambulances ferried the survivors to hospitals, where some where detained for treatment overnight, while police began a murder inquiry into the death of Mr Kapoor, who is thought to have suffocated.

Many of the survivors, who had been inside the container for more than 18 hours, told Kamaljit Singh Mataharu, a translator, they had feared they too would die.

Mr Mataharu said: “It was pitch black, without any air. It soon became extremely uncomfortable.” But it was when the translator spoke to one of the children who had been carried from the container that the enormity of the tragedy hit home. The boy was one of Mr Kapoor’s two sons. “A little boy just said to me that he tried to wake his dad, but his dad didn’t respond and then they found out he was dead. I normally never cry, but looking at those kids, how desperate they must have been to put their lives in such a state,” said Mr Mataharu.

The migrants, including Mr Kapoor’s wife and children, were cared for initially by members of the Sikh community in Grays, Essex, who brought food, blankets and even toys to the port and provided temporary accommodation. The families spent some time at a community centre in East Dulwich, south London, and are now in the care of the Home Office while their application for asylum status is being considered.

Officials will have to determine whether Mr Kapoor’s family and their fellow migrants face a genuine fear of persecution as Afghan Sikhs, who have reportedly suffered cases of discrimination and harassment following tensions between the country’s Muslim majority and its Sikh and Hindu minorities.
A Home Office spokesman said: “This tragic incident is a reminder of the devastating human consequences of illegal migration and we will do all we can to help bring those responsible to justice.

“Following the conclusion of police interviews, the individuals involved have now been passed into our care. All 34 are now in the process of claiming asylum in the UK and we are providing accommodation and support to those who require it while their cases are considered. The UK takes
its international obligations extremely seriously and has a proud history of offering protection to those who need it.”

Back in Afghanistan, Mr Kapoor’s relations are mourning him and are fearful for the prospects of Jaktar Kor, Amandeep and Mandeep.

Mr Singh said: “Meet’s mother has been crying for days and is unable to eat. We had a small service of mourning in our temple, here in Jalalabad, but we want his body brought back to Afghanistan for a proper ceremony.”
He added that he also wanted to see his nephew’s wish for a better future for his children fulfilled.

“Now we hope that his children will not be kicked out of the UK. Those children have lost their father after he tried to get a good life for them. They should at least be given the chance to live in a peaceful country with the opportunity of an education,” he said.

“As an Afghan and a human being I would appeal to the government of the UK to let Meet’s wife and children live there. After what has happened to them, to come back to Afghanistan would mean more suffering.”


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