North East refugee charity boss to swim England Channel to highlight dangers facing asylum seekers

Duncan McAuley has been training for the challenge at Saltburn beach and in the River Tees. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

The head of a North East refugee charity is preparing to swim the English Channel to highlight the dangers facing thousands of asylum seekers making the same journey.

Duncan McAuley, from Stockton, is the chief executive of Newcastle and Sunderland-based Action Foundation and plans to swim from Dover to Calais in relay with four friends this week.

The challenge will take the team more than 15 hours to complete and follows training at Saltburn and in the River Tees.

Mr McAuley said he hoped his efforts would help raise awareness of "the individual lives at stake" when asylum seekers attempt to cross the Channel.

"These are people fleeing in desperation and often they've come from places like Ukraine, like Afghanistan, and we have seen the situations there in recent months," he added.

"The journeys they make can often be long and equally dangerous across land, before they make this final leg of crossing the Channel to get to the UK."

The team expect to complete the the English Channel crossing in just more than 15 hours. Credit: PA

Action Foundation, which helps refugees with housing, English teaching, inclusion and advice, says 28,000 people undertook the journey last year and it is warned the figure could double this year.

Mr McAuley, who has been training at Saltburn beach, said the team would have a safety boat and a pilot with crew.

"We'll be really well looked after," he added. "I can't imagine what it would be like making the journey, perhaps knowing nobody else on the boat, at the hands of a people smuggler, going in the other direction."

Mr McAuley said he believed at least 150 refugees had died crossing the Channel over the past five years.

The swim is to raise funds as well as awareness of the dangers facing those making the trip the other way.

It is hoped the challenge will go ahead on Thursday 25 May or Friday depending on weather conditions.

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