Home Immigration News ‘It’s my dream’: child refugee who arrived in a dinghy takes to the air

‘It’s my dream’: child refugee who arrived in a dinghy takes to the air

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The last time she saw France, Zainab Hossaini was a shivering 17-year-old refugee sitting in a boat in the early hours of Christmas Day, preparing to make the treacherous journey across the English Channel as an unaccompanied minor.

Yesterday she glimpsed its fuzzy coastline while piloting an aircraft 2,000ft above Kent. Hossaini, who was in the middle of her first flying lesson, said afterwards: “The view was so good, what I had always dreamed of.”

When the Observer published an account of Hossaini’s Channel crossing it generated widespread sympathy for the plight of the refugees. In the interview she told of her ambition to become an airline pilot. Last week Hossaini, who is from Afghanistan, turned 18 and a reader offered to pay for her initial flying lessons. She had her first one yesterday.

At 11.14am her Piper Archer plane took off from runway 03 at Lydd airfield near Ashford, about a mile from the coast. Minutes later, with the sun burning off the morning mist and more of France coming into view, the aircraft turned towards the Channel.

Below lay the beaches where hundreds of migrants have landed in dinghies over the past year. Another 11 aboard a small boat were intercepted by the Border Force on Friday.

At about 11.30am Hossaini’s plane flew over the sloping beach of Folkestone where she had landed in the UK eight months earlier, cold and vomiting with seven others at 2.40am on Christmas Day.

Piloting the Piper Archer was Diane Ellender, who several minutes into the journey turned to the teenager and said: “You have control.”

Hossaini took over an aircraft for the first time, the opening moments of a journey that will involve 45 hours of training and nine written exams before she secures her private pilot’s licence.

She guided the aircraft for 12 miles up the coast over the port of Folkestone towards Dover before turning back. “She was very calm, which is a good sign, and really enjoyed it, particularly the views as she flew over Folkestone,” said Ellender.

Moments after landing, Hossaini was already looking ahead to her next lesson. “I really enjoyed it, even the bit where it was bumpy,” she said.

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