Around 3,000 migrants are thought still to be camping out at Calais in the hope of crossing the English Channel, with 240,000 believed to have already crossed the Mediterranean this year. Now, after a month of unrest, French and British governments are joining forces to combat the migrant issue. But should more sympathy be given to the migrants, and are we selfishly putting our own interests above the lives of the endangered?
The situation in Calais is part of a wider migration crisis in Europe, caused largely by people fleeing war and oppression in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Since the Arab Uprising in 2010 and its ensuing conflicts, it is believed that a quarter of Syria’s population alone, 6.5 million people, have fled. Living with disease and death, escaping genocide and exploitation; is the real crisis not that asylum seekers are dying in camps developed on the doorsteps of some of the richest nations on earth?
David Cameron has called them a ‘swarm’ and the media have referred to migrants as an ‘unstoppable flood.’ There have even been rumours of migrants chanting ‘we are not animals’ from their camp, alluding to their harsh treatment in Calais, with police now using tear gas to restrain them. The debate in the tabloids is grotesque; there is a ghastly lack of concern and sympathy for a dehumanised cluster of frantic people, so desperate that they are prepared to risk their lives for the chance of a better one elsewhere.
Instead of concentrating resources on developing resettlement strategies, Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, sums up the authorities’ attitude to the crisis, when he states: “The aim is to convey the message that the streets of the UK are not paved with gold.” The British Government has announced it will provide an extra 500 policemen to work on border control, introduce additional freight search teams including additional sniffer dogs, and begin funding flights to return migrants to their home countries. This completely disregards the reason for the migrants’ desperation to enter the UK.
“The debate in the tabloids is grotesque; there is a ghastly lack of concern and sympathy for a dehumanised cluster of frantic people, so desperate that they are prepared to risk their lives for the chance of a better one elsewhere.”
The EU recently ruled that members could not simply fine migrants and make no effort to remove them, they cannot turn a blind eye to their existence when, as in the Calais case, a large number of them are openly staying on member’s territory. As far as press reports suggest, however, it does not appear that the French authorities are making any active effort to return migrants in Calais to their countries of origin.
However, nine migrants are already known to have died in an attempt to cross the Channel since June, and the port is currently guarded by 16ft fences, topped with coils of razor wire and CCTV, with the gates and exterior guarded by heavily armed French riot police. This certainly suggests that they are not prioritising the migrants’ welfare.
This week, Home Secretary, Theresa May, and France’s Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, have signed an agreement on new, vigorous measures to help alleviate the crisis in Calais. The UK has now invested £22 million in improving security at Calais, to prevent the thousands of migrants from attempting to stow away on vehicles waiting to cross the Channel or on trains passing through the Channel Tunnel.
“The fragile nature of the Liberal, free-market democracy is unprepared to cope if millions were to enter the country, meaning we would risk destroying the exact premises that brought migrants here in the first place.”
Many people do not understand why these people are desperately trying to enter the UK. Most, such as the Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, ignorantly argue that illegal migrants perceive Britain as a ‘soft touch’ for benefits, but studies do not back up this view, and invalidate her belief that upon arrival, the British welfare state will give every migrant £36 a week.
However, it would make more sense to argue that most migrants are attempting to cross the Channel because they speak more English than any other European language, and they believe, and rightly so, that it will be easier to work in the UK rather than in countries such as France. This is the view put forward by The British Red Cross, who argue that along with the language benefits, migrants primarily want access to better basic needs, such as housing and education.
The irony is, if the UK was to completely open its borders, it would disrupt the society that these migrants are hoping to join. The fragile nature of the Liberal, free-market democracy is unprepared to cope if millions were to enter the country, meaning we would risk destroying the exact premises that brought migrants here in the first place. The Government does have a duty to English citizens to manage the flow of people into our country to ensure minimised disruption to society and culture. As nice as the thought is, it is a utopian one, borders are and must remain an unfortunate necessity.
“Immigration is a good thing, but it does not always follow that more is better.”
Controversial though it is, free movement for eastern European citizens is less problematic, as they share most of our cultural assumptions, and are educated enough to find work in the UK. However, even the few hundred thousand that have moved to our country are vastly controversial. Most Polish citizens, for example, have a high enough standard of education that they can find manual labour work relatively easily. Many Brits complain that these hard-workers are stealing their rightful jobs, yet most of these citizens would be unwilling to undertake the manual labour for its equivalent pay. Is British pride the real issue here?
However, there is simply not enough low-skilled work for our own citizens to allow thousands of desperate non-EU migrants in to compete for scarce employment opportunities. Immigration is a good thing, but it does not always follow that more is better. At the height of the crisis in late July, an estimated 2,000 attempts to break into the port terminal were said to have been made on two successive nights.
While the number of migrants is at a high, the issue is far from new. In 1999 the controversial Sangatte refugee camp was opened in Calais, attracting thousands of asylum seekers. Its closure in 2001 and 2002 on the orders of France’s then minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, led to riots, illustrating the fragility of the issue, and foreshadowing the potentially catastrophic consequences that preventative measures introduced by the British and French governments could have.
“The humane feeling in all of us says that we cannot let people die of hunger and the cold outside Calais; we will not be part of this ugly ideology, devoid of empathy and basic humanity.”
We are all aware it is a difficult situation. The humane feeling in all of us says that we cannot let people die of hunger and the cold outside Calais; we will not be part of this ugly ideology, devoid of empathy and basic humanity. Yet we are not alone in dealing with this engulfing issue. According to the EU’s statistics body, Eurostat, Germany saw the most non-EU asylum seekers in 2014, almost 203,000. A European resolution is required. Unfortunately, this means either shouldering or sharing the burden.
It is undoubtedly a complicated issue with no simple answers. It is deluded to either turn them all away, or let them all in. This is not a serious attempt to address the problem. As Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee programme director, persuasively states: “Europe cannot avoid the biggest global refugee crisis since the Second World War. Theresa May needs to drop the touch rhetoric on refugees and start talking about how the UK can help to protect the vulnerable.”
Image: Gustave Deghilage via Flickr