Since 2009, there have been anywhere from 100 to 3000 migrants in Calais attempting to cross into the UK, with many other communities scattered across the coastline of northern France. People have come from all over the world, including from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Palestine, Chad, Eritrea, Iraq, Albania, Senegal, Kurdistan, Libya and Ethiopia, with the biggest communities often being those from East Africa and Afghanistan.
The situation in Calais is dire. The small northern French beach town is looking like a post-apocalyptic movie rather than the seaside resort it usually is. With asylum seekers, economic migrants and refugees looking for a better quality of life, the docks of Calais are full of migrants trying to gain entry to the United Kingdom. However, British laws make it impossible for the majority of the people there, as you are required to have a visa to enter the country, which requires money and also that you satisfy some strict criteria. Unless you are already in the country on a visa, you cannot claim asylum from abroad. These laws make it impossible for the majority of migrants looking to gain entry into Britain, who are forced to use illegal methods to gain entry, often causing death and accidents.
Many try to escape to the UK because of the horrors they had suffered in their home countries. However, the migrants’ stories aren’t the most important issue; rather, it is the treatment of the migrants that is the most concerning. There have been many incidents of harassment and the arrest of people with the correct documents, based solely on their appearance. The violence and repression that the migrants face at the hands of the state is simply a crime against humanity. With unbelievable loss caused at this border, the people seem desperate and in need of an answer.
I asked members of the British public for their opinion of the situation in the coastal town. Mark, aged 26, thought that it was an issue that Britain shouldn’t have to deal with, but on the other hand, Margaret, aged 47, said she felt sorry for migrants as no person should live in such awful conditions; however, she also thought that the UN should be supporting the people there instead of standing idly by. Sarah, 31, said that we can’t let any more migrants in because our economy is pressed to breaking point and it would put a strain on the infrastructure of the country, but she felt sorry for them and the situation they have to deal with. Paul, 67, said that migrants should be dealt with in their own countries instead of Western countries having to deal with the streams of foreigners in Calais. Many of the British public feel that the migrants shouldn’t be a problem for the British government to deal with because they see the situation at hand as a continental crisis.
Since the 21st of August the British government has said that they will support a French refugee centre to move migrants away from Calais but they are not financing the ‘bricks and mortar’ heart of the operation. What the British government intends to do is to provide advice and pastoral support to the migrants. Britain’s other initiative is to create a Franco-British “control and command” centre. This allows British police to help to stop the gangs smuggling migrants. The centre is a mix of French and British border control with two senior officers from each country leading the operation. On top of this, Britain has pledged £3.5 million over two years towards helping the French government manage migrants in Calais, in addition to an extra £7 million towards security which includes a safe zone for UK-bound lorries. Theresa May, the home secretary, has revealed that the government has opened talks with Belgium and Holland in a bid to head off potential new migrant routes to the UK, following an increase in security at Calais.
In my opinion, the UK’s large amount of spending is justified, with left-wing and humanitarian groups condemning the lack of initiative shown by the Conservative government. The only way to stop these claims of injustice and oppression would be to show them that the current government is willing to address and deal with the problem at hand. Even though there will be a joint Franco-British police force available to deal with the situation, I feel that Britain’s stance on the matter is very passive: giving advice and pastoral support won’t solve the problem in Calais, only make things slightly better for the people living there, and it certainly won’t change migrants’ attitudes about going to Europe since their countries are so war-torn they just want to be safe from violence and the horrors of war. They will want to escape to a place where their children can grow up and live their own lives, where they won’t have to worry about whether they can cross the street without getting shot at. These people – like the rest of us – just want a better life, where they can die old and peacefully. Instead, they worry if they are ever going to be recognised as humans, and not be seen as caged rats waiting for the moment when the scientists open the cage doors.