The real crisis in Calais

Posted by Bella Sankey on 07 August 2015

The Prime Minister called them a ‘swarm’ and in the media they have been variously described as ‘an organised mob’, ‘tragic human flotsam’ and an ‘unstoppable flood’.  They are the migrants in Calais, living with disease, death and the disinterest of the public for their plight. 

They are fleeing war, genocide, tyranny and exploitation in the hope they find a better life for their families.  They don’t want to take what is yours – they just want somewhere safe for them and their children.  For that, they risk their lives climbing on lorries and walking on train tracks, living in ‘the jungle’ where crime, rape and violence are a daily interruption. 

This is the real crisis; vast sums are spent on militarisation and securitisation of borders while asylum seekers die crossing them and a refugee camp develops on the doorsteps of some of the richest nations on earth.

Over the last decade, politicians across our continent have jostled to be the toughest on immigration, legal or otherwise.  Refugees and migrants, regardless of why they might be leaving their homeland, are the new pariahs. 

The UK has always taken in the desperate – from Huguenots, German Jews, Soviets and East African Asians.  Then as now, all the same arguments were made – it was too expensive, we didn’t have the room.  But we did what was right and our country has been all the better for it.

It is a sad state of affairs that today our Government’s response seems to veer from pandering to xenophobia to pitiful denial – rather than honouring our proud tradition of providing sanctuary for those in need.

Rather than focusing resources on developing resettlement strategies the Government has announced it will:

  • Send sniffer dogs and fences.
  • Slash asylum support payments and withdraw automatic support for families whose claims are refused but who for legitimate reasons cannot return home – amounting to enforced destitution.
  • Seize the wages of irregular migrants – pushing people further off the radar and into the arms of modern slave masters.
  • Press ahead with costly plans to outsource immigration control to landlords despite evidence from the pilot scheme in the West Midlands showing it has prevented British citizens who cannot afford passports from accessing the rental market.
  • Extend the sanction for landlords who fail to comply to 5 years imprisonment and give them summary eviction powers which even the National Landlords Association is raising the alarm about.

This is only part of a collective failure of courage and compassion in Government – today’s politicians have also conspired to whip up distrust, suspicion, division and – incredulously – jealousy of asylum seekers, seeking praise in xenophobic sections of the press and beyond. Feeding lies that those in Calais are all economic migrants or are here because they’ve heard of our benefits system. The evidence shows this is nonsense. In fact the developing world hosts the vast majority of the world’s refugees. And in any event, asylum applications are just a fraction of the net migration figure – which stood at 318 000 in 2014. 

It is also true – but not often said – that the number of asylum seekers applying for refuge in Britain is much lower than many other EU countries. In 2014 The UK received 31,400 asylum applications. This was less than Germany (166,800), France (63,100), Italy (56,300) and Sweden (81,300) and well below the UK peak in 2003 of 84,130. The UK receives below the EU average for asylum applications per head of the population.

The level of asylum applications ebbs and flows depending on war and persecution around the globe but is not affected by gimmicky domestic policies which harm asylum seekers and British citizens alike.

It is hard not to see the dehumanisation of these desperate people as part of a wider, and worrying, trend.  The Government’s plans to scrap our HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, undermining the universality of human rights, is another indicator. 

So at home they propose that those in power should decide when and to whom rights protections apply and elsewhere human beings in need are treated like animals, to be contained, controlled and forgotten about. 

We will not be part of this ugly ideology, devoid of empathy and basic humanity – and neither should you.  We all deserve safe haven, and in Britain, we have a duty to provide it.