An increasing number of migrants are crossing the Channel by boat, with over 220 intercepted from November to the end of December, at sea or just after reaching the UK coasts. This is a result of increased controls at the Calais border, and the construction of huge border fence paid for by the UK. Most of those who arrive by sea are Iranians, and some Syrians. Crossing the Channel in small boats and rubber dinghies is extremely dangerous, due to intense maritime traffic, strong winds, unpredictable weather, and sea currents. Many of those rescued are underage, some are young children including toddlers and a baby. Christmas day registered the highest number of known arrivals: 5 boats carrying 40 people, Welcome to the UK! Who knows if others made it? And if others did not make it? Why do people have to risk their lives in such a way? Open the borders!
A new wave of anti-immigrant hysteria has hit the UK following these few arrivals by boat. Home secretary Sajid Javid interrupted his holidays to deal with the ‘crisis’. In fact, Javid has not proposed anything, except, once again: improving cooperation with the French authorities, fight people’s smugglers, and the usual. Trying to emulate in racism his white Tory colleagues, Javid has pointed out the need to protect and reinforce the border, and tackle the refugees’ arrivals. The Home Office said there was “concern that it is only a matter of time before people lose their lives”.
According to the BBC, Mr Javid will now receive daily updates from the Home Office, and has spoken to Border Force officials, Immigration Enforcement and the National Crimehas also commissioned detailed options from Border Force about the provision of additional vessels in the Channel, including another Border Force cutter, and whether this is likely to encourage more people to try and make the crossing rather than act as a deterrence.” – i.e. the new vessels would have the obligation to rescue the people they find at sea, which would likely encourage more people to come by boat.
This BBC video shows the rescue of a small boat. Appalling how people are forced to travel.
Preventing people from coming seems to take precedence over saving peole’s lives. Two fishermen, father and son, have been looking for boats in distress the Kent coast on their boat, saying ‘someone has to do it’.
According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the Home Secretary and the French Interior minister have reached an accord on the 30th December, towards “a bilateral reinforced plan for action” to tackle the “problem” of the small boats. The ministers agreed on an increase in the number of surveillance patrols, as well as actions to dismantle gangs of smugglers. In addition, awareness campaigns will be set up to inform migrants about the dangers of crossing the Channel.
Fingers are pointed at the usual suspects: organized crime, mafia networks. Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said migrants were being “lured to Calais” over the internet as smugglers operate via social networks – facebook and WhatsApp “without any real oversight” from the companies controlling them. Social media are a vital resource for people in transit, enabling them to keep in touch with friends and family and to navigate the very complex system of border controls and repression, Smugglers have little interest in the social media, as they prefer to remain invisible.
The real culprits, Fortress Europe and Fortress Britain, are left off, as ususal. Abolish borders, and smugglers will disappear overnight.
According to campaigners and lawyers, the importance of these crossings by boats has been ‘blown out of proportion’. Colin Yeo, an immigration and asylum legal expert, said: “It is hard to see how a handful of refugees arriving every day is a crisis.”Nazek Ramadan, director of the nonprofit Migrant Voice, put it more bluntly: “The situation is not a crisis.
The UK received 27,966 asylum applications this year. This number certainly does not compare to a couple hundreds arrivals! To put it even more bluntly, the idea of a ‘migrant crisis’ is simply ridicolous. Most refugees and other migrants arrive in the UK by plane, not by boat and not even by lorry. They land in the UK ariports, with real or fake passports, and not on the Kent coast.
Vox Political speaks of a manufactured ‘migrant crisis’, maybe to create an anti-EU sentiment ahead of the Brexit vote. It is also noted that the expression ‘migrant crisis is used, not ‘refugee crisis’. We always say the distrinction between refugees and migrants is a false distinciton, they are all human beings and as such they should have the same rights as everybody else, and all people deserve to be free to go where they want (No Borders/ No One Is Illegal position). The vast majority of people stranded in Calais, however, are refugees flying wars and / or persecution. The use of the expression ‘migrant crisis’ is probably a political propaganda choice, as to mean they are less ‘deserving’ of our ‘help’.
“Make no mistake”, Labour MP David Lammy said, “this is not in response to genuine concern for human life. This is Sajid Javid imitating Donald Trump’s “migrant caravan”manufactured emergency to whip up fear before the Brexit vote. Desperate and cynical.” Lawyers and campaigners have criticised Sajid Javid after the Home Secretary appeared to suggest asylum seekers should be deterred from crossing the Channel in small boats by making it harder to gain asylum, a right enshrined in international law. The Refugee Council said the comments are“deeply concerning” and the suggestion of denying asylum is unlawful. Diane Abbott called the comments “a disgrace”.
The Geneva Convention clearly states people ‘have a right to leave their countries’ and are entitled to international protection, regardless of the means they use to travel. It is a sensless attack to refugee rights and international law.
The London Economics also accuses the Conservatives of using the refugees as political pawns ahead of a critical Brexit period.
The thought that the Calais ‘crisis’ is used to manipulate public opinion in the UK is not new. A UK media campaign caused the closure of the refugee centre of Sangatte near Calais in 2002, and refugees started camping in the woods, which was the beginning of the famous Calais ‘jungle’. In 2015, French police forcibly pushed thousands migrant people into an industrial wasteland were they would be ‘tolerated’ – in fact it was the idea of the then Interior minister Cazeneuve to send them there. Beforehand, migrants were staying in various squats and woods of their choice. A huge shantytown they called the ‘jungle’ grew next to the motorway that leads to the port, and next to the new border fence. The associations counted up to 14.000 people in that jungle, a conservative estimate by their own admission. Frontline volunteers who gave blankets to people who arrived reckon that at some point numbers were touching 20.000.
That jungle was very visible and always full of journalists and cameras. Daily, there were spectacular attempts to cross, mass assults to lorries, police violence galore, flahsballs and gigantic showers of tear gas, huge numbers of rubber bullets flying. Was not all this spectacle, by any chance, to give the impression of a ‘refugee crisis’, and a possible ‘invasion’ of England by foreigners? Did it not, by any chance, play in the hands of those who wanted Brexit, and influenced that ill-conceived referendum? That ‘jungle’ was short lived and was destroyed in 2016. People however still hang out in Calais, as they have done for the past 20 years, less visible and in much smaller numbers, and they keep going to England – Calais was never empty of migrants, and a few days after the destruction of the ‘jungle’ a large group of Afghans passed from Calais to the UK, in the back of two lorries. Crossing by boat has been happening for quite a while, though it was not so common. A boat full of my friends was intercepted in 2013, when near the UK coast the engine broke. Others were fished out the Channel from rafts and rubber dinghies just before they sank, including a father with a baby daughter: a number of such rescues were reported over the years.
In a wider perspective, it seems to me there is not such a thing like a ‘refugee crisis’ or a ‘migrant crisis’: it is a crisis for the people on the move, not for Europe. In the industrialized countries migrants are always needed to fill labour shortages. If all countries in Europe took a share of refugees nobody would notice there is a crisis. Instead, migration policies insanely stupid and cruel let people accumulate at the border points, where they are confined in camps that are unfit for animals , like on the Greek islands where children try to kill themselves. People fly from our bombs and drown in the Mediterranean sea in their thousands because all legal ways to enter Europe have been closed to them. They escape extreme poverty caused by neoliberal policies, i.e. the theft of land and resources in their own countries: ‘we’ should go home, not ‘them’. When they try escape poverty they are confronted by new types of hyper-exploitation. People work for a pittance, people are trafficked, sold into slavery, forced into prostitution,. They are made ‘illegal’ and forced to hide, detained, and deported to the same countries they fled for their lives. European and UK policies against refugees and other migrants can only be understood in terms of racism, imperialism, and slavery.
Since the destruction of the ‘jungle’ in 2016, migrants have not disappeared, but conditions in Calais have deteriorated – to unimaginable levels. The media circus has disappeared, with a nearly complete lack of coverage until recently, and as a result many thought there were no more migrants left in Calais. Migrants trying for England,instead, have spread everywhere. There are migrants not only in Calais and Dunkirk, but in Belgium, in Paris, Ouistreham, Caen and all along the coast, as far as Bilbao in the Basque Country. They are surviving in the most dangerous conditions, exposed to police brutality worst than ever. Detention and deportations from France have increased, also to countries like Afghanistan and Sudan. People without papers are obliged to hide: at least in the Calais area they cannot leave the woods for fear of being arrested. Only the new day centre of Secours Catholique offers some respite, but people have to be taken to the centre and back to the jungles by associations’ vans to avoid arrest. A slightly better situation is in Oustreham, due to local people’s solidarity and mobilization. In Belgium a strong solidarity movement has formed, many people are defending migrants and sheltering them in their homes but solidarity is now under attack from the Belgian authorities. Appalling situation in Paris, where at least 1.500 migrants, refugees mostly, including many unaccompanied minors and families with young children are sleeping rough, amongst gassings, destructions of camps, micro criminality and hard drugs spreading, as Paris Refugee Ground Support report.
Destrucions have greatly intensified in Dunkirk against the several hundreds of people who try from there, mainly Kurdish, including families with young children, Four associations present in Calais have published a report with several cases of police violence, from 1st November 2017 to 1st November 2018, including destructions of tents and people’s belongings, physical violence and intimidation, also against unaccompanied minors and women, including beatings and indiscriminate use of CS gas. The abuses exposed in this report are the tip of the iceberg.
The prefect of Pas the Calais, who is responsible for the police, denies any wrongdoing on their behalf, saying the police are acting very professionally, and the associations are lying. Volunteers are daily harassed by police, and solidarity criminalized. May be worth remembering though that the Auberge des migrants, who worked at the report and with whom most other associations are based, also collaborated with the destruction of the jungle in 2016.
Calais boat arrivals – Nubers from the BBC:
31 December – six Iranian men are found soaking wet in Dover
28 December – Twelve migrants in two separate boats detained off the coast of Dover
27 December – Some 23 migrants, including three children, were detained in Kent after crossing the channel in small three boats
26 December – Three migrants brought ashore by Border Force
25 December – Forty migrants, including two children, crossed the Channel in five boats
15 December – Four children are among a group of 11 people rescued off Dover. Eight said they were Iraqi and the other three claimed to be Iranian
12 December – Six men found in a dinghy off the coast of Dover
11 December – Six people, thought to be from Iran were rescued from a small boat off the Kent coast. A second boat with eight men, all saying they were Iranian were picked up later the same day off Dover
4 December – Two men were brought to shore at Dover
27 November – An 18-month-old baby was among nine people rescued from a dinghy off Dover
23 November – Eight men located in a dinghy off the coast of Dover
22 November – Thirteen men and one woman were intercepted in two dinghies off the coast of Dover
18 November – Nine suspected migrants were found clambering up rocks in Folkestone after apparently crossing the English Channel in a small boat
16 November – Seven suspected migrants were found off Samphire Hoe, near Dover
14 November – Nine suspected migrants – seven men, one woman and a toddler – were found off the Kent coast. Another 10 were found near Dover Docks and five men were found several miles of Ramsgate
13 November – Fourteen men and three children entered Port of Dover on a French fishing boat believed to be stolen
9 November -Seven men were found in the English Channel off Dover
3 November – Eight suspected migrants were stopped off the Kent coast and seven others were stopped at Dover Western Docks
This text was originally published at Exodus