Crisis in Calais

After starting my community activist career addressing issues around mental health, I turned my attention to supporting asylum seekers and the homeless. These days my focus tends to be more on homelessness because it is here I can make most difference, but I continue to take an interest in asylum seeking and work with agencies like Citizens Advice and CAST who help asylum seekers.

Also in recent years, there has been a lot of hullabaloo over too many foreigners entering the country, although the distinction should be made, even though there is some fuzziness, that many who do so are economic migrants rather than those fleeing persecution, calamity, etc. The distinction is often missed. Realistically, there is the matter of how we decide who are the genuine asylum seekers and, even if we agree a case is genuine, what can we do? In praying about this, I told the Almighty that I am in a quandary over the matter, regarding how best to respond and my action plan, yet respond I must.

It is interesting that the picture of asylum seekers trying to cross over into England through the Channel Tunnel has recently come to the fore, despite having been an issue for some time. Sadly, the reasons it has captured public attention is because of the security threats, the inconvenience it poses to users of the Tunnel and the ineptitude of the authorities (especially from a British perspective, the French ones) that these are not being dealt with as they ought, causing havoc at the ports at either end of the Channel Tunnel: Calais and Folkestone. I refer to three reports of the matter, without comment other than to say these are worth reading and do highlight several issues. In doing so, I recognize the reports are more sympathetic toward those who wish to cross over into the UK than many, and while  there is “another side”, like the need to protect our borders, restrict numbers of immigrants and operate within the law, I have no doubt the points being made are valid ones:

  1. Even Nigel Farage thinks David Cameron’s comments on Calais went too far
  2. Patrick Harvie: The Calais crisis is about humanity, not security, delayed holidays and trade
  3. Calais: How the migrant crisis shames Britain, and what we ought to do about it

Referring to the first of my aforementioned reports, our Prime Ministers remarks are to put it mildly – regrettable: “David Cameron has described migrants attempting to cross the Channel to enter the UK as a “swarm” who would not be offered “safe haven”, drawing pretty much universal condemnation for the dehumanising language.” I am not a fan of the Liberal Democrats and have recently reflected on his remarks and unwillingness to respond on a question to do with gay sex of Tim Farron, its recently elected leader. However, referring to the third extract, I am in full agreement with his position on the matter of how to approach this complex issue: “Farron – an evangelical Christian who underwent a hostile media inquisition over his presumed views on homosexuality on his accession to the leadership – said on Wednesday, “If you don’t give people hope, they will resort to desperate measures. We are treating this as a security issue, but primarily it is a humanitarian one.”” I may have missed something but I am not aware of much in terms of meaningful Labour responses. As for the Greens, on the humanitarian point, they get it. Ironically, Nigel Farage of UKIP seems to understand the distinction between asylum seekers and economic migrants better than most.

It beggars belief that we have these days a monumental refugee crisis that should concern us (the whole world) all. It is easy now with the benefit of hindsight to say we (the UK) should not have fought the war in Iraq and dissuaded our American allies from doing so, but we did and, moreover, we failed to win the peace. We can long debate these matters but what does matter now is dealing with the aftermath, part of which is dealing with refugees fleeing countries like Iraq and Syria because of the well publicized upheavals in recent years, and many more besides, because of the threats of radical groups and lack of internal security. These folk, after long, tortuous journeys, find themselves laid up, with little hope, in places like Calais, and some will risk life and limb, like jumping on moving trains, in the hope of ending up in a better place.

It is not my intention to take sides politically but I would like to refer to the comments made by yet another member of the Lib Dems, in a recent election hustings, regarding the matter of fleeing refugees who needed rescuing in the Mediterranean. He spoke of the need for a short term solution: to ensure those fleeing are rescued and are put in a place of safety. The medium term solution is doing something for these folks so they can move on with their lives in relative safety. Then there is the long term solution that needs to recognize there is a crisis involving many parts of the Middle East and Africa, which until resolved will produce many more asylum seekers, and how do we deal with it. I don’t have simplistic solutions but I recognise these consideration apply to today’s Calais crisis.

Moreover, it is with sadness and regret I agree with the final words of the third report: “Britain’s ungracious and paranoid refusal to even to consider that it may have a moral responsibility to those who have risked everything to reach our shores is deeply shaming“. If we don’t act in a humane and responsible way, there will be dire consequences for all of us and not just x million asylum seekers.

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