The migrant crisis in Calais has assumed tragic proportions, with several of the people trying to enter the UK having lost their lives in the process. Attempts by politicians in the UK and France to solve the crisis have so far been fruitless, and David Cameron’s increasing frustration has led him to describe migrants camped in Calais as a ‘swarm’. Appropriate terminology for a zoo, but far from appropriate for thousands of migrants who are so desperate to reach the UK that many of them are prepared to risk their lives.
The irony of the UK’s position
The position of the UK in this crisis is very ironic. Calais is by far the most important sea crossing between the UK and the continent. Our economy depends on it for the transport of huge quantities of exports and imports. Millions of British residents use it to travel to France and other EU countries for business and holiday purposes. At the same time we wish to prevent it being used by migrants who have traveled across the Mediterranean to EU countries (mainly Italy and Greece) from countries in the Middle East and Africa that are beset by conflicts. Some of the conflicts these people are fleeing from have resulted from our own actions over many years. A large proportion of these migrants are genuine asylum seekers who would be granted the official right to remain in the UK if they could reach our shores.
In reality the UK wishes to have the benefits of trade and free movement for travelers across the Channel, while refusing to accept any responsibility to deal with the refugee crisis that is imposing an enormous burden on other EU countries. Germany, Sweden and other EU countries are accepting far more asylum seekers than we are, while our position basically is that since the UK is an island, and far from the Mediterranean to boot, we have no obligation to provide any help. We are also relying on an ‘opt-out’ from EU rules that would otherwise oblige us to accept a fair share of genuine asylum seekers.
The UK’s position on the migrant crisis is extraordinarily cynical and hypocritical. It is rightly being condemned by individuals such as the LibDem leader Tim Farron and Peter Sutherland, the United Nations Special Representative for International Migration.
I accept that no EU country, including the UK, can take in unlimited numbers of economic migrants from outside the EU. EU countries are all democracies and this would never be accepted by voters. However, we do have international obligations to accept genuine asylum seekers. We also have a moral duty to help Italy and Greece, the countries that are receiving the vast bulk of the migrants. We should also be prepared to consider accepting some economic migrants from countries such as Libya that the UK and France have helped to destabilise in recent years.
The need for an EU wide solution
The migrant crisis is one of those issues, like Russian revanchism, that cries out for an EU wide solution. It is only by working together that the UK and other EU countries will be able to create a lasting solution to this crisis. The solution will have to comprise the following key elements:
- a co-ordinated system for processing claims by asylum seekers, which would allocate successful claims proportionately across the EU;
- the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers and economic migrants to their home countries;
- targeted support for countries from which migrants are fleeing, to help them develop their economies so that would be economic migrants are not tempted to leave.
Asylum claims should all be dealt with quickly in the countries in which migrants arrive, with immigration officers from all EU countries processing the claims. Unsuccessful claimants and economic migrants should also be returned quickly to their home countries. If these processes are implemented, I believe that the number of migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean would fall significantly, as economic migrants would realise that they would very likely be returned to their home countries and be much less likely to set out for Europe in the first place.