Calais CrisisAugust 28, 2015 in France
Despite the fact that news outlets and the public have recently focused on the thousands of migrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and Eritrea descending on Calais waiting for a chance to cross the tunnel towards the United Kingdom, the problem is far from new. In 1999, the Sangatte refugee camp opened in Calais creating controversy between the people that supported the existence of a place were the migrants could stay in and the people that highlighted the dangers of the migrants’ presence in the area. The camp attracted thousands of would-be asylum seekers and people traffickers. The camp was closed in 2001 and 2002, on the orders of Nicolas Sarkozy that was placed as Minister of Interior in the French government at the time. Despite the closure of the camp, migrants continued to arrive in Calais and create makeshift camps near the port since the port did not lose its value due to its proximity to the UK borders, making it the ideal location for the migrants to cross towards the UK. The inhuman conditions that the migrants live in while waiting to cross the channel, and the ever increasing number of migrants descending in Calais has led to protests organised by the migrants for a treatment that respects their basic human rights. French authorities estimate that currently there are about 3,000 migrants living in these makeshift camps known as ‘’the Jungle’’ waiting to cross the Channel. One of they ways the migrants use attempting to cross to UK is by stowing away on lorries bound for cross-Channel ferries. During recent strikes by French ferry workers that resulted in closing the Channel Tunnel, the migrants stranded in Calais openly tried to board lorries stick in traffic on the roads leading to the port. At the same time, there have also been reports of migrants attempting to hide in people’s cars. However, recently, activity has shifted more to the Channel Tunnel. Nowadays migrants attempt to stow away on lorries headed for the Eurotunnel, or jump or cut security fences to try to hide on Eurotunnel trains themselves. There have been incidents reported claiming that migrants have tried to cross the Eurotunnel on foot. The attempts to reach UK have been proved fatal for many of these migrants, with more than ten incidents were migrants lost their lives when hit by passing trucks and trains during their attempt to cross the Channel. Eurotunnel has highlighted the increase of what it describes as ‘’nightly incursions’’ with groups up to to hundreds of migrants attempting to beach security all at once, and how that obstructs the operation of Eurotunnel. Due to these incidents, in July, Eurotunnel asked the French and British governments to pay almost 10 million euros to cover the cost of extra security measures that the migrant crisis has made necessary. Part of these sum is going to be given as compensation to tourist passengers due to the frequent disruptions in the operations of Eurotunnel in incidents involving migrants and strikes by ferry workers. According to Eurotunnel officials, the company has spent 13 million euros on additional security in the first half of 2015, which is the same as it spent in the whole of 2014.
The French and British governments have agreed the introduction of more security measures to tackle the problem. In 2014, the British government pledged 12 million pounds over three years to assist France in handling the problem. In July 2015, the UK announced a further 2 million pounds for a new secure zone at Calais for UK-bound lorries. It later was confirmed that it would provide an additional 7 million pounds for measures to improve security at Calais and the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. At the same time, UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire announced the creation of the ‘National Barrier Asset’ (NBA) that will be deployed to the French end of the Eurotunnel, at the terminal at Coquelles, to prevent irregular migration. NBA is a collection of temporary security barriers, mainly consisting of a large modular 9ft high fence, established in 2004 to provide police with the ability ‘to protect high profile locations or temporary events’. The fence is designed to withstand an impact from a 7.5-tonne vehicle travelling at 50mph. British authorities believe that the fence will help quell attempts by migrants to cross the English Channel. The port of Calais is currently protected by 16ft fences topped with coils of razor wire and CCTV, with the gates and exterior guarded by heavily armed French riot police. French police have been heavily criticised for taking migrants off lories, driving them a few miles away and then releasing them, knowing that the migrants will head back to Calais renewing their attempts to cross. However, according to the police, the problem is that there are simply too many to arrest and deal with, making it impossible for them to cope with the increasing influx of migrants descending in Calais. At the end of July, an extra 120 French riot police was deployed to Calais, however, it is not believed that the existing number of police force present in Calais is enough to stop the migrants’ attempts. Recently, there have been pledges by the head of the Alliance union for police deployed to Calais for additional help, with many calling for the deployment of the British army to help curb the crisis. UK has already received 27 million euros for the European Commission in emergency aid funding, which it applied for in March. France will receive its 20 million euros by the end of August. However, according to the Commission’s representative, neither country requested additional aid for security in Calais and will not receive funds from the aid program.
The situation in Calais is not an isolated problem but part of the wider migration crisis in Europe, caused by the instability in countries near the European continent, such as the displacement of people from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea and economic crisis that plagues many African states. For these people, UK is their final destination where many will either enter as asylum seekers, and others will try to enter incognito to remain in the country as illegal workers. This chaotic situation in Calais has resulted in the inability of the authorities to estimate with accuracy how many people have succeeded entering the UK. Home Secretary Theresa May has conceded that ‘a number’ of migrants do make it across the Channel, but no specific figures were given. Both Kent Police and Kent County Council have admitted that they do not hold official figures. The British Prime Minister, in an effort to make UK a less attractive destination for the economic migrants, he vowed that he will throw the illegal migrants out of UK, giving priority to the settlement of asylum seekers in UK.
At the same time, it became obvious that for the better handling of the problem in Calais, the close collaboration between France and UK was necessary. Last week, UK and France signed an agreement on new measures including a control and command centre to help alleviate the migrant crisis in Calais. According to reports, the centre will by jointly run by British and French police and will focus not only on the migrants, but mainly on the people-smugglers operating in the area. The joint command centre will also incorporate the UK Border Force will be led by two senior officers, one British and one French, each reporting to their own government. The joint deal also includes the arrival at Calais of an extra 500 police from the UK and France. Additionally new measures will be introduced, such as sniffer dogs, and additional freight search teams and UK-funded flights that will return the migrants to their home countries.
Despite the obvious problems that the migration crisis has caused across Europe, including the rapidly worsening crisis in Calais, there is another consequence that it has not been brought into greater focus. That consequence has to do with the way the, already rapidly augmenting, far right movements and parties across Europe use the migration crisis to their advantage. From UK, where the crisis in Calais could be used to strengthen the ‘No’ campaign in the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s EU membership, to France that has to face the problem of migration both in Calais and at its common borders with Italy, to Germany where arson attacks destroy shelters for asylum seekers and recent reports estimate that Germany will have to handle some 800,000 asylum claims in 2015.
Despite the fact that the Common European Asylum System is in force and the existence of the quota system that was agreed recently, it seems that rules and decisions are one thing, but putting them into practice EU-wide is another challenge. Not only that, but due to the crisis, there are countries such as Germany that have suspended the Dublin Regulation since they know that returning the asylum seekers back to their entry points, mainly Greece and Italy, it will only prolong the crisis. It is obvious that the existing regulations and measures are not enough to face this crisis, since it is a phenomenon that has never occurred before in such a scale. There is not going to be an easy solution to the migration problem, since its roots will be traced to the instability that reigns in states close the European continent, and if these causes are not terminated the migration flows will continue arriving at the European shores. However, the problem is a European one, and it should be handled as such, with the solution having at its core the migrants’ interests.