Opinion: Death of Channel migrants is a disgrace for Europe | Reviews | DW
The degree of desperation that would drive you to climb into an unusable rubber dinghy in northern France on a cold November evening to set off for the English coast is hardly imaginable. Especially when you think of the mothers who have to persuade their children that this trip was not dangerous and that they would soon arrive safe and sound.
When such a passage goes awry, as it did on Wednesday, the politicians concerned shed crocodile tears. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron said how dismayed and deeply saddened they were at what had happened and promised to somehow stop the deadly crossings.
A day after the tragedy, the British newspaper with a large circulation Metro asked “Why didn’t France stop them? London has blamed its neighbors and ignored its own responsibility.
By leaving the European Union, the UK has become responsible for its own borders, a responsibility heavier than Brexit propaganda claims. The UK no longer has the right to wait for help from France or Belgium, and it has also lost the right to return migrants from those states.
The UK shies away from its responsibility
In London, the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had proposed that border guards turn around on small boats in the English Channel and return them to French waters. To their credit, the Border Force refused to implement the hard-line plans. Then the government said it was looking at ways to deal with asylum seekers abroad – in Albania, for example. It was another made-up story. Tirana angrily denies such claims. And let us not forget that the European Union also once proposed this chimera.
Barbara Wesel is DW correspondent in Brussels
But now Boris Johnson has pledged to leave no stone unturned in the fight to crush human trafficking gangs. It is, as is often the case with Johnson, nothing more than empty rhetoric. The smugglers are based on the mainland, and if he really wanted to be successful, he would have to work with his neighbors. The French president was right when he recently accused the British of switching between “cooperation and provocation”. We cannot childishly start a war on artisanal fishing and, at the same time, expect close cooperation with Paris.
And finally: migrants want to go to the UK because they have relatives there; or because they believe that the English language and the large communities of exiles will help them have a better life. But the UK government is striving to achieve a migrant quota of zero. There are hardly any official means of entering the country left. The message sent is that people fleeing war and political persecution should seek asylum elsewhere. The UK has lifted the drawbridge.
French intervention in half-tone
The French government, meanwhile, is hesitating between looking away and carrying out police raids. Last week another camp on the north coast of France near Grand Synthe was cleared. In such cases, migrants simply pick up their tents and move a few dunes down the road, and most of them don’t give up on their plans to somehow enter the UK.
On the other hand, the French coast guard has also stopped thousands of crossings this year. However, they do not feel obligated to keep in France those who are determined to leave.
The chances of obtaining asylum or a reprieve in France are actually not that bad. But the myth of the UK as the Promised Land runs deep in the minds of many people. Perhaps the French government should work with non-government groups to make migrants understand how dangerous the crossing is. Such messages could be shared on social media.
Illegal camps like this one in Grande Synthe, near Calais, are regularly cleared by French police
French elections slow down action
If migrants were to stay in France, that would mean that Paris would have to take in a few thousand more people, provide for them, verify their asylum claims and perhaps deport them to their country of origin – a process that may be notoriously difficult. Nobody wants to bicker over this job, especially with the elections not far away. Many French politicians think that if asylum seekers see France as just a land of transit, well, so be it.
The rapid arrest of a number of smugglers, however, showed that the police had intelligence on this scene. It is up to the police and the judiciary to intervene and bankrupt these unscrupulous profiteers.
Europe’s Eternal Failure
But, in the end, the failure of Europe is at the origin of the deaths in the Channel; not to mention the drowning of over 1,500 people in the Mediterranean this year alone. Some countries are blocking the adoption of any kind of reasonable and humane mechanism for welcoming and distributing migrants across Europe. At the same time, a more general turn to the right means that the borders are increasingly militarized and closed. Tragedies like Wednesday’s are an inevitable consequence.
And those who died in Polish forests can be counted with them. The death of all these people is simply taken for granted. Apparently all voters want is for migrants to be kept out at all costs. Such rhetoric in the ongoing debate over the migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border shows that political winds have turned in the EU. The only talk is that of a “hybrid attack” or a “hybrid war”, when the people freezing in the Polish forests are hardly worth a mention. In terms of humanity, the new migration policy of the European Union is simply a shame.
This article was translated from German.