Global migration crisis as Calais burns
London - “Open the border. We are ready to die. Let us go. We are ready to die,” hundreds of desperate migrants chanted in Calais as they strained against fences, preparing to storm the Channel Tunnel.
The world is facing a “global migration crisis”, the British and French governments warned after hundreds of migrants charged the entrance of the Channel Tunnel, seeking to enter the United Kingdom. The warning comes as an increasing number of people, 110,000 so far in 2015, are crossing the Mediterranean into mainland Europe, fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.
Illegal migrants tore down fences and charged through French police checkpoints at Calais seeking to hop onto lorries and trains bound for Britain through the tunnel. French authorities responded with tear gas and blockades, increasing security around the port. On August 2nd, migrants responded with a blockade of their own, forming a human barricade on the road leading to the tunnel.
Elsewhere, striking French ferry workers set tyres on fire, disrupting a key motorway leading to the port and contributing to the chaos that has engulfed Calais. The My Ferry Link workers are striking as part of a long-running dispute over 600 job losses.
At least nine migrants have been killed and a number of French security officials have been injured in clashes at the tunnel.
In an op-ed published by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, British Home Secretary Theresa May and French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve acknowledged the scope of the crisis. “We are both clear: tackling this situation is the top priority for the UK and French governments. We are committed and determined to solve this, and to solve it together,” they wrote.
“What we are currently facing is a global migration crisis. The situation cannot be seen as an issue just for our two countries. It is a priority at both a European and international level. Many of those in Calais and attempting to cross the Channel have made their way there through Italy, Greece or other countries. That is why we are pushing other member states, and the whole of the EU, to address this problem at root,” the op-ed added.
The United Kingdom and France agreed to new measures to deter illegal immigration from France into the UK, including more CCTV surveillance, French police reinforcements, extra private security guards and beefed-up fencing, which will be funded by the UK.
British Prime Minister David Cameron aroused controversy in a July 30th television interview, saying: “You have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs.” Rights groups criticised Cameron’s use of the word swarm as dehumanising and raised a broader debate about emotional language used by British media regarding the migration crisis.
“It’s extremely disappointing to hear the prime minister using such irresponsible, dehumanising language to describe the desperate men, women and children fleeing for their lives across the Mediterranean Sea. This sort of rhetoric is extremely inflammatory and comes at a time when the government should be focused on working with its European counterparts to respond calmly and compassionately to this dreadful humanitarian crisis,” said Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Lisa Doyle.
Immigration is the main source of concern among Europeans, according to a poll released July 31st by the European Commission. Nearly 40% of respondents across the European Union cited immigration as their top concern, with tens of thousands of migrants fleeing North Africa across the Mediterranean into Italy, Greece and southern Europe every month.
While the United Kingdom called on other European countries to do more to stem the flow of migrants, EU officials criticised Cameron for playing politics over the crisis.
Peter Sutherland, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on international migration, dubbed Cameron’s reaction to the crisis as “grossly excessive” given that Britain receives far fewer applications for sanctuary than other European countries.
Commenting on the United Kingdom’s reaction to events in Calais, he told the BBC: “We are talking about a number of people — a relatively small number in the context of what other countries are having to do — who are in terrible conditions and have to be dealt with by France and/or Britain.”