What is the situation in Calais?
There is a human emergency on Britain’s doorstep. There are currently over 1000 refugees in Calais, and numbers are growing rapidly. They want to come to the UK, but are stuck by the militarised border controls. They are living in tents, bushes, and abandoned buildings, surviving off scraps of food. No one would choose to live like this unless they genuinely had no other choice. The French government provides no support – only sends violent police to harass and beat people. A number of charitable associations provide some basics, but are unable to cope with the numbers.
Why can’t they enter the UK legally?
You cannot claim asylum until you actually enter the UK so this means you have to somehow get there first!
It’s a catch 22 situation – you need to seek asylum but you cannot legally enter the UK but you need to enter the UK to seek asylum….
Depending on where you are coming from, some people manage to get a passport and flight ticket. However for the vast majority of people, the only option is to take the long and dangerous journey over land and sea. Calais is just one of the bottle necks in a journey that can take years as people are often detained at numerous borders or must work along the way. A very small number of people come to the UK under the UN resettlement programme- of the 10.5 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, only about 1 per cent are submitted by the agency for resettlement.
What does this crisis really mean?
At least eight people have been killed in Calais so far this year. Those are the ones we know about. Thousands more are suffering hunger, cold, sickness, and brutality. Many of these people have survived war, torture, imprisonment, and years of oppression. Some tell us: ‘we left one warzone, and have come to another’. This is the real ‘immigration crisis’.
Why are they coming here?
Many are fleeing war, genocide, famime and oppressive states in East Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The biggest groups are from Sudan (and South Sudan), Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Syria. These are some of the most war torn places in the world, which create millions of refugees. Many of these wars are a result of the ‘divide and rule’ or the creation of borders the British made under colonisation. The consequences are still occuring to this day. Britain and the US has often supplied weapons and even trained lots of the armed groups now labelled ‘terrorists’.
Don’t we take enough refugees already?
Actually very few refugees come to Europe: for example, there are 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan, only a few thousand in Britain.
Why are the numbers growing now?
There are many factors. One is increasing conflict in people’s home countries. These include the war in Syria, conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, and a worsening situation in the brutal dictatorship of Eritrea. Another factor is that larger numbers of migrants from Africa are now able to reach Europe. One reason for this is the Arab Spring: one way Europe guarded its borders by proxy was to make deals with dictators such as Gaddafi (in Libya) to imprison en masse, or kill, African refugees crossing their territories. These governments, and their border controls, have now collapsed. Also, in the last year the Italian navy began its ‘Mare Nostrum’ programme rescuing thousands of refugees who might otherwise have drowned in the mediterranean sea.
Why do people seeking asylum not stay in Italy or France?
Most European countries take more asylum seekers than the UK. Because of our colonial history, many people have english as a second language and so it’s much easier to intergrate here. Conditions in Italy are really awful. As with other Southern European countries, Italy was hit hard by the economic crash. People seeking asylum must live in tents in camps. The situation in France is pretty similar.
Why do they want to go to England?
The migrants in Calais all have one thing in common: they come from countries that were colonised by Britain. There are almost no refugees in Calais from former French colonies. The British empire is not old history, it still shapes people’s lives today. Many people have friends and family already in the UK. Many speak English, which is often the main language taught in school. There is still the myth of Britain as the ‘mother of democracy’, a safe haven of human rights. People are keen to start a new life as quickly as possible, so coming to a country where you know the language makes much more sense.
So are you saying that Britain still has a responsibility to these people?
Yes. Britain’s wealth was built on the exploitation and slavery of billions of Africans and Asians, amongst others. Britain today still lives off the capital accumulated under empire: think, for example, of the cities and railways built with the profits from slavery; or how the NHS was set up with the profits from Iranian oil or African diamonds.
Since the beginning of European imperialist expansion in the sixteenth century, almost twice as many Europeans have migrated to the Americas, Africa and Asia as people from these areas have migrated to Europe.
In the period between 1815-1912, around 21 million people left Britain to settle elsewhere, most of them were economic migrants rather than asylum seekers. In the process, ‘the Tasmanian aborigines and most of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean were extinguished; the population of Australian aborigines was reduced by some 80%; that of the Americas, North and South, was reduced by between 33 and 80%.’
Marika Sherwood, Institute of Commonwealth Studies quoted in Open Borders
But isn’t that all over now?
No. British corporations like BP or G4S still profit from exploitation in Africa and the Middle East. The British government still starts wars across the world. British arms companies like BAE and Rolls Royce still sell planes, bombs, guns, drones and torture equipment to fight these wars. British banks, private equity firms, and financial markets in the City still fund dictators and warlords. In short, the British economy today still thrives off misery and exploitation in places like Sudan and Syria, amongst many others. We also still take resources from these former colonial countries and rely on cheap labour abroad. Most of the low paid jobs that are done by migrants – in fact essential services such as hospitals would probably collapse without this vital workforce.
But Britain is a small island, how can it take all these people?
There are nearly as many people leaving the UK as arriving. There is plenty for everyone but the resources are not shared equally.
But isn’t it workers and poor people who suffer from immigration?
One way regimes cling to power is by spreading fear. For the British state – politicians, business and the media – the fear of immigration, along with the fear of ‘terrorism’, are key tools of control. The state uses immigration scare stories to divide us, making us hate and fear each other, instead of seeing our real enemies. It’s not migrants pushing down wages, it’s your boss. Its not migrant’s shutting hospitals, it’s politicians and privatisation profiteers. It’s not migrants destroying communities and our planet, it’s rampant capitalism.
”You always have a mob of entirely uneducated people who will hunt down foreigners, and you will always have people who will make use of the passions of the mob in order to get their own ends politically. We believe the interests of the working classes everywhere are the same.” Josiah Wedgewood 1919
Why are immigration controls racist?
If you are white, you can pretty much travel where ever you like for however long you like. Sure, you still need to get a visa but the chances of you been refused or ending up in detention are far less than if you are a person of colour. Immigration controls have nothing to do with numbers but everything to do with race. This is clearly shown in this statement back in 1961:
”The great merit of this scheme is that it can be presented as making no distinction on the grounds of race or colour..Although the scheme purports to relate solely to employment and be non-discriminatory, the aim is primarily social and its restrictive effect is intended to, and would in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively.” Conservative Home Secretary Rob Butler 1961 referring to work vouchers in the Commonwealth Immigration Act.