Calais- yet more words.

Yesterday I had BBC Radio5 Live on in the background for most of the day. The most talked about topic was “Calais”- many words, phone-ins, experts, journalists on the scene… among these words there were a few facts that emerged, but these were soon swamped by a swarm of misleading headlines.

It seems to me that we have created a single, huge problem which we have named “Calais” rather than seeing a number of different situations causing different levels of inconvenience, misery, hardship, suffering and death. Finding solutions to these situations is complicated- but then so is travelling to Pluto…. We won’t find a solution for these situations unless we unravel the different elements of the “problem that is Calais.”

Let us start with the simplest situation- Operation Stack.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the freight drivers who are held up. They have a pretty stressful job any way without having additional delays affecting their rest time and probably their pay. I even have some sympathy for holidaymakers- if you can only manage a week’s holiday, being stuck in traffic is no fun.

Operation Stack also has an impact on the local towns and villages, making it difficult to go about your daily business. But….

as stated by some eminently sensible local residents, Operation Stack is a situation that occurs whenever the ferries or tunnel is closed, whatever the reason for the closure. It is a problem whether the terminals are closed by strikes, “migrants” or indeed the weather.

The solution then is a logistical one quite separate from the issue of refugees. Contra-flows, literal car parks by the side of the road rather than virtual car parks on the road, traffic control measures that would be used whatever the cause of the problem.

Moving on to the situation where “thousands of migrants trying to get into the uk.” In the morning the radio headlines screamed that tunnel services were being disrupted by 1500 migrants trying to get in lorries and on trains. A BBC reporter who was on the site vainly tried to point out that it was 300 at most but he was patted on the head and the headlines remained unchanged. It was only in the early evening that the figure was corrected to 100s by which time the damage was done. Even with this reduced figure, it is implied that it is a different 300 every night whereas all the anecdotal evidence is that people are repeatedly trying to get across.

Numbers matter here. Where only a few 100 people are involved, different solutions can be found. Despite popular opinion, it can’t be the benefit payments. Asylum seekers in France receive more than in UK (See here: myth 2 ). If they are drawn to UK by prospect of illegal work then that something that can be addressed: proper controls on employment to ensure that all workers in Britain are protected from exploitation.

We could start with a proper survey of those who are trying to get to UK. That survey could be conducted by an independent body- I would suggest UNHCR- so that they do not feel threatened. Once we  have a clearer idea- freed from all the myths- we could look ways to make their situation less desperate. What does emerge though is that most people “in the jungle” are not trying to get to UK.

The Jungle. Words matter. The Guardian produced an insightful video documentary

on the encampment. The conditions are poor but I saw people working together to make their lives more bearable, schools and churches being built next to mosques… I don’t believe that improving the conditions would drastically increase the number of people travelling onto Calais. The number there is, in any case minimal, compared to the number of displaced people across Europe, never mind across the world. Most of those “swarming into the Mediterranean” aren’t even getting to the jungle let alone trying to get to UK. (Check UNHCR factsheet on Asylum seeking in UK)

Which brings us to the next level of the “Calais problem.” The number of refugees,desperate to come to Europe. This situation requires a pan-european solution and the quota system seems to be a logical one. If we agreed, at point of entry, to take in a reasonable percentage of refugees, there would be no reason for people having to find their way to Calais. And we need to increase our support, financially and morally, to the countries of point of entry

Next Layer of the “problem”. The number of displaced people across the world. 59.5 million in 2014, according to UNHCR Is it really a surprise that people are fleeing Syria at a time when we are arresting UK citizens trying to get there? We cannot wash our hands of the conflicts occurring across the world. Our foreign policy is a mess in my view and wholly inconsistent.

Most of these displaced people- what a bland term for so many individual human tragedies- are in refugee camps outside of Europe. Are we doing enough to support these camps? At least one person interviewed in “the jungle” had made their way there from a refugee camp outside Europe, desperate to find a meaningful life for her and her son.

These are multi-layered situations which require different levels of solutions by different groups of people. The “Calais problem” is the culmination of failures of humanity.


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