Update: French officials have now updated their figures to suggest that 27 people have drowned.

Yesterday at least 31 refugees drowned in the Channel while trying to cross from France to England.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, it was the worst single disaster in the Channel since 2014, when they first started collecting data.

An open sky graveyard

Channel migrant deaths latest: Boris Johnson vows to take on ‘gangster’ people smugglers after 31 Calais deaths | UK News | Sky News

French MP for Calais, Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News, “The Channel right now is becoming the new Mediterranean Sea. It’s like an open sky graveyard. We must find a way to end it.”

Blame Game

The blame game has already begun. The Mayor of Calais, Natasha Bouchart is blaming Johnson.

It’s the failure of Boris Johnson, our region has had to take measures because he doesn’t have the courage to take on some responsibilities.

Channel rescue operation after dozens of migrants drown – BBC News

Johnson is blaming the French.

We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners – particularly the French – to do things in a way in which we think the situation deserves.

Channel rescue operation after dozens of migrants drown – BBC News

And both sides are united in blaming the people smugglers who cynically exploit the desperation of refugees. Indeed, it is hard to disagree with both the British and the French authorities when they describe the traffickers as murderers. But neither side is addressing the question of why so many are turning to these criminal gangs.

Migrant Crisis?

The British news media has been full of stories in recent weeks about a new ‘migrant crisis’. This is fuelled by the fact that record numbers are making the hazardous crossing from France to England. More than 25,000 have made the crossing this year, three times more than in 2020 and ten times more than in 2019 according to Home Office figures.

These are dramatic figures. But they do not support the narrative that the French are to blame for failing to stem the criminal trade in people trafficking, notwithstanding the UK government promising them £54million to up their game. Nor do they support Priti Patel’s contention that our broken asylum system is acting as a draw to attract refugees who see Britain as a soft touch.

Humanitarian Crisis

According to Amnesty, there are 26 million refugees in the world today. Over half of them are children. 22 million refugees are being hosted by developing countries, many of them on the edge of war zones. According to Refugee Action, in 2018 there were 126,720 refugees, 45,244 pending asylum cases and 125 stateless persons in the UK. There is a humanitarian crisis on a world scale.

Legacy of Empire

The majority of refugees and asylum seekers are from areas like the Middle East, Afghanistan and East Africa, all areas where the UK has been involved, either as a former colonial power or as a military player in recent wars and conflicts. We have a responsibility to these people. Many want to come to the UK because they have family here or speak the language. The fact that, before the pandemic, Germany, Spain and France each received three times the number of asylum applications as the UK suggests that our government’s active policy of discouraging refugees and failing to provide safe passage to Britain is the real driver behind the number of refugees being illegally trafficked to the UK.

Refugees are within their rights

And note well, the criminality of the people traffickers does not mean the the people being trafficked are ‘illegal.’ They have the right to come here and seek asylum under international law. By introducing new measures to criminalise refugees who arrive here ‘illegally’ and failing to create safe and legal routes into the UK our government is in breach of international law and driving people into the hands of criminal gangs.

Racist Little Britain

France has little to be proud of in its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, as borne out by its treatment of refugees in the Calais ‘Jungle.’ But Natasha Bouchart’s criticism of Boris Johnson rings true. The racism and xenophobia that the Tories have always fostered was turbo-boosted by his Brexit campaign and has continued apace under his leadership. Remember the scaremongering about millions of Turkish migrants flooding into the UK via the EU? Turkey, for all its faults, is now hosting more refugees than any other country in the world: 3.6 million and rising.

No Man’s Land

Our politicians have no trouble feigning outrage when refugees are trapped between borders in the No Mans Land between Poland and Belarus. The Channel is our very own No Mans Land and our government maintains it without shame or pity. Not in my name. Refugees are welcome here.

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