Iain Macwhirter: Safe and legal routes are necessary and humane, but will not prevent human trafficking
We don’t really know how many people died last week in the open-air cemetery as the English Channel is now known. According to the rescue services, many boat people were taken to an anonymous grave in the North Sea without anyone knowing. No one informs the authorities when a boat has gone missing, certainly not the traffickers.
Everyone wants to end this carnage, including Home Secretary Priti Patel, who was the target of extraordinary venom last week.
The consensus on the left is that “safe and legal roads” should be opened so that migrants do not have to make the trip by boat. But as even Steve Valdez-Symonds, Director of Migrants and Refugees at Amnesty International admitted last week, it wouldn’t stop the smugglers. “There is no quick fix,” he said, “that will prevent people from coming here on illegal roads.”
It is a horrible cliché to say that there are no easy answers to the migrant crisis, but it is no less true. There is some frustration that Britain does not make any less attractive to come here. Why don’t they tell the reality of life in the UK, say French politicians like Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin, piqued at the idea that Britain is more tolerant of immigrants. There is nothing in the UK that justifies risking your life let alone your child’s. Certainly not our services, which are among the lowest in Europe. So why are they coming here?
Well, partly because traffickers describe Britain as a paradise, where migrant families will have jobs, social housing and good schools.
for their children and,
more importantly, will rarely be sent home. Nor will they be herded into grim ghettos on the outskirts of Paris.
This is a cruel deception as Britain is not particularly welcoming to immigrants and life here can be difficult, especially if you are an ‘illegal’.
There is a thriving black labor market, which employs around one million illegal immigrants living in the UK. They are ruthlessly exploited by farm gang leaders, trafficked for prostitution, employed as semi-slaves in kitchens or running cannabis farms. The employment of illegals is obvious to your modern industrial criminal. If they cause problems, they can be blackmailed.
So why not just open safe and legal avenues for migrants to come here and become valued citizens? Nicola Sturgeon insists that only “heartless conservatives” are preventing this “root cause” of the migrant crisis from being tackled.
It is suspected that his moral outrage would be a little less politically charged if 27 migrants had died in Largs rather than off the French coast. But she’s right.
There are compelling humanitarian reasons for creating a more accessible asylum route. Currently, migrants cannot apply for refugee status while they are in France. The UK will only process asylum requests from countries experiencing real and ongoing humanitarian crises recognized by the UN: war, famine, political repression.
It is no longer acceptable or civilized. Refugees are refugees and should not have to face a deadly sea voyage just to seek legitimate asylum. The government must set up the network of reception centers for asylum seekers in France, as it promised in September. That is to say if France agrees.
However, we must be perfectly clear that opening “safer and more legal roads” will not stop illegal crossings or drownings. Many “refugees” are economic migrants and would not be allowed to enter Britain anyway. Many have no documents. Others have a criminal record, or suspected terrorist links, or just no legitimate right to live in the UK.
A refugee in Calais, interviewed by the BBC last week, said he wanted to come to the UK because he “supports Manchester United”. If he said this to an immigration official anywhere in the world, he would be shown the door – especially since he said he had already lived in France for six years.
There is little doubt that more liberal access routes would attract many more economic migrants to France. They sincerely believe in the phrase widely used on Twitter last week that “no human is illegal.”
“That anyone who ‘wants a decent life’ have the right to enter the UK, as a kind of demographic redistribution of wealth. Many refugee charities seem to share this view.
But as soon as the rumor spread that there were new safe and legal roads, thousands more disgruntled souls in developing countries would try their luck. Queues would lengthen in front of the new asylum processing centers the day after they opened in France. These would quickly become refugee camps filled with rejected asylum seekers. The smugglers would have an exceptional reserve of new boat people.
This is why the French government is not entirely enthusiastic about the idea. They also don’t want to be inundated with economic migrants. They also do not want to face the difficult and costly task of the forced repatriation of failed British asylum seekers. At present, the French government is optimistic about migrants arriving illegally in the UK, as they may refuse to accept those who are turned back.
There was an EU-wide protocol on the return of boat people, but it lapsed with Brexit. Now there is nothing but bitterness and backbiting as France tries to blame Britain for the dead in the Channel, while Britain blames France for not stopping the boats. Emmanuel Macron is outraged by British newspapers showing images of French gendarmes standing still as migrants launch their pitiful boats. Why should they risk a riot to stop them? Once off, they cease to be a French problem.
With the anti-immigrant polemicist Eric Zemmour replacing Marine le Pen as champion of the political right, the French government does not want to open a new front in the war of racist cultures.
Priti Patel’s irritated disinvitation last week to summit talks in Calais was a measure of their sensitivity. Boris Johnson’s proposal for joint police and army patrols on the French coast is anathema to French nationalists. They claim that it would violate French “sovereignty” to have British boots on the coasts of Calais and Dunkirk. The spirit of Brexit is alive and well and now lives in Paris.
Other EU leaders don’t want these free and easy routes to the UK either, no matter how many crocodile tears they shed in last week’s tragedy. They know that if they put them in place, as refugee charities wish, the result would be many more migrants making the even more perilous crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa. The only ones who would laugh then would be the Mafiosi.
Millions of legitimate refugees live in camps around the world, according to UNHCR. Britain takes about 20,000 and should take more, but cannot take them all.
The asylum process needs to be made safe and legal, but this will only work if the criminal gangs are also suppressed.
There is no escaping the inconvenient truth. Great Britain and France will have to fight against traffickers on the beaches.