Calais Migrants Around 200 migrants marched through Calais today to protest about alleged heavy handed treatment at the hands of local police. Photo @Inglesi

Chris Nineham goes beyond the sensationalist newspaper front pages to explain the real issues around migration and what is driving it

1The current crisis is nothing to do with so-called ‘economic migration’. The overwhelming majority of people trying to flee Africa, the Middle East and beyond, are seeking refuge from violent, dangerous and collapsing societies. As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in France, Philippe Leclerc, explained recently, most of the migrants in Calais are fleeing violence in countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan.|

As the Economist magazine points out, half of last year’s arrivals in Italy were from Syria and Eritrea.  It is widely known that these people are risking their lives to get to Europe. According to the UN 1,800 had died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2015 by the end of April. People are fleeing out of desperation. For most there is no possibility of return.

2Research has long shown a close correlation between the spread of war and the extent and source of migration. This is clearly underlined by the fact that Syria has recently overtaken Afghanistan as the place of origin of the greatest number of migrants. The western wars that Britain has been involved in have been one of the main drivers of migration.
Apart from allowing more refugees into the country, radically changing foreign policy is the most important thing Britain could do to alleviate the current situation.

3Britain is not one of the main destinations for migrants. Applications to the UK grew from 29,000 in 2013 to 31,300 in 2014, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commission (UNHCR). This is far lower than Germany (173,100), Turkey (87,800), Sweden (75,100), Italy (63,700) and, for that matter, the U.S. (121,200). 

The UK currently receives below the EU average number of asylum claims per capita. Andrej Mahecic from the UNHCR explains that the situation in Calais is ’a symptom of what’s happening elsewhere. The big crisis in the Middle East and Africa is pushing an increased number of people to cross the Mediterranean. Very few end up in Calais. Most end up in other countries, mainly Germany and Sweden.”

4The horrific and chaotic scenes at Calais and elsewhere across the continent are also a product of the EU countries’ failure to respond to a disaster in a humane and organised way. Instead of trying to provide a haven for people fleeing catastrophe, the EU has becoming increasingly hostile. The amount of money being spent on rescue attempts in the Mediterranean has been cut.

Crucially EU countries have failed to agree on a resettlement programme in which each country would take a quota. Some countries have broken European agreements and simply barred refugees. The camps that have been set up along Europe’s southern periphery—in GreeceItalyMalta, and Spain—have all invited charges of abuse and neglect over the years and claims that they violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

5European policy towards migrants is becoming more and more aggressive and militarised. In Britain right wing politicians are calling for troops to go to France and forcibly deport people to ‘humane camps’ in Africa. Such calls have created outrage, but the policies currently being enacted are barbaric. EU leaders have declared a ‘war against the traffic smugglers’ which will inevitably become a war on the migrants themselves. Europe is now approaching the migrant crisis through the lens of national security. Such an approach can only lead to further disasters at home and abroad. In the words of Khalid Koser from the Geneva Center for Security Policy:

“We used to think of migration as a human security issue: protecting people and providing assistance . Now we clearly perceive—or misperceive—migration as a national security issue. And the risk of securitizing migration is that you risk legitimizing extraordinary responses.”

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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