Convoy to Calais
By Dawn M. Sanders
“It’s not just doing something to help it’s also saying, this is wrong. If you see thousands of people dying in the sea – trying to get to fortress Europe…”
Protested Julia Armstrong, trade unionist and long-standing journalist for the Sheffield Star.
On the 18th June, 2016, a convoy to Calais massed at the French border, carrying supplies and solidarity to those inside the notorious ‘jungle’ migrant camp at Calais, France – only to be turned away.
As the convoy and protests erupted 5 days before the UK voted to leave the EU – eclipsed by shifting political sands, followed by a US election which paralleled the shock of Britain’s Brexit, what has become of those who inhabited ‘the jungle’ some 5 months on?
Leading from the London rally preceding the convoy, Ms. Armstrong detailed the unfolding events of the convoy, with people meeting from the north and south, eventually congregating in the car park close to the Dover border – it was suspected the convoy could encounter a roadblock and it did, the French authorities, refusing to let anyone through.
According to Armstrong, the reason given by the French border patrol was: “Something about public order/disorder which there was none of, the intention was to have a peaceful protest outside the camp.”
As migrants are moved to Caos: various processing centres throughout France; to Cadas: places for asylum applications, the capacity of centres, let alone the unwelcoming of communities, yields uncertainty and hostility for beleaguered migrants.
At the epicentre of the mass-migration which has seismically riveted from wars in Syria, Iraq and other war zones, wave after wave of migrants continue to crash onto European shores – many perishing in the sea.
According to the BBC, The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 34,900 by land.
135,711 migrants arrived to European shores by seas alone, in the beginning of 2016.
Germany had the highest number of migrants in 2015 – around a million, Hungary came in second place and Sweden was close behind, as the UK had a meagre 60 applications against 100,000 of its population, according to the BBC report.
Meanwhile, in a now post-Brexit Britain, where the issue of immigration is never far from Brexit debates within the public domain, the seemingly barely concealed face of racism has appeared from behind a thin veil, in what could be deemed a fresh mandate of post-Brexit hate crime.
Robert Spooner, former chairman for Assist Sheffield, a small organisation helping to resettle refugees and asylum-seekers said: “I think the debate about Brexit has changed the attitude toward immigrants – they are scapegoats.”
“On the other hand, there is still a lot of feeling arisen from this baby washed up on the shore of Turkey which caused a huge increase in people wanting to help.” Spooner said.
“It’s not just doing something to help it’s also saying, this is wrong. If you see thousands of people dying in the sea – trying to get to fortress Europe – dying in various ways or places, horrendous things happening to people.” Ms. Armstrong said.
Despite the recent shock referendum result, the hostile environment created by the Home Office and other pillars of UK government, is nothing new.
In recent years the number of refugees has risen to 32,400 in the UK.
Under the current Tory government, terms are about to get tougher,.
The article points out, the UK has the largest immigration detention estate in Europe. Yet as the BBC figures show the UK takes on the least amount of asylum cases.
Spooner said: “There’s no refugee crisis as such, because the numbers arriving here are small and the ones most able to get here, are the ones most likely to develop our country in a positive way.” He carried on emphasising the nasty approach taken by UK immigration, designed to deter settlement here.
However, a Home Office spokesman (name not supplied) maintains: “Detention is an important part of a firm but fair immigration system, helping to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are returned to their home country if they will not leave voluntarily. Decisions to detain or maintain detention are taken after careful consideration – and we are committed to treating all detainees with dignity and respect.”
A London pensioner, speaking on condition of anonymity with close links to black and ethnic minority communities, said:
“The Immigration Service is ruining people’s lives, breaking up families & stripping people of their income & networks of support.”
She detailed immigration’s pounce strategy, capturing people at random, bombarding them with impenetrable official language – often giving people 72 hours before deportation, no time at all to defend themselves or prove they hold a UK passport in some cases, never mind the lack of access to legal aid.
She spoke of the openly racist stance of detention centre staff, G4S, which Mr. Spooner also pointed out as prevalent, yet the privatised, low-waged untrained workers continue not to face reprimand.
From the dangerous journey by land or sea, rescues on European shores, migrant camps, processing centres or maybe detention, in the small possibility a migrant reaches the UK, it is impossible to document the traumatic and desperate plight of a migrant on their journey of hope, in one feature.
So, what else can be said of the migrant crisis that hasn’t already been said?
Ms. Armstrong said: “I haven’t got any ideas, I think we have to keep saying it.” With political deadlock from the Middle East to the West, the crisis continues…