EUROPE: Failing Both Governments and Migrants

  • Analysis by Alecia D. McKenzie (paris)
  • Tuesday, September 29, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

With government officials watching and television cameras rolling, bulldozers razed the camp known as 'the jungle' near the port city of Calais n the English Channel, as France tried to send a message to undocumented migrants that they should stay away.

Within a day, new makeshift shelters had sprung up less than a mile from the original camp, proving that closure of the camp was 'ineffective' and European immigration policy is not working, as many non-governmental organisations say.

'We who work daily with migrants are convinced that this will make the situation worse,' a group of NGOs said in a joint statement. 'Destroying the shelters will cause the scattering of migrants and will deliver them to the (human-trafficking) networks; it will not achieve anything fundamental.'

Jean-Pierre Alaux, research director with the non-profit Group for Information and Support to Immigrants (GISTI), who was in Calais to help the migrants, told IPS he was 'not at all surprised' by the emergence of the new, dispersed settlements.

'Closing the camp was not a solution, it's only a way of hiding the problem because the government doesn't want to address the failure of the European Union policy on immigration,' Alaux said.

With the closure of 'the jungle' - so called because of the squalid conditions amidst trees and scrub - French police detained 278 migrants, about half of whom said they were minors under 18 years of age. Some were led away in tears after activists unsuccessfully tried to form a human shield around them.

The authorities said the minors would be housed separately from the others and that all the detainees would be given various options: apply for asylum in France, return to their country of origin, or return to the first European country they entered. EU immigration law requires migrants to request asylum in the country of entry.

Most of the migrants at Calais, however, wish to go to Britain, but the British government has announced that it will not accept them.

The whole publicised operation, say some activists, was merely a photo- opportunity for the French government as several hundred migrants had already left the camp in the weeks leading up to the announced razing.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson cited humanitarian reasons for closing the camp, saying that it would dissuade human traffickers and end the 'law of the jungle', but he himself criticised the EU policy on immigration.

'We have created a common border without putting in place sufficient means to control this border,' Besson told reporters in Calais.

Just a week prior to the closing of the camp, Besson had invited immigration ministers from several countries to a symposium in Paris titled 'Migrations and Integration: the New Challenges of Globalisation', but it was clear even there that disagreement on immigration policy remains rampant in the 27- nation EU.

'Coordinating asylum policy is a sensitive issue,' Besson said. 'We need to be imaginative. Situations are different in the various countries. We're not all in the same boat. Some countries need immigration because of their shrinking work force; France is not in that situation.'

The participants at the symposium included representatives from Sweden, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, and the Netherlands, to which some of the migrants from Calais have fled - to a less than warm welcome.

'The Netherlands had a long-standing respect for being generous, for respecting human rights,' said Nebahat Albayrak, the Dutch minister of justice, in charge of immigration.

'But the reality is shifting. Public support is lessening. I have to convince the people of the Netherlands how we can benefit from migration and also control illegal immigration,' she said.

Albayrak, who is of Turkish origin, said that part of the solution was 'better control of EU borders' but that to most observers it must appear that the EU 'is fighting among itself' on immigration policy.

France has proposed the creation of a border guard with special powers, and the Netherlands and other countries will examine that proposal at a two-day EU summit which begins Oct. 29.

'I believe in my heart that the Netherlands still wants to be generous to the most vulnerable people in the world,' Albayrak said. 'But we've seen a lot of fraud.'

She said the Dutch authorities had had to deal with an increasing number of migrants 'coming with mutilated fingertips' so that they could avoid being traced through their fingerprints to the EU country they first entered.

Partly because of such incidents, the Dutch political support was now for 'selected migration', which meant giving priority to skilled migrants and students, Albayrak said. This, however, creates a brain drain in developing countries, which adds to the overall problem.

The ambiguous EU policy has many critics. Hatem Ben Salem, Tunisia's minister for education and training, called for the upholding of 'respect and dignity of migrants.'

'We don't want to see these tragic images of migrants,' he said at the Paris symposium. 'Migration is a right. It's an element of our history and civilisation. Migrants should be able to work and live normally.'

He said that politicians should be aware that migration was meant to improve lives. 'Why should one take risks and travel hundreds of miles if not to improve lives?' he asked.

With the International Organisation for Migration predicting an increase in the number of the estimated 200 million migrants worldwide, mainly because of wars, the economic crisis and also climate change, non-governmental organisations say a solution needs to be found fast.

In Europe, that includes changing the asylum law, activists say.

'Migrants should not have to ask for asylum in these peripheral countries that have no tradition of granting such asylum or ensuring integration,' said Alaux of GISTI, referring to states such as Greece, Poland and Italy. 'That's the main problem, and closing a camp in Calais is not going to solve it.'

He added that the French were just repeating the error of 2002, when they closed a Red Cross-run refugee camp at Sangatte, near the Channel Tunnel, following requests from the British government. That action did not prevent migrants from continuing to make their way to Calais which they see as the best point from which to try to enter Britain.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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