The Calais Crisis: UN rapporteur slams Britain’s “xenophobic response” to migrants

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by Modupe Macaulay

Photo source: Getty Images.
Photo source: Getty Images.

Images of tracksuit-clad migrants jumping on high-speed locomotives have become the norm of recent. French police reported that they have intercepted over 18,000 clandestine migrants attempting to illegally enter the United Kingdom on lorries, trains and ferries in the first half of 2015 alone. Current reports suggest that approximately 4,000 migrants are living in self-made ghettos on the outskirts of Calais with 100 – 150 new arrivals everyday, all desperate to reach the United Kingdom.

Who are the migrants?

UN High Commissioner for Refugees rapporteur, Philippe Leclerc, stated that most of these migrants are fleeing war, violence and persecution in their own countries. According to the official figures from the UK Home Office, migrants fleeing war-torn countries such as Eritrea, Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan comprise the bulk of the asylum seekers in Britain. Shockingly, the rhetoric reverberating throughout right-wing British media is not one of compassion, but according to the UN representative, Peter Sutherland, it is one of xenophobia.

British tabloids such as The Daily Mail have been criticized by French media for their apparent exaggeration of the Calais migration crisis. Indeed, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was criticized for referring to the migrants as a “swarm” in a recent TV interview. Such divisive rhetoric has also been employed by other members of the British political class, including, the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, who has used the same terminology as that of Mr. Cameron in the past.

British migration vs. Greek migration

According to the UN representative, Peter Sutherland, the United Kingdom’s response to the migration crisis has been “grossly excessive.” Mr. Sutherland states that the UK is perpetuating an image of “hoards of people” trying to illegally cross the Channel Tunnel, when, in reality, there are no more than 10,000 migrants residing in Calais’ infamously dubbed Jungle. In stark contrast, the Greek and Italian authorities are truly facing a migration crisis, with the highest rates of migration in Europe. According to the UN Refugee Agency’s European Director, Vincent Cochetel, Greece has seen a 750% increase in the number of migrants arriving on their Mediterranean shores since the summer of 2014. Indeed, in July alone, Greece saw 124,000 migrants arrive at its boarders. Such figures have called for UN rapporteurs, like Sutherland, to implore the UK to put the so-called “Calais Crisis” in perspective, in the grand scheme of what can be called an international migration crisis.

Photo by UNHCR.org.
Photo by UNHCR.org.

The impact of UNHCR

Already, the UNHCR has done extensive work in order to raise awareness for migrant rights worldwide. With offices across Europe, the UNHCR helps to facilitate the resettlement of migrants who, for whatever reason, find themselves unable to settle in the original country they were granted asylum. Oscar award winning actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador for migrants, Angelina Jolie, has frequently travelled to the Middle East visiting Syrian and Iraqi refugees; thus raising awareness for the plight of migrants worldwide. Unfortunately, it appears the message has not yet hit home in the United Kingdom. According to Amnesty International, the United Kingdom has only granted asylum to a mere 187 Syrian refugees. Other European countries, like Germany has granted asylum to over 42,000 Syrians – making it the most migrant-friendly European nation.

How can we help?

The British establishment’s response to the migrant crisis may be one of xenophobia and suspicion, but that does not mean we cannot help on an individual level. Donating what you can, fundraising and simply spreading the word on social media are all ways in which you can contribute to improving the lives and status of migrants worldwide.

You can donate to help refugees here.

Alternatively, you can watch an eye-opening mini documentary by VICE News on the migrant crisis here.

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