Friday, August 21, 2015

Calais Migrant Crisis: The Real Problem

Last Wednesday (19th August) was World Humanitarian Day, and 2015 is definitely a year where attention to this theme is clearly needed. A record number of 1 out of every 122 people on the planet is currently displaced from their homes due to war, persecution and poverty, and in the last few months the media attention has been firmly placed on the French port town of Calais.

Calais is in crisis. Thousands of people are camped in and around the town trying desperately to make their way across the channel to reach Britain. French police patrol the area, are trying to push the people back and stop them from climbing into trains or clinging to the underside of cars and lorries in an attempt to cross the border. Eurotunnel has reported that they have blocked 37,000 attempts from migrants trying to cross illegally into Britain this year so far. But why are they so determined to get here, and what can we do to help them?

The UK newspaper coverage of the crisis is not helping to calm the fears of the public. By reading The Daily Mail you would think that there are millions of savage migrants who are all going to end up in the UK and run riot if we don’t keep them out. In reality, the UK does not take in a huge majority of migrants, and we fall way behind countries such as Germany, Greece, Turkey and Italy who have taken in vast numbers of people who have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe. David Cameron, our own Prime Minister, has described the number of migrants currently camped in Calais as a ‘swarm’, which as a description totally dehumanizes them. We need to start looking at the people behind the media fear and deconstruct the myths that they have presented to us.

Here in the UK, there seems to be an increasing xenophobic attitude which can be seen on social media sites on a regular basis now. People seem to think that we spend too much on foreign aid and should be keeping our resources to ourselves and letting migrants sort out their own problems. This attitude is coming from the same country who took in thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II when the Nazi’s targeted them throughout Europe, so why can’t we show the same level of compassion towards migrants today? Many of them have been targeted and persecuted in their home countries in similar ways, and all they want is the chance for a better life. People have been trying to cross the English Channel for years, and it is only this year that the situation has escalated and captured the media’s full attention. We seem to think that these people are economic migrants and are coming to Britain simply to use and abuse our welfare system. This may well be true in some cases, however statistics show that 62% are refugees fleeing from war, oppressive dictatorships or religious extremism. 

The Guardian newspaper in the UK recently published a piece looking into the reasons why they have left their home countries, and told the story of a 29 year old teacher from Syria named Ali. He fled his home because of war and ended up settling in a Turkish village. However the Islamic State soon took over the area and his life became hell so he has made the long journey to Calais in search of a safe place to live. He says that he is not a migrant, he is a refugee. Buzzfeed UK published a similar article, and reports on the story of David, a 22 year old from Eritrea. David’s parents had both died by the time he was 15, and his wife recently died giving birth to their son. He fled his home country because of the lack of social freedom and not being able to practise his religion, and he wants to come to the UK because he can speak English and wants to study. He doesn't blame the French police for trying to stop them crossing the borders as they are only doing their jobs, but thinks the government are to blame. 
We have to remember that these are human beings, most of whom have survived through war and poverty that we can scarcely imagine.

Obviously the UK cannot accommodate all of the migrants, but Europe as a whole could show these people the compassion that they deserve rather than treating them with disdain and fear. If we allowed everyone into the country who wants to come to the UK for a better life, we will still be ignoring the root cause of the problem: the unbearable living conditions of the countries that people are fleeing from. If the world can really make an effort to eradicate poverty and war in these countries, perhaps there will be no need for another crisis on this scale again. 

Here at Ripples Foundation we don’t claim to be able to solve huge world problems such as this crisis, but we are doing our small bit to improve the lives of people living in poverty in African villages. We run programmes for women and children and gives them the opportunity to learn, receive vital medical care and earn money, to eventually work their way out of poverty.

One step at a time we can make change happen!

Alysha Bennett Web Developer

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