Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A Sense Of Deja Vu

In 2002, after reams of column inches (is there a metric equivalent?) hostile to the migrants in Calais trying to cross to England and after numerous news stories quoting politicians from both countries blaming each other for the 'problem', all focusing on the IRC centre at Sangatte,* a series of mini migration summits were held in London and France. On that occasion the resulting deal between the two governments, in the guises of Sarkozy the then French Interior Minister and the Home Secretary David Blunkett, saw the French agreeing to close down Sangatte and the Brits agree to pay £5m for increased security (in the guise of the double fence around the SNCF rail facilities at the Coquelles entrance to the Channel Tunnel) and to take the lions share of the then residents at the IRC centre.

Now we have a deal between Besson and Woolas, against a backdrop of the Sarko-Brown summit in Evian, where the UK agrees to pay £15m in increased security measures (more hi-tech detection equipment) to defeat the so-called people traffickers, with France agreeing to come into line with the UK policy of joint deportation flights, despite previous French refusals to comply with this policy after hostile European Court of Human Rights decisions against such mass forced deportations.

The first policy did not result in the desired out come. there were hundreds of migrants in northern France before Sangatte and there were hundreds after Sangatte, and the new policy is doomed to fail too. The French may destroy all the Jungles as they have pledged to do, they may increase the daily repression of the migrants as has already begun, they may detain and deport every single migrant they can lay their hands on (even though this in many cases would be against EU law) but they ultimately will not stop people from coming.

However much they would like us to believe that it is the so-called 'pull factors' that draw people to risk their lives and liberty in travelling half way around the globe, often taking years to reach their preferred destination. It is the 'push factors' that western governments have to address; it is the arms trade that drives conflicts in the third World; it is the World Bank and IMF deals that sees the annexing of Third World resources or having vast infrastructure programs that they do not need forced on them, driving those countries even further into structural debt and environmental degradation; it is the international 'police actions' i.e. wars that seeks to maintain the West's security at the expense of other people's, it is the neo-colonialism that sees rich countries buying up whole tracts of Third World land to protect their own food security or to produce vast mono-cultures of out of season flowers or non-essential foodstuffs like tea and coffee. Not to mention the ravages of global warming that is already severely disrupting weather patterns in Africa and Asia and will continue to drive mass migration beyond the problems that at present remain internal to those continents.

These are the factors that force people from the relative safety of their homelands and onto the road to an unknown and far from safe future, not the glossy synthetic worlds of Hollywood and the BBC. People traffickers have not created this problem as the yellow press like to think, the people traffickers (like all good capitalists) merely exploit a situation where migrants are only judged by the value they can bring to the countries that deign to let them enter these promised lands.

* The French Interior Ministry invited the Red Cross to open the centre in an attempt to make the migrants less visible, by moving them out of Calais itself, and basically passed the buck on to the IRC, thereby avoiding having to deal with what was an obvious humanitarian crisis and allowing the government to effectively carry out a blanket denial of refugees status to the migrants without actually having to process any asylum applications from them.

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