Monday, 6 July 2009

Strange Times?

Well it's nice to know that the UNHCR, by opening a new office in Calais, has done a major service for the estimated 2,000 plus migrants in Northern France by highlighting their plight. Never let it be said that lazy journalism and old news can't be useful, even if it ignores months of effort on the part of hundreds of No Borders activists in organising the Calais No Border Camp - after all the mobilisation of 3,000 police and the imposition of a near curfew in Calais itself to quell a non-existent rebellion is was so obviously a non-event.

The facts: the UNHCR had been working with France Terre d'Asile in Calais for a month and they also decided to open an office in the town, a fact that had already been press released this earlier this month. In that time had only persuaded 17% of the 120 migrants they had seen take up their offer to help them start asylum applications to remain in France.

Hardly major news! So why have the British news papers started devoting their column inches to stories from the 'Jungle'? [1, 2, 3] Why suddenly stories about English speakers who worked for the military in Afghanistan but who have had to flee Taliban threats when the military abandoned when their services were no longer needed; about 15 year olds who fled the same country when they refused to be suicide bombers and their families sold their house to pay for the smugglers' fee to get him to safety in the UK? These migrants' stories have been there waiting to be 'discovered' for years. Why now?

Clearly it couldn't be that there had just been No Border Camp in the area, a fact that was largely ignored except for whatever sensationalist copy could be wrung from it*. What is it that has got journalists engaging with what is really going on in and around Calais and why are they beginning to write stories that do not conform to their usual yellow press agenda? Even the Telegraph, one of the paper that managed a fantasy story about the Calais Camp's Saturday demonstration ending in a riot**, has finally gotten in on the act by publishing a story entitled 'Migrants are going to Britain, come hell or high water' has allowed a glimpse of the reality of situation to creep on to its pages. That said there is the usual rubbish about people wanting "to go to England because the people smugglers tell them it is a beautiful place" (this courtesy of a UNHCR spokeswoman). Strange times indeed.

* The Mail printed 3 stories in the week leading up to and during the camp, with the Sun chipping in with 2.
** When nothing happen during the Saturday march, they left the field to the Telegraph (1) and the Express (2) to invent tales of riots and "British tourists (being) caught up in the violence". [see Camp website for coverage]

No comments: