Calais Wall is no solution - it’s just a temporary Band-Aid

Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
12 Sep, 2016 15:12

The UK government is planning to build a wall a kilometer long and four meters high around the refugee camp at Calais. Nicknamed the ‘Great Wall of Calais,’ it is part of an agreement with Paris to prevent migrants from boarding trucks heading for the UK.

Images made the headlines recently showing about a dozen men throwing large objects at passing trucks bound for Dover in an effort to halt traffic and to increase the chances of climbing aboard one and reaching the UK.

While the images are disturbing and the situation at Calais presents a clear danger for drivers, it is also worth bearing in mind a few points.

History teaches us that walls are not a long-term solution in containing the kind of desperate situation we see in Calais. From the Berlin Wall to the fences constructed within European border states to keep migrants out, we've seen that walls do not work forever. The move will serve as an aesthetic Band-Aid, a short-term temporary fix to a problem which is not going anywhere. A wall will not fix the destitution leading to the refugee crisis. There is no short-term solution, period. The way to curb the crisis will involve long-term political solutions and strategies involving action from several nations. But European countries have prioritized cutting search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean which will lead to more deaths – a far cry from a sensible outcome and the opposite of a humanitarian or political solution.

The UK’s grand plan for a wall is no different; it is illogical, seeks no solution and is a sloppy attempt to ensure the crisis in Calais remains a French problem. It will however, just as in the US, please those on the very far right.

There are many thousands of people living in utter squalor in Calais. According to expert groups, charities and human rights organizations, many of those living in the refugee camp originate from war torn areas and/or countries experiencing instability. Places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and so on, to name a few. And it is worth reminding ourselves that, for their part, France and the UK in particular, have had a hand in causing some of the instability which has fueled the refugee crisis. The call for 'humanitarian intervention' from a European perspective remains loud before the bombs drop and becomes quiet again once those bombed seek refuge.

Aside from wars and regime change operations, like in Libya for example, (the destabilization of Libya led directly to Libya becoming a gateway for Sub Saharan African migration) which France was instrumental in, there are also immediate and other obvious reasons why migrants and refugees already in France would try to reach the UK.

France has taken a decisive swing to the right in recent months domestically, arguably both in how it treats its own minority populations and also in the clear policy line toward refugees. Not only that, far right politicians like Le Pen are moving more and more away from the fringe of politics and further to the center of mainstream politics.

Most people taking a serious assessment of the situation would agree that France's increasing hostility toward its Muslim population (French citizens no less) is further alienating the already marginalized. Police violence, Muslim women being humiliated legally and poor employment prospects are all staples for many of France's minorities.

Refugees can claim asylum in France. But many choose not to on the basis that often the conditions in which those claiming asylum end up in are little better than those in the Calais camp. According to charity workers in Calais, many of those in the camp already have family in the UK and are attempting to join them.

In fact, to understand just how hard it is for refugees to reach the UK and to claim asylum consider the following case study. RT followed the claim of one Afghan interpreter over the last year who actually made it to UK soil having worked with and assisted the British army in Afghanistan. The same interpreter ended up committing suicide in a Birmingham hostel after his claim for asylum was eventually rejected.

Rather than plowing millions into constructing a wall, it might be better for the UK government to look at ways of lobbying the French government to improve the prospects of both refugees and minorities in France. French nationals who are Muslim or Black are still treated as second class citizens and the prospects for those who are not French nationals are dire. It is not a great leap surely to suggest that France has the capability to deal with factors which underpin this humanitarian crisis.

But could it be that the proposed wall by the UK will serve an ideological function as well as practical?

As we see capitalism in Western democracies in crisis, neo-liberal governments presiding over the mess bringing the world's economies to breaking point, we see something else.

The conditions in a global economic slump pave the way for extreme ideological populism and political opportunism both on the right and the left, here in the UK and in the US. We are seeing extreme manifestations of this.

In the United States, potential president Donald Trump wants to build a wall of his own to keep Mexicans out of Texas (formerly Mexico) which is actually land which was once stolen from the indigenous people who lived there. This is the real context to Trump's proposed wall. Again, though, it seems an easier fix to build a giant fence with men patrolling with machine guns than for the US to face up to and account for her past.

In France, the UK wants to build a wall now, too, which also in a sense, prevents the UK from facing up to its colonial past and wars of imperialism.

In Europe, we are used to seeing refugee camps with brown children with swollen bellies in Africa. We are used to seeing refugee camps in the Middle East with little bare foot Arab boys and girls running around in the squalor and dust.

What we are not accustomed to is seeing the problem finally reach our own doorstep and front yard. Refugee camps in Europe are something new and their mere presence makes people uncomfortable because it contradicts the ideas of 'developed' and 'civilized' societies in a democratic and fair Europe.

But just like the rest of Europe, rather than take an honest look at all of the causes which led to the refugee crisis, it is easier to blame the refugees and migrants themselves. There is no short-term fix, the causes for the crisis are nuanced, complicated and requires an honest and serious analysis if we are to have a chance of finding a solution.

The idea that a wall will achieve anything long-term is ridiculous; but I sense the move is designed to send a clear political message to the world. When you build a wall to contain a problem the message is simple: out of sight out of mind.

In sum, Europeans, the US, and the UK preferring building walls to dealing with the refugee crisis, are little more than them sticking their heads in the sand while also signaling a complete disregard toward any notion of humanitarianism, which is supposed to be enshrined in their own constitutions and laws.

I feel sorry for truck drivers who are attacked when making the journey from France to the UK. No one should experience that especially when driving big dangerous vehicles. But those same drivers probably go home to a warm bed each night and relative security. They don't have to wander around in the mud all day in Calais or Dunkirk for months waiting to see if they can receive the right to live in simple dignity as a human being in Europe. Sure, it is not right some migrants - and I emphasize the word ‘some’ - attack trucks destined for the UK. But we must understand that when people are desperate and have nothing to lose, they will do desperate things.

In any case, there are thousands of refugees in Calais and Northern France, and it is a handful, a small minority of those who are attacking drivers. We shouldn't judge every single migrant on the basis of something that most of them had no hand in.

The only thing I feel sorrier for than the lorry drivers, making increasingly dangerous trips from France, are the 9,000 refugees still stuck in Calais surviving on food handouts and living in the mud, literally, with no hope. The winter months are fast approaching. Things will worsen until we begin a real and grown up conversation about the crisis which isn't solely centered on dehumanizing each and every migrant attempting to reach Europe.

Donald Trump, Theresa May and Francois Hollande do not have any meaningful answers concerning the refugee and migrant question. They couldn't give a stuff; the issue is little more than a political hand of cards to use at the right time for them to bolster their own popularity. Figures like these politicians and the ideologies they represent are indeed why we find ourselves in this mess in the first place.