I predicted a migrant tragedy months ago. Why didn’t the UK and France prevent it?
The deaths of 27 migrants in the English Channel may finally force the British and French to come up with a workable plan to stop illegal crossings. It’s to their eternal shame that they haven’t done so already.
It’s been confirmed that 27 migrants have lost their lives in the Channel – 21 men, five women and a girl. I always knew that it was a case of when and not if, and I am surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. Indeed, I predicted that something like this would happen back in September.
I even named the month of November as the time when the bodies could start to pile up, with the sea becoming choppier and both air and water temperatures beginning to fall. If I could see what was going to happen, why couldn’t the politicians?
Since the deaths have been reported, there has been a spurt of activity. Arrests have been made, statements issued, there has been a phone call between the British and French leaders, and promises to work together to bring the problem to an end. However, my question today is very simple: Why has it taken a tragedy like this for the politicians and the authorities to act?
Within hours of the deaths, four people smugglers were arrested near France’s Belgian border. Another one was arrested later. The speed of the arrests suggests that the French authorities either already knew who these smugglers were, or at least had them under surveillance.
Therefore, the logical questions are why did they not arrest them sooner – and why did people have to die before action was taken?
Photographs emerged yesterday of French police idly standing by whilst a boat of 40 migrants left the beach of Wimereux, which is north of Boulogne-sur-Mer, and headed off into the choppy waters of the Channel.
Earlier in the month, a UK Home Office official claimed that the French “don’t give a s***” about the death toll in the Channel. Well, if this is the case, then I hope the reaction to last night’s tragedy will force a change of attitude.
Then we have the British PM, Boris Johnson, who in recent times has been more focused on climate change and saving the world from hypothetical Armageddon than dealing with the here and now, in particular the migrant crisis.
Johnson said he was “appalled” by the situation and that the authorities would leave “no stone unturned” in tracking down the trafficking gangs. Okay, great, but why wait until nearly 25,000 people have already made their way across the Channel to say that you are going to get a grip on the situation? This should have been at the top of the PM’s inbox since the beginning of summer.
The reality is that whilst the people traffickers are undeniably an issue, the UK has to deal with the pull factors that make the country such a desirable destination for the migrants. The four star hotels, the free healthcare and the generous benefits system have, according to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, made the UK an “El Dorado” for would-be migrants. I hate to say it, but I agree with him.
There is also the fact that once a migrant makes it to UK shores, there is virtually no chance of deportation. Indeed, it was revealed last week that only five – yes FIVE – migrants who have made their way across the Channel this year have been deported. No wonder the migrants are prepared to risk life and limb to make it to Britain.
Johnson has also spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron and they have agreed to work together to solve the problem. A statement read that the two leaders had “agreed on the urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings and to do everything possible to stop the gangs responsible for putting people’s lives at risk.”
But again, I ask, why has it taken a tragedy of this scale for the UK PM and the Brexit-hating president of the French Republic to agree to work together? It seems to me to be a case of “after the horse has bolted.”
The simple fact is that the politicians and the authorities are to blame here, and what’s worse, it’s not as if there haven’t been warnings. As many as 7,800 people have already been rescued in the Channel this year, a figure which has doubled since August. Moreover, at least four people have already died in the past month trying to make the journey, although this has largely gone unnoticed in the British media.
One of the things I have always hated about politics is that it is reactive rather than proactive. It is obsessed by the news cycle and public relations, and because the UK media has largely been ignoring the migrant crisis, mainly because it’s all too inconvenient, the government has been lethargic in its approach to dealing with the issue.
However, I hope that now it is dominating the news agenda, and will inevitably result in a public outcry, the UK and French governments will start to put in place some of the policies that should have been enacted months ago – policies that feasibly could have prevented yesterday’s tragedy.
I am sorry to say this, but a lot of people should have the deaths of these migrants on their consciences. I can only hope that this is the jolt in the arm that the UK and French governments needed to start working together and bring this tragic farce to a conclusion.
However, if they continue to prevaricate and play the blame game, then one thing is for sure: there will be more tragedies like this in the English Channel over the winter months.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.