In recent weeks, the situation in Calais has been distorted beyond recognition by rhetoric and scaremongering. The public is being fed a constant diet of hyperbole about hordes of dangerous criminals roaming the Channel Tunnel, assaulting British citizens and storming Britain's borders. A mood of anxiety and hostility risks creeping over the public, with growing demands for the UK to close its borders and weed out 'illegal' immigrants from British life.
But behind this rhetoric is a very different reality, and it's that reality that we will be confronting today as we visit the 'jungle' camp in Calais.
We will be hearing the heartbreaking stories of the refugees there, the majority of whom are fleeing violence, oppression or war. They have not, as many headlines would have us believe, made long and dangerous journeys to Europe for the sake of marginal economic gains, and those making potentially fatal attempts to reach the UK are not doing so in the hope of benefiting from our welfare system - which is less generous than many continental countries and, in any case, does not cover asylum seekers. The UK is an attractive country to these people not because it is an 'El Dorado' of generous benefit payments, but because it is not ravaged by war or absolute poverty; and, in many cases, because those seeking somewhere to start a new life have family members already residing here.
We will be visiting a camp ridden by disease, which has poor sanitation, no refuse collection, and insufficient access to water; wounds sustained during attempts to enter the Channel Tunnel often become infected, and people suffer intestinal problems as a result of eating bad food. Residents are often subject to harassment at the hands of the police, through the use of pepper spray and physical violence.
This, clearly, is a humanitarian crisis. It's one which will not be solved by higher fencing or more police, but by co-operation between the UK and French governments to deal effectively with asylum claims; by establishing safe and sanitary accommodation for refugees; and by working internationally to combat the factors which are forcing millions to flee their homes.
But another key part of tackling this crisis is taking on our political leaders, and challenging the parochial notion that the migrants currently residing in Calais are, fundamentally, a threat. And the only way to do this is to do what we'll be doing today: listening to the plight of migrants and refugees; looking at the reality of their situation; and ensuring that the stories that reach the UK from Calais are not demonising and dehumanising in the way that so many are, but are a true reflection of the needs and struggles of the people so desperate to build a better life in the UK.Suggest a correction