THE BLOG

Calais' Summer Crisis Reaches the Garden of England

31/07/2015 23:13 BST | Updated 31/07/2016 10:59 BST

Upon hearing Calais had fallen, Mary I said that when she died you would find Calais written on her heart. 450 years later, the United Kingdom continues to be haunted by this small town in Northern France, one third of the size of Camden.

The Home Affairs Select Committee has been warning that a crisis was building up in Calais for a long time. This includes the Committee's report in March, the evidence given by the Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, and multiple rounds of questioning of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, some of which was heard only ten days ago.

Despite these warnings, announcements have been forthcoming, but implementation has been slow.

Calais is already too late

Time and again, we have said that once these migrants and refugees reach Calais, it is already too late. Anecdotal evidence suggests that migrants are usually in the town for an average of only three months, with 70% of the camps empty by the end of that time. In many cases, this is because they have been successful in entering the UK.

In March the Committee stated:

"We find it bizarre that there are thousands of attempts to enter the UK illegally through Calais, at great cost and inconvenience to business and leisure travellers, transport companies, and hauliers, and yet the people who are caught are simply released back into the French countryside"

By simple logic, this approach ensures that this problem cannot be resolved in any sense of the word. When caught, these individuals should either be granted asylum in France, or removed.

The Mayor of Calais has been alerting us to this problem for the last year. Whilst she is wrong to point to the UK as the problem, she is correct to stand up for her long suffering citizens. Left unchecked, this issue will simply fuel the influence of the far right in France, to the detriment of President Hollande and Ms Bouchart.

The Troubled Garden of England

The Committee has heard cases of migrants caught in lorries, trucks and even horse boxes, and in all cases people are flabbergasted as to how migrants are able to try, try and try again.

When I visited Folkestone on Tuesday, I spoke to a migrant from Pakistan, one of 148 who had arrived in Kent in only one day. He said he was one of the 'lucky ones', as he only needed 10 attempts before being successful. His acquaintances back in the Calais camps will continue to do so until they succeed as well.

We should do more to help the people of Kent. Alan Pughsley, Chief Constable for Kent Police, should be commended for the work of the force, which goes beyond the call of duty. He is having to redeploy officers from other duties to deal with this crisis, as well as calling for outside officers sent in under the mutual aid scheme. The Leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, has also said that he needs additional support.

The people of Kent and Calais have done nothing to deserve this crisis. Nevertheless, they are paying the price for a failure to control this situation.

Before we see this as a strictly regional problem, a cautionary note is shown in CCTV footage of three men cutting out from a lorry in Stourbridge, West Midlands, 250 miles from Calais. There will only be more instances such as these to show that this is not a French problem, nor a Kent problem, but a problem for the whole of France, the whole of Britain and the whole of the EU.

David Cameron's Intervention

Today, the Prime Minister has tried to take control of this crisis. After another night of chaos, he chaired a meeting of Cobra which ended with commitments for new measures to relieve the pressure on the M20 and the long suffering residents of Kent. His decision to speak directly to Francoise Hollande is welcome, because it is only at this level that this crisis can be resolved.

Piecemeal Solutions

The Home Office may have announced measure after measure, but it appears they have only been reacting to events.

In September last year they gave £12 million to bolster security at the port, then a taskforce to 'smash' people-trafficking in the Mediterranean and then this month pledged £7 million for security at the Eurotunnel in Coquelles and a secure zone in Calais to protect UK-bound trucks.

At the time they provided £12 million to bolster security, there were an estimated 1,300 migrants in Calais, there are now estimated to be 5,000 (and probably more). If this is not worrying enough, our security measures have not inspired confidence, after our state of the art fences, originally used to protect President Obama and others in Newport, were blown down twice by the wind.

We do not need to wait until these issues reach boiling point for us to intervene, and we should have seized control from the very beginning. It is surprising and disappointing that neither the Home Secretary nor the Minister for Immigration have visited Calais over the last year, despite it taking up so much of their time. This needs to change, and a visit Kent and Calais will give them a first-hand understanding of events on the ground. There is distinct possibility that the Committee will want to examine them again when Parliament returns.

Where is the European Union?

How can the French and British authorities be expected to control 5,000 people in Calais, when the International Organisation for Migration estimate that over 150,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year?

When we see images of migrants in makeshift boats in the Mediterranean they may be travelling to Italy, but some are then transiting to Calais, hoping to get to the UK or Northern Europe.

92% of those making this journey do so from Libya, and this is where we need to take action. Arguing over the resettlement of 60,000 refugees simply misses the point. When I visited the Tiburtina refugee camp in Italy in June, I spoke to people who had paid $5,000 to reach Italy, and they would then pay another $5,000 when they reach the UK. Stronger sanctions need to be in place to target the groups receiving these payments.

We should welcome bilateral talks between Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande, but these discussions must include Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, if we are to address the root of this problem. If not, we are merely talking about managing a cyclical flow of people trying to reach the UK, which will only grow more intense.

Next steps

This Calais crisis therefore needs both a short term and a long term solution. The EU needs to acknowledge that although the Greek Euro crisis in important, the migration crisis facing Europe is even more significant.

The leaders of the EU are caught between a humanitarian impulse to help people, including families and children seeking a better life, and the huge burden to our communities and services. We must address the root causes of why people are travelling to Europe in the first place, either risking death in the Mediterranean or by jumping off bridges onto trains in Calais.

Unless we can do this, and in tandem launch an EU wide effort with Interpol and Europol to tackle and eradicate the people smugglers behind a billion pound 'migration industry', this will not be a crisis which we can solve. The French are allies and our partners, but they cannot be complacent in allowing people to travel through their borders, as the only consequence will be greater numbers of people arriving in France and a much larger crisis.

It is unfortunate, but sadly predictable that this crisis should have occurred in August when most of Europe's political structures have shut down. However, it is worth restating, that unless these short and long term problems are addressed, Calais will be written on Europe's heart for years to come.