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Calais - Whose Problem?

Astonishing images have appeared on our TV screens in past weeks, whether it be broken security fences, lorries jammed in miles of "car-park traffic", or migrants attempting to climb into the back of lorries heading over to Britain. Most of these migrants come from countries broken and terrorised by war, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Albania and others. It is hard not to sympathise. And yet, as this situation continues, one question comes strongly to mind: "Whose problem is this?"

In an episode of the classic TV series, "Yes Minister", a strong-willed MP bent on discovering the truth about a situation, asks senior civil servant, Sir Humphrey, the following question:

"Look, Sir Humphrey, whatever we ask the Minister, he says is an administrative question for you, and whatever we ask you, you say is a policy question for the Minister. How do you suggest we find out what is going on?"

This episode, although meant to be comical, highlights an occurrence which happens all too often in politics - that of "passing the buck". Whilst calamity rages on all sides, an extraordinary charade is going on behind the scenes. As usual, when any type of trouble strikes in life, those involved point fingers at each other accusingly and cry out: "It's your fault". Turn whichever way you will, you can't escape.

Let's take the French first. So far they have laid the blame for the chaos in Calais on the Channel Tunnel operatives, British businesses and Libyan migrants. The French interior minister, Bernard Cazaneuve, claimed that the Channel Tunnel operatives were not doing enough on security and insisted that France was not to blame. The former French employment minister, Xavier Bertrand, went further into the blame game, accusing UK firms for being too willing to employ illegal immigrants. He didn't stop there, but proceeded to blame the British government for not introducing identity cards! The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has blamed the UK for a "half-hearted" approach to the European project. This claim is perhaps the most ironic, in that it is because of Britain's commitment to the European project that we actually have taken in many migrants in the past, and will do in the future.

Conversely, newspapers the length and breadth of the UK, such as the Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Sun, The Express and others are laying the blame on the French with blunt sentences such as: "The French have failed to control marauding migrants." Within the UK's political bubble, the usual point-scoring pantomime seems to have taken precedence over any real debate on the subject. Whilst David Cameron rather helplessly puts up his fists to defend the French for doing their best with the "swarms" of migrants, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman pounces, criticising the Prime Minister for his choice of words. She reprimands him soundly with: "Migrants are people, not insects."

Clearly, this situation cannot continue indefinitely. The situation cannot continue for the sake of the British, who could be losing up to £250million per day (according to the Freight Transport Association). This is due to delayed deliveries, fresh produce being destroyed, and many other factors. To add to that, British taxpayers' money will go towards £7m to improve France's own security measures. The situation cannot continue for the sake of the French, who are also losing money and whose police and resources are being worn out with the crisis. Obviously, the situation cannot continue for the migrants who, having fled from dangerous countries, need a safe and lasting solution.

Many suggestions have been made, but no solution has been found as yet. When Harriet Harman called for the French government to compensate any British people affected by the crisis, Downing Street responded that: "pointing the finger of blame was not the right way to find a solution." Perhaps it would have been helpful if Downing Street had offered an explanation as to what is the right way to find a solution. All we know is that the migrants are currently stuck where they are. It would be impossible to return them to conditions in the home countries they have left, which are simply no longer "home" to them. The right way to find a solution might be found...if the British would not blame the French, if the French would not blame the British and if both countries would not blame the migrants.

One final thought. In 1558, Queen Mary heard the news that the last British-owned city in France had been lost to the French. That city was Calais. In response, she produced words which have gone down in history: "When I am dead and cut open, they will find Calais inscribed on my heart." Perhaps if Queen Mary were alive now, she might be glad that the Calais crisis is not "her problem". In answer to the question: "Whose problem is this?", I would say that for all those involved in the crisis, it should be: "our problem."

"In politics, the pen is at its heaviest because it is weighed down by collective responsibility it holds towards its people and their future in the eyes of the world." - Aysha Taryam

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