Photo : ©JeyOH
More than 2,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean this year with hundreds more victims dying on Wednesday. Estimates suggest there will perhaps be 10,000 deaths by Christmas.
We look at this humanitarian disaster like a funeral procession passing by. It upsets us. It terrorizes us.
It would be wrong to say that our leaders do nothing. But the question is clearly: "Are we doing enough?". Certainly not.
Over 188,000 refugees have arrived in Europe since January according to the IOM. We have never faced such a large migratory wave.
Germany, Sweden, and Italy will host thousands of refugees, but the place that now symbolises this global crisis is Calais, a French port, where thousands of migrants survive in inhumane conditions, awaiting a hypothetical passage to England.
I won't comment on the humanitarian issues, but I do wish to warn of the other crises that threaten us.
First, the consequences of French bashing. The tabloids paint a doomsday picture of Calais and criticize the French police force, considered to be accomplices or incompetent. The fury in Britain against France borders on hysteria.
Still, nearly 15million British Francophiles continue to visit France each year. They spend more than five billion euros a year and the French trade balance sheet needs it.
London is the favourite short term destination for the French and London is France's sixth biggest city. Millions of people need to be able to travel, for pleasure or for business reasons but also to support our tourism industries.
Equally serious, but too often judged accessory, are the consequences for the transport industry, already affected by the disorders related to the MyFerryLink worker's strike.
Dover and Calais are among the largest ports in Europe. The Channel freight traffic brings in more than £100billion. Hundreds of hauliers companies may go bust and lorry drivers face appalling working conditions as they become hostages of the incapacity of our governements to solve the crisis.
Worse, a long term blockade of the Channel routes by sea and through the Tunnel would cause a loss of one to two points of growth to the European economy.
Finally, the exasperation of Calais and Kent's populace could have a heavy political price, especially in the British EU referendum or in the Regional elections in France.
In this context, it is pointless, as some historians have suggested, to recall what has divided our two nations in the past; Mers-el-Kebir, Trafalgar or Castillon-la-Bataille.
It would only feed some resentment and open a nostalgic door: for centuries, our two very similar countries, both carrying a great history were often in competition, and without doubt they remain competitors.
A columnist recalled that "Sometimes British and French interests simply do not coincide." That is for sure. But in Calais, our interests coincide perfectly.
Confronted with this migration issue, Britain and France who have shared the same destiny in the past, must defend the same heritage now.
Many suggestions have been made and we must welcome the fact that finally the European Union is willing to be part of the process.
But we have to study all new options currently under review rapidly:
- Rather than let the French police forces be funded by the British taxpayer, create a Franco-British structure, inspired by the Deutsch-Französische Brigade (but non military), or modelled on EU cross-border health commissions.
- The appointment of two mediators, one British and the other French, in charge of intergovernmental follow up (justice, transport, police, tourism) and invite businesses directly concerned with all Channel issues to join monthly meetings.
- Consolidate all services from the French police (PAF) and the UK Border Agency.
- Place the Calais "Jungle" migrant camp under the authority of the High Commissioner for Refugees and generate appropriate funding, as proposed by former French Minister Xavier Bertrand.
- Let Frontex, the European Borders Agency, process asylum applications, help identify and register migrants, collaborate with countries of origin and transit to speed up the issuing of travel documents for return, as suggested by Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
A Calais summit at European level is urgent. It should provide solutions to the migrants crisis while at the same time securing the tunnel to ensure that Calais and Dover are open for business as usual.
The problem of Calais is not just a Franco-British question, it is a problem for the whole of Europe and the developing world. But the French and the English are on the frontline. It is therefore for David Cameron and François Hollande to take the initiative to address the issue of migrants at the international level, but also to save the local "soldiers" in Calais and Dover, who should not be abandoned in this crucial battle for our two nations.
A French version of this article first appeared in 7 June's Le Figaro