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Dissecting the ‘Calais Crisis’

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About The Author

Jessica Johnson (Criminal Editor)

Jessica is currently undertaking a study year abroad at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, studying modules such as Law and Literature, The Law of Armed Conflict, and EU Development Law. She aspires to be a solicitor and is currently interested in personal law, specifically criminal and tort.

This article is part of the 'The EU 'Migrant' Crisis' series.

Over recent months, the British public have barely been able to go a day without hearing of the EU 'Migrant' Crisis, with horror story after horror story being portrayed. It is clear that Syrian asylum seekers are being subjected to appalling conditions and/or treatment within the EU. What misconceptions are there about the situation? Further, the question must be asked, how much of this is due to a poor EU framework?

Other articles from this series are listed at the end of this article.

Approximately 3000 migrants are currently residing in Calais with the hope of entering the UK. It is an utterly devastating situation: conditions within the migrant camps have been described as ‘horrendous’, approximately 10 migrants have died since 1 June, and tear gas has been utilised in order to quash any border-jumping attempts. Nevertheless, the real crisis does not lie in the migrant activity, but rather in the UKs attitude and reluctance to help.

[Y]ou have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, its got a growing economy, its an incredible place to live.

In the above statement, migrating humans and desperate refugees are referred to as a swarm. Just as locusts swarm a field, causing chaos and destruction, these migrants swarmour borders. The Refugee Council has described the statement as ‘awful’ and ‘dehumanising’, and can be compared to that of a certain Sun columnist who previously referred to migrants as ‘cockroaches’. This columnist has since been investigated by the police for ‘inciting racial hatred’. However, the above statement is not to be found within a tabloid paper, but rather in a speech by our Countrys leader. David Cameron made this remark whilst discussing recent migration concerns. It is the epitome of everything which is wrong with the UKs approach to immigration and asylum.

Notice how I refer to immigration and asylum as distinguishable and separate terms. An immigrant is an individual who has entered a country with the aim of setting up a permanent residence. The immigrant may be legal or illegal, depending on whether or not they have secured the correct documentation. The migrants at Calais may be referred to as economic migrants, which means they move to a country in order to improve their standard of living. As laid down in Art. 3(2) of the Treaty on the European Union, freedom of movement permits EU citizens to move from one member state to another. The UK is unable to prohibit EU citizens from residing in its territory, but can exercise effective control over non-EU migrants. On the other hand, an asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking recognition of his or her refugee status, and is protected by international law.

As laid down in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and enforced by the UNHCR, a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and as a result, has had to flee their country of origin in search of sanctuary. An asylum seeker is consequently not the same as a migrant. And yet, the terms asylum seeker, refugee, and migrant (as well as swarmand cockroaches) are used interchangeably. One minute it is a swarm of migrants turning to Britain, the next it is a swarm of refugees.

The UK is not under a legal obligation to accept non-EU migrants, however it is obligated by the 1951 Convention to assess an asylum seekers grounds, and offer refugee status if appropriate. Under Art. 33, the principle of non-refoulment strictly prohibits the UK from deporting a refugee. Seemingly ignorant of this obligation, Keith Vaz, a senior Labour MP, has encouraged French authorities to deport [migrants] back to their counties. Previously, the UK has operated a ‘fast-track’ deportation system for failed asylum seekers, but the High Court recently ruled this to be unlawful. Imposing time limits on individuals in detention, with little access to legal representation, was found to be structurally unfair. The government have demonstrated an eagerness to appeal this decision.

Drawing the line between a refugee and a failed asylum seeker is not as straightforward as the fast-track system would have us believe. The individual may struggle to express their well-founded fear of persecutiondue to language barriers, or may be unable to acquire the necessary documentation. The only way to know for sure is to enable sufficient access to border control and legal services; whether that be at the UK border, or at Calais.

Unfortunately, this is not the action plan the UK is following. ‘Fortress Britain’ is instead closing the gates and manning the walls, investing £7m into security measures. Addressing migrants and refugees with contempt and hostility appears to be becoming the norm. As opposed to being an isolated event, the current events at Calais are a symptom of the global refugee crisiswhich the UK previously turned a blind eye on. Approximately 4 million Syrian refugees have been displaced in recent times as a result of persecution and war. Of these 4 million, the UK has welcomed roughly 4000. In addition, we have only accepted 187 refugees for resettlement from Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, who together host more than 3.5m Syrian refugees. Germany accepted 300,000 for resettlement. Furthermore, we refused to participate in an EU relocation scheme earlier this year, which aimed to transport the 40,000 migrants arriving in Italy and Greece to other EU countries.

To define the current situation as a crisisnegatively implies that it is both unmanageable and gravely surprising. The world has watched on as 4 million refugees fled Syria, and travelled across the Mediterranean in dangerous and inhumane conditions. Italy has received over 90,000 migrant arrivals this year alone. This does not include those who tragically died prior to arrival. It is therefore unsurprising that other EU countries are not rushing to assist in the UKs crisis. The Sangatte refugee camp at Calais housed roughly two thousand migrants and refugees back in 2002. In 13 years, and despite the Syrian refugee crisis, this number has only increased by one thousand. Even more informing are the statistics on asylum seekers who survived the journey and stepped foot on UK soil. In 2002, the UK received 84,132 asylum claims, due to large numbers of Kurdish, Afghani, and Iranian refugees. Between March 2014 and March 2015, we received 25,020 claims. Sweden received 81,180 applications in the same time period, despite having a population nearly seven times smaller than ours, and Germany received 202,245. If anything, we are now a last resort.

Peter Sutherland, the UN Special representative on migration, has stated that the situation in Calais has been ‘exaggerated beyond belief’. The issue with such hysteria lies in how to effectively deal with the issue. If politicians continue to warn the public that a swarmis on its way, this view will prevail and prevent actions which could help the refugees lost in the system. Government cannot logically go from cracking down on migrants one minute, to increasing legal services available to refugees the next. Speeches about how mass amounts of migrants are coming over to Britain, without providing the empathy so badly needed, only fuel hostility.

In response to the Calais Crisis, Ministers have threatened to remove financial support from failed asylum seekers, as well as enable landlords to forcibly evict illegal immigrants without a court order. The likelihood of these schemes amounting to anything is extremely slim, due to reasons of impracticality and misunderstanding. Asylum seekers, whether granted refugee status or not, will still choose UK conditions over those of the country they have fled. And I am certain that the eviction proposal, if continued, will result in a great number of human rightsconcerns. The concept of being forcibly evicted on the basis of a governmental decision, as opposed to a Court order, sounds incredibly suspicious. How is the illegal immigrant going to secure legal representation and appeal the decision without the legal system even being aware?

Both measures are poorly constructed ways for Ministers to assert their dominance over a mis-understood situation. Where the emphasis ought to be on enabling access to the migrants and refugees, in order to correctly assess their legal situations, it is instead on keeping them out of sight and out of mind. The migrants and refugees who are rushing to a better life are Europes concern, not just the UKs. Other EU member states are making the effort to coordinate efforts and fulfil their moral and legal obligations. It is time the UK did the same.

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Tagged: Housing Law, Human Rights, Immigration, International Law

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