Calais: Open the border!

Submitted by Matthew on 26 October, 2016 - 11:44 Author: Editorial

None of us will know exactly what the terror feels like as our Syrian village is overrun by Daesh (“Islamic State”). Or exactly how disgusting the Mercedes-driving, people-smuggling parasites are that took all our money and pushed us out into the Aegean in a half-submerged dinghy.

And then, after months on the road, walking across scrubland, preyed on by Libyan gangsters, half-drowned, looking for a little help and solidarity – where do many migrants end up? Somewhere like the muddy, cold, wet fields on the outskirts of Calais. Thousands packed together, young and old, under plastic sheets waiting to risk their lives on the final leg of our journey.

For those in Calais the final journey, it is hoped, was across a narrow stretch of sea to the UK. And isn’t this one of Britain’s greatest shames? – the fact that a rich country like the UK can’t make a safe, warm home for a few thousand poor people?

Partly by historical chance and partly because of the past battles our labour movement has fought, most of our readers live in a relatively peaceful society, with access to free health care and education for ourselves and our children. Of course that statement could be qualified in a hundred ways: the NHS is under threat, some of us are not able to find work, benefits are pitifully inadequate, some of us pay absurd rents, some are even homeless, some have huge debts from tuition fees. Nevertheless most of us have been fortunate never to have lived under the Eritrean police state, or anything remotely like it. We have never had to carry our children over muddy fields while Hungarian border police spit at us.

Solidarity says: open our border, bring these migrants across the sea and let them in. Let them all in. The alternative is taking responsibility for allowing places like the Calais Jungle to exist. The alternative is small-minded, selfish and shabby – turning our backs as others suffer.

As Solidarity goes to press, the last parts of the Jungle are being destroyed by the French state. The site is being bulldozed and the migrants dispersed. The French and British authorities are dealing with the migrant crisis by trying to hide its miserable human content. They found the Jungle to be too inconvenient, too much of a media and PR disaster, and have tried to scatter the problem, not solve the issue in a humane and decent way.

In April, the Tories voted down a proposal to settle 3,000 children in the UK. The Labour peer, Alf Dubs, who fled the Nazis, aged six, and came to the UK as part of the Kindertransport, had moved the amendment to the government’s Immigration Bill. The fact that a right-wing German politician, Angela Merkel, for a short time at least, appeared as a warm and generous host in contrast to the Tories – Germany initially let in a million migrants – is a measure of how nasty and mean the UK authorities have been.

Embarrassed by poor publicity, the Tories backed off a little, accepting a vaguer version of the Dubs proposal. Even now they are haggling about the detail, backsliding, engaging in a mean-spirited attempt to tar young migrants as cheating about their ages. Virtually ignored were the new proposals in the Immigration Bill that further penalise poor and vulnerable migrants.

The fact that an immigration charity can celebrate as a victory that “people in immigration detention will automatically have their case looked at by a court after they’ve been in detention for four months” is a measure of how bad things are now. The government itself admits that migrants in the UK are entering “a hostile environment”.

Hate and fear have been stirred up by the Tories and the right-wing press. Post-Brexit there has been a surge in racist attacks. The London Met police now deal with 78 reports of hate crime per day. Across the UK the increase in this type of offence is 14% (Daily Mirror), and areas with strong Leave votes have seen even bigger spikes in attacks.

The Labour right – including Rachel Reeves, Stephen Kinnock, Chuka Umunna and Emma Reynolds – have added to the dangerous mood by saying free movement across Europe must end. The left must defend free movement across Europe and refugee and migrant rights, too. We must take up Jeremy Corbyn's call for free movement across Europe and to oppose caps on immigration. Corbyn says, “We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will act to end the exploitation of migrant labour to undercut workers' pay and conditions.” He is absolutely right. Migrant and UK workers – unite and fight!

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