There is little doubt the Calais migrant crisis, which has reared its head again in recent weeks, has sparked emotive language on both sides of the English Channel.
British tabloid The Daily Express screamed “Crisis in Calais: It’s A War Zone” on Friday (July 31) while even Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of a “swarm of migrants” coming across the Mediterranean.
Calais’ mayor Natacha Bouchart has called on the United Kingdom to take responsibility, while British figures, including acting opposition leader Harriet Harman, have made similar calls on the French government.
But, away from the emotion and strong words, what are the actual solutions being proposed to solve the problem?
Reform the EU’s asylum system
The EU should solve the Calais migrant crisis through a mixture of better enforcement and revising existing migration arrangements, according to the European Policy Centre (EPC).
Andreia Ghimis, a junior policy analyst at EPC, said in the short term France must better enforce existing law.
She said France should process migrants’ asylum applications as soon as they enter French territory, thereby avoiding them reaching Calais in the first place. She said those who are fleeing war or persecution have a lawful reason to remain, whereas migrants just looking for a better life should be sent back.
“There should also be longer-term solutions that the EU should consider,” added Ms Ghimis. “We should revise the Dublin system which would ensure a better distribution among EU member states.”
The so-called Dublin Regulation stipulates that asylum applications must be made in the migrant’s country of entry.
This, said Ms Ghimis, was putting too much pressure on Italy and Greece; migrants should instead be fairly distributed throughout the EU.
The EU has recently attempted to relocate 40,000 migrants that had arrived in Italy and Greece. However member states rejected a European Commission proposal to disperse migrants on the basis of a country’s existing population and unemployment level. It has since become a voluntary system, with some member states, such as Spain, Poland and Estonia taking less than half the numbers proposed by Brussels, while Hungary has said no to any migrants.
Suspend free movement of people within the EU
France’s Front National (FN) has produced quintessentially right-wing solutions to the crisis.
Marine Le Pen, FN president, called for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement and the deportation of illegal immigrants.
Schengen is the agreement that means EU states, excluding the UK, have, in principle, open borders, enabling people to move around the continent without having to produce a passport.
“This pathetic headlong rush will not solve the untenable situation in Calais,” said Mme Le Pen. “And there are fears that other tragedies will happen because the necessary measures have not been taken: suspension of the Schengen Agreement, drastic reform of asylum and the immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants from French territory.”
A survey published by newspaper Le Figaro last month claimed nearly seven in 10 French people wanted to scrap Schengen and reintroduce border controls.
Reduce the number of migrants coming to Europe
That’s the view of British Home Secretary Theresa May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve, who published an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph.
“The nations of Europe will always provide protection for those genuinely fleeing conflict or persecution. However, we must break the link between crossing the Mediterranean and achieving settlement in Europe for economic reasons. Together, we are currently returning 200 migrants every month who have no right to asylum.
“Ultimately, the long-term answer to this problem lies in reducing the number of migrants who are crossing into Europe from Africa. Many see Europe, and particularly Britain, as somewhere that offers the prospect of financial gain. This is not the case – our streets are not paved with gold.
“We must help African countries to develop economic and social opportunities so that people want to stay. We must work with those countries to fight illegal migration and allow people to be returned to their home countries more easily. This means a better targeting of development aid and increased investment.”
Introduce safe and legal avenues for asylum seekers
One of the key distinctions many are making about the migrants in Calais is over whether they are hoping to get to the UK to make an asylum claim (which they have a right to do under international law) or whether they are just economic migrants hoping for a better life.
The British Red Cross (BRC) claims the majority of those at Calais are genuine asylum seekers who are fleeing war and persecution.
The charity has called for safer and legal routes for asylum seekers, such as humanitarian visas, claiming asylum at embassies or expanding the scope of existing resettlement schemes.
Alex Fraser, head of refugee support at BRC, said: “In our experience, the majority of those seeking to reach the UK via Calais are fleeing from conflict or persecution in places such as Syria, Eritrea and Somalia. Many of those dubbed ‘illegal’ are actually asylum seekers and would rather not have left their homes in the first place.”
“We are extremely concerned about some of the dangerous methods asylum seekers are using to get to the UK. It’s important to note that it is only possible to claim asylum once you are inside the UK, and that for many there may be no legal way to enter the country. While this remains the case, some people will inevitably choose alternative and sometimes dangerous routes.”
“It’s not right that people who are fleeing conflict and persecution have to take such risks to seek safety. The answer is not to make their journey more difficult, but for Europe as a whole to consider more safe and legal avenues to grant protection to those in need. This could include a number of options such as humanitarian visas, claiming asylum at embassies or expanding the scope of existing resettlement schemes such as the UK’s Syrian vulnerable person’s scheme.”
Stop building fences and draw on Europe’s humanitarian traditions for a solution
Don Flynn, director of the Migrants Rights Network, says 15 years of ‘tough cop’ policies have failed.
He said: “The failure of all attempts to resolve the issue have provoked critical comment in the media, with many British commentators asking why the refugees seem to be set on entering the UK rather than seek asylum in the countries they have passed through. Public opinion in the country seems to take little account of the fact that the numbers gathered at Calais make up a small fragment of the refugee population of Europe, with more than four times as many people seeking a haven in Germany than they do in the UK, and France itself receiving double the number as apply on the other side of the Channel.
“What we see in Calais today is a problem that most definitely does have a solution. It means calling on all the humanitarian traditions of the continent to find that solution and the willingness to be guided by laws and conventions which themselves were put in place to handle other refugee crises in the past, We should tell our politicians that this is the direction they need to go in, and not merely repeat the failed policies of higher fences and tougher police actions that have made up most of the last 15 years.”