In recent years, thousands of migrants have made the often-perilous journey across Northern Africa and the Mediterranean in order to enter Europe, many wishing to reach the UK with the intention to enter unlawfully. Calais is currently home to thousands of migrants who are living in makeshift camps, hoping at some point to cross the English Channel into the UK. Migrant pressure in Europe has greatly intensified in recent months, as was made clear by the need for the recent Special Meeting of the European Council on 23 April 2015 to discuss the issue. The migrants in Calais, many from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Afghanistan, are desperate and determined, fleeing countries where injustice, institutionalised corruption, danger to life, as well as poverty, is part of everyday life. The number of migrants in Calais has swelled to more than 3000 in recent weeks, where they are waiting and desperately hoping to be transported across the Channel, with many attempting to smuggle themselves into the back of lorries in transit on a daily basis. The problem became particularly apparent recently; during the strike by French ferry workers, which created scenes of chaos in Calais, according to the British media. Hundreds of migrants were endeavouring to take advantage of the heavy, slow-moving traffic in order to try and smuggle their way into the back of stationary lorries.
The migrants in Calais are living in dire conditions, with little fresh water, no electricity and poor sanitation. From what started as a few tents pitched in scrubland by the port, the camp has rapidly grown into a small village reminiscent of a shantytown, which has become known as the ‘New Jungle’. The migrant camp has created anger and confusion in both France and the UK, with both sides accusing the other of failing to take responsibility for the migrants and failing to address the problem. The United Nations and aid workers have recently described the camp as an ‘intolerable humanitarian scandal’.
In response to this, the French government has, in the last few days, made the decision to invest in the infrastructure of the Calais shantytown. This is a €500,000 project being implemented in response to criticism from the United Nations. The French are under pressure to acknowledge and respect the human rights of the migrants and so have begun to install electricity, toilets and street lights around the camp. There is a need to satisfy the humanitarian needs of the migrants. However, there are concerns that this could be regarded as an incentive for migrants, encouraging them to make the journey to Calais with a view to enter the UK unlawfully. According to the Home Office, about 19,000 attempts to cross the Channel have been prevented in 2015, more than double the number during the same period last year, highlighting the increase in the number of migrants coming to Calais.
So who is responsible for the situation in Calais, Britain or France? To simply ignore the migrants would be a major humanitarian oversight – the French and UK authorities need to work together to address the growing problems at the French port, but perhaps more importantly need to focus on the root cause of the migration.