Tag: matt carr

Is The UK Government Deliberately Putting The Lives Of Eritrean’s At Risk?


Life in one of the biggest migrant settlement camps in Western Europe in the Calais jungle exemplifies our dysfunctional world, A miniature city of makeshift tents dot the landscape. Men and women of various nationalities undertake their basic day to day activities the best they can while they dream of a better life on the other side of the razor wire fences.

In many ways, the scenes at the settlements conform to many of the dystopian fantasies that permeate the popular culture of many of those, who by nothing more than a simple twist of existential fate, happened to have been born into relative privilege.

These are citizens who, through either business or leisure activities, are able to move freely from the one line of demarcation to the other. Occasionally this might involve confronting the “other” due to the fact that many of their migrant counterparts will be moving in the opposite direction.

As Matt Carr, who travelled from the UK to France recently, eloquently put it:

“There we can find a city that has become a perfect mirror of our dysfunctional world, a place where men and women fuelled by the promise of sanctuary or the hope of a different life collide with the UK’s pitiless and implacable borders, and intersect with the dreams of the citizens of one of the richest countries on earth, heading for their holidays or returning from them.”

The sad reality for the refuges who stay in the camp more than a few days is that they are likely to remain their for the foreseeable future.The Guardian did a very good photo essay of life in the camps which can be seen here. These are the “forgotten” migrants, the poorest of the poor who are near the bottom of the migration food chain because they don’t have neither the sufficient funds to pay the gangs nor the contacts.

The media narrative tends to focus on the migrants who are able to pay the gangs between £1,000 and £4,000 to be put on to lorries bound for the UK hundreds of miles before they reach Calais. If justice prevailed, many of the “forgotten” at the bottom would be at the top, but it doesn’t so they aren’t. The migrants from the horn of Africa country, Eritrea, have a particularly strong case for the top status.

These are people that are fleeing political repression in their home country. A recent UN report outlined systematic human rights violations in Eritrea including torture, imprisonment and forced labour. Many Eritreans come to the UK seeking asylum but there has been a drastic decline in those given refugee status because of a recent change in government guidelines.

Government statistics show that between January and March 2015, 743 Eritrean applications for asylum were made of which 543 were granted. That’s an approval rate of 73%. However, since government guidelines changed in March, the approval rate had dropped to just 34%.

Eritrean’s are the only group, apart from Syrian’s, eligible for re-location from the EU’s bordering states’ because, according to The European Commission, they are deemed “persons in a clear need of international protection.”

So why does the British government appear to be paving the way to send them back to an almost certain death?

It would seem that the government has revised its guidelines on Eritrea based on a report commissioned by the Danish government which suggests that the Eritrean government is reforming. But in June the UN accused Eritrea of crimes against humanity.

According to Dr Lisa Doyle of the Refugee Council,:

“The government are currently basing their decisions on a report that is fundamentally flawed and widely criticised. These are life and death decisions and we need to be giving people the protection that they need”.

The nation who was partly responsible for establishing the boundaries of the present-day Eritrea nation state during the Scramble for Africa in 1869 as part of its imperial ambitions, is the same nation who today is denying fundamental human rights to the people it formerly subjugated.

It’s clear that the government is using the plight of the Eritrean people as a political football in an attempt to hit their immigration target, thereby pandering to a right wing electorate fearful of growing rates of net migration which are currently at record levels. The fact that the British government is playing politics with people’s lives in this way is abhorent but not surprising.

Calais: Let Them In

Evoking Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight Them On the Beaches’ speech of June 4 1940, Prime Minister Cameron, while visiting Vietnam a few days ago emphasized the “need to protect our borders” from the “swarm of people” trying to enter the UK.from Calais. That was his characterization of the humanitarian crisis currently enveloping Calais.

In the June 29 Mail on-line edition, journalist Dominic Sandbrook described migrants storming the Channel Tunnel in the catastrophe [my emphasis] that has beset Calais. Reiterating something of a siege mentality, Sandbrook remarked: “We kept out Hitler. Why can’t our feeble leaders stop a few thousand exhausted migrants?”

The message from the government and their mouthpieces in the gutter press is clear: Desperately poor migrants, many of whom have been traumatized by brutal dictatorships, war and sectarian violence that to a large extent have been caused or exacerbated due to our imperialist adventures, are not welcome here.

Predictably, Nigel Farage of UKIP joined in the fray by suggesting to Cameron that he sends in the army to “protect” holiday makers. Presumably, the many migrants who have died or been injured on route are not worthy of being protected because they are the wrong kind of foreigner – poor and black.

The reactionary response to perceived hordes “invading” good old Blighty is not, of course, new but rather symptomatic of both the establishment and the right-wing press discourses of which the Daily Mail is a significant player.

The papers founder, anti-Semite Lord Rothermere, was friends of Hitler and Mussolini. He was also editorially sympathetic to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (1) .

The Daily Mail that Rothermere in January 1934 wrote an article titled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, and praised Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine” (2) for, is the paper that Sandbrook in July 2015 talked about keeping ‘Johnny Foreigner’ out.

The Daily Mail has form in this regard. In the 1940s, for example, the editorial line of the paper was to oppose the arrival of Jewish refugees escaping Germany, describing their arrival as “a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed” (3).

Seven decades later we have a media that perpetuates the right wing political narrative of demonizing those less fortunate than us with the aim of garnering potential short-term political capital.

Blogger Matt Carr describes the experiences he and his family had while on a recent trip to France:

“On the other side of the channel were men, women, and children with nothing at all, trying to get to our side of the water in order to continue their lives or find a life raft steady enough to hold them……

…The journeys they made were infinitely harder and tougher. They had crossed deserts and oceans, maybe a hundred or more in a boat. Some will have seen their friends and loved ones die in front of their eyes. Others will have fled the destruction of their cities, homes and neighborhoods” (4).

These people need our help and we should be helping them. There is both an economic and moral case for Britain to take these people in. There is also the question of European solidarity. The French have taken in 60,000 migrants, the Germans 180,000. Britain has only taken in a small fraction of that. We should be taking our fair share of the burden. 85% of all the refugees are in poor countries. A decade ago it was only 70%. Turkey, for example has nearly 2 million refugees. We are talking about places with the least amount of resources who are taking in the most (5). So why is fortress Britain raising its barriers?

The problem is that British politicians’ of both the left and right play into the prejudices of the electorate in the hope of grabbing their votes. Fears that migrants undercut wages and are a drain on society are myths mainly peddled by the political right, but my no means exclusively so. General misinformation and false propaganda feeds into a public perception that belies reality (6).

It’s shameful that one of the richest countries on the planet is turning it’s back on people who have, in many cases, risked their lives fleeing persecution and wars that we largely helped foment. Instead of setting dogs on migrants, repairing fences and building higher ones, we should be supporting those who tear them down.