CALAIS, France – The Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has called on the British government to assist with the latest in a long line of immigration problems faced by the town.
The thousands who gather around the busy port aren’t looking to settle in the Northern French town; they become stuck there on their journey from Africa across the Continent on their way to a new life in the UK.
They don’t expect to have to live in camps and pass immigration checks: they have been sold a story of an easy path to plentiful work and free education which will become theirs once they have landed in Europe. And it’s not just the criminal gangs who make their money from people trafficking but, as I discovered when I visited the notorious ‘Jungle’ camp in the town on France’s northern border. Immigration workers in other European Union countries who want to pass the burden onto other EU members facilitate this myth.
The stories I hear are all quite similar: young, educated men, women and children crammed onto boats destined for the Italian island of Lampedusa where, along with the Island nation of Malta, the UN says 32,000 people have travelled to from Africa in 2013 alone. And when they get there, often picked up in the Mediterranean by the Italian Navy, they are given food and water, allowed to wash and sent on their way.
“I was told that I could go anywhere I liked when I landed in Italy,” one young man from Eritrea told me in fluent English.
“There weren’t any checks; they know we don’t want to stay in Italy as there is no work there and we don’t speak the language so they just tell us to get on our way.”
Some travel by train up to France, others tell me they made the journey by truck. But none of them said they would face any problems or were told to turn around and go back again.
The Italians faced a barrage of criticism after an estimated 300 people died when a fishing vessel sank in the Mediterranean and a video of refugees being hosed down, some of them naked, was distributed worldwide.
It seems from the stories I have heard that Italy, which has recently received assistance to deal with asylum and immigration problem, decided they will do as little as they can get away with whilst still complying with the Geneva Convention and the EU’s own Dublin Regulation. Instead they look to pass the consequences onto the other countries who are the real destination country of choice.
For some, this attitude by the Italians is a big part of the problem. Under the EU’s Dublin Regulation it is the responsibility of the first EU country a refugee lands in to process their application for asylum. Once that has been done, there is no reason for any of the other 27 member states to question the right of that person to be allowed in the European Union.
“It comes down to someone having the guts to say to these people, ‘sorry, you’re going home'” Britain’s UK Independence Party’s immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe MEP tells me.
“It isn’t fair on my constituents to have a never ending stream of migrants coming to the UK looking for work and claiming the benefits they could end up being entitled to – in work or out of it.”
I asked him why he thought there was this reluctance to deal with the problem in Italy or Malta, another common entry point into the EU.
He has discussed the situation with Italian MEPs from the anti-establishment Five Star party (M5s) who, until yesterday, sat with UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament’s EFDD (European of Freedom and Direct Democracy) group.
“The Italians have been criticised for harsh treatment of migrants from Africa and until recently they haven’t been provided with the money they wanted from the EU to deal with the numbers who come via Italy,” he explains.
“But there is also the additional problem that the Mafia is involved in the illegal trafficking of people from Africa to Italy so people are scared to deport these migrants and get on the wrong side of the traffickers.”
And the simple fact is that with free movement of people, the Schengen Area and the Dublin Agreement on the processing of asylum seekers who arrive into the European Union, member states have passed the control of their borders, via Brussels, to these southern countries with their porous borders.
“They have no interest in doing the applications properly because it is time consuming and costly,” Woolfe adds. “Fundamentally they know that these countries are just the gateway to the EU and the migrants want to travel north to countries like the UK or Sweden.”
Ignazio Corrao and Laura Ferrara, MEPs from M5s said that his party would “definitely ask for the revision of the Dublin Regulation” and added that “It is unacceptable that the Member States which are directly facing the migration flows are abandoned by the other ones.”
Steven Woolfe’s solution may seem simplistic but for many, particularly in the UK, it makes sense: leave the EU.
The movement for goods, services and people is a ‘fundamental freedom’ of the European Union and one which senior politicians have said is not going to change, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s assertions that he will be able to renegotiate.
Which means that if the UK wants to not only control her borders but send the message that the UK isn’t simply accessed by travelling through other EU countries she needs to leave political union.
“Not only would we have the power to deport people but we would also be helping to end these inhumane shanty towns by stopping this belief that once you’re in Italy or Malta then you can go anywhere else you want.” he said.
But even with the help of the EU’s FRONTEX border agency in Italy, and the waterways used by migrants to travel to the EU, there are still calls for drastic reforms to deal with the issue.
“The management of migration flows keeps on being a problem that will not be solved neither by Italian measures nor European ones.” continued Mr Corrao.
“It is important to get to the root of the problem, meaning the countries of origin and the ‘transit’ countries, to avoid that migrants risk their lives escaping internal conflicts or persecution.”
For that to happen there needs to be a fundamental rethink of the developed world’s attitudes towards international aid which, despite billions of pounds being given to the world’s poorest, have brought about very little change in the every day lives of those not in the political sphere.
In the UK the focus for action will be closer to home.
Conservative MP Charles Elphicke has been another voice calling for more to be done to deal with the problem. Mr Elphicke’s constituency of Dover and Deal is the entry point into this country for those migrants who have managed to smuggle their way onto a ferry.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Elphicke said: “The European Union needs to accept that the Schengen open borders is not working and the Italians need to take responsibility at Lampedusa as the first safe country [the migrants arrive in].”
Fundamentally, the Conservative Party and the coalition government are relying on the European Union and other member governments to tackle the problem for them. And with immigration one of the top issues concerning voters will that attitude really be enough to satisfy a public who have only seen numbers coming into the UK rise year on year?
Breitbart London contacted the office of the Mayor of Calais, but they declined to comment.