Comment Writer Natalia Carter conducts a survey to determine whether sex education in the UK is satisfactoryWritten by Natalia Carter on 23rd March 2018
Selective Sympathy in Macron’s Refugee Rhetoric
Comment Writer Tom Shacklock criticises the French and UK government's handling of the refugees crisis amidst Macron's recent visit to England
It is a commonly-held belief that a high number of those waiting on the UK-France border are mere economic migrants. Having volunteered at the Calais refugee shelter last summer, I saw a totally different picture. I saw the desperation and hope in the eyes of every refugee I encountered. I saw the intimidating presence of police officers, whom other volunteers had witnessed tear-gassing refugees’ faces, tearing down their tents and stealing their belongings. I saw the miserable living and weather conditions refugees had to face in just summer 2017, and I am struggling to imagine the harsh winter conditions.
The majority of these migrants come from countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan, fleeing warzones, military dictatorships and hotspots for terrorist groups targeting young men for recruitment. They have travelled far from home and patiently endured the depressing conditions of Calais and Dunkirk. Nonetheless, this reality has been undermined in Britain and France not only by far-right or conservative politicians, but also under centrist liberal French President Emmanuel Macron.
“I saw the miserable living and weather conditions refugees had to face in just summer 2017, and I am struggling to imagine the harsh winter conditions
Macron’s approach has come to light during the latest Franco-British summit, for which Theresa May welcomed him to Sandhurst on Thursday 18 January. Out of all the topics discussed at this summit, the issue of migrants was one of the most significant. May and Macron plan to accelerate the integration of those migrants seeking asylum from persecution and the expulsion of those who do not qualify for asylum. The UK is expected to accept more unaccompanied minors and certain individuals waiting to re-join their families, while France intends for more ‘economic migrants’ to return to their home countries. These new policies involved the reinforcement of the Le Touquet accord, which moved Britain’s border to Calais and France’s to Dover in 2003.
Although this summit should result in the implementation of concrete policies under two proactive Heads of State, it is the rhetoric that signals a real change for refugees, for better and for worse. ‘Accelerate’ procedures. ‘Strengthen’ the border. ‘Under no circumstances will we allow the Jungle to come back’. ‘If you’re not in danger, you must return to your own country’. Where do Macron’s and our other political leaders’ sympathies really lie, here? Such wording for this new agenda implicates that the true motives behind its development is to relieve Calais residents and France’s anti-immigration voters from the unwanted migrants.
“May and Macron plan to accelerate the integration of those migrants seeking asylum from persecution and the expulsion of those who do not qualify for asylum
Even where policies seek to support certain refugees, the reality is that, those seen to have earned asylum will suddenly feel a great sense of relief, while the rest have their hopes snatched from them, like a rug from beneath their feet. More significant is the hastiness of these more generous policies, presenting desperate refugees as nuisances whose solved problems will benefit the French and British public. It makes out that the migrant crisis will be over for once and for all, but at least Britain and France will have done its best to help a small number of refugees during its final phase.
Is this rhetoric new to Macron? Not really. During the Brexit campaigns in 2016, when he was Minister of the Economy under President François Hollande, he asserted that ‘the migrants will no longer be in Calais’ if Britain voted to leave the EU, as the border would move back to Dover. Since the Le Touquet accord is being rather reinforced than reversed, this has transpired to be an empty threat. Yet, such a threat exposes how refugees have been viewed by all social classes in France and Britain over the years: backyard rubbish, ready to get chucked over the fence in a dispute with the neighbours.
“The hastiness of these two governments... show their undignified, ignorant and unsympathetic attitude towards desperate people
Now Macron is president, he wants to show his public he is a man of action, contrasting his slower counterpart Theresa May, who is struggling worldwide diplomatically due to Brexit. He does, therefore, have the upper hand over Theresa May, yet his choice to show ‘generosity’ towards the UK and echo its Prime Minister’s own anti-immigration agenda is evidence of him bowing down to the pressure of populist sentiment at home.
The migrant crisis is a polemical issue for all of Europe. Hence, we should feel relieved for the refugees who will be helped. However, the hastiness of these two governments getting a job done at a vital moment of their diplomatic relations show their undignified, ignorant and unsympathetic attitude towards desperate people across the globe.