The Mediterranean is no longer alone as an open-air cemetery for migrants. The English Channel it has been added to the macabre maritime zone that for years has swallowed up tens of thousands of people trying to reach Europe or cross the channel that separates France from Great Britain. 31 migrants died tohome to the English Channel trying that journey. Rescue operations are still ongoing and therefore the death toll could be even higher.
Paris and London have been starring in a tough confrontation for months due to the high number of migrants leaving the French coast, mainly from Calais, bound for the United Kingdom. The French authorities expressed their “strong emotion” (Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior) while the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, indicated that those responsible are “criminal traffickers who exploit the despair and misery of migrants.” “France will not allow La Mancha to become a graveyard,” said President Emmanuel Macron.
The situation in the English Channel is not comparable to that of the Mediterranean. Between 2018 and 20,212 some 13 people died on the Channel (6 in 2019, 4 in 2020 and, even before this drama, three in 2021). As revealed by Charlotte Kwantes, head of the NGO Utopia56, since 1999 “more than 300 migrants have died on the coast.” When it comes to the Mediterranean, the figures are staggering. IOM, International Organization for Migration, a body belonging to the UN, between January and July 2021 1,146 people died in the Mediterranean.
The attempts to cross the waters of the English Channel and gain the British coasts have multiplied vertiginously. From about 12 thousand attempts in 2020, it went down in 2021 to 31,800. According to the cabinet of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, more than 21,000 people made it to Britain this year from the French shores. Rising attempts have also increased the threat of shipwrecks. Migrants use any small boat to cross the Canal. Sporting goods chains such as Decathlon have even withdrawn kayaks and other such precarious vessels from sale throughout the coastal region to contain desperate canal navigation. Last weekend, French maritime patrols rescued about 250 migrants who were adrift in the waters of the English Channel. In total, so far this year, 7,800 people have been rescued in that maritime corridor that facilitates, due to its proximity, the landing in Great Britain. This time, the small boat sailed from the port of Dunkirk with 34 migrants on board. Some 50 people who were on other boats have already been rescued alive, according to the prefecture.
The antagonism between Paris and London is constant when it comes to migrants. Great Britain believes that France is not making the necessary efforts to control the area. This controversy served as the basis for the head of the British Government to present a bill aimed at reforming the current system for asylum seekers and thus counteracting “clandestine immigration”. On the French side, the town of Calais and the areas where migrants camp have been and are one of the most amazing places in Europe. Five years ago, through a massive police operation, the authorities evicted 9,000 migrants from the Calais camp. The place had two nicknames that translate very well the unhealthy and insecure conditions that prevailed in the countryside: it was called “The Jungle” and also “the largest open pit slum in Europe.”
Unlike 2016, when a large camp brought together all the migrants who came to Calais with the dream of crossing the English Channel, now the police intervene regularly to disarm the temporary camps that are being created and thus avoid a new Jungle. . The exiles are the permanent object of a human hunt that degrades living conditions and makes the marked black criminal prosper of those who charge to make them cross the Channel. NGOs working in the area distribute thousands of plates of food per day. Without them, the migrants would not even have food. Today’s exiles are, for the most part, Kurdish, Sudanese or Eritrean. Nobody knows their identities and only when there is a tragedy whose number exceeds the normality of evil suddenly do declarations and convictions and complaints flood the media.
For years, the sea has been devouring migrants who seek to reach Europe or, from Europe, enter a country. The NGOs that work to save them with boats have suffered the full weight of the states that try to prevent them from going out to sea: arrests, trials of captains, immobilization of rescue boats, the race against those who seek to rescue lives is the norm. Indifference or cruelty towards those fleeing poverty and wars leads right to these collective tragedies. The migrants from the Channel arrive in Calais, they settle in tents wherever they can, they wander around the city because they have only three possible destinations left: to be arrested, expelled or to be able to cross the Channel of dreams towards a better life.