Gavin Mortimer

France is using migrants just like Belarus

France is using migrants just like Belarus
(Photo: Getty)
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It was hard not to laugh, coldly, at the statement from western members of the UN Security Council that condemned Belarus for engineering the migrant crisis on its border with Poland.

Following Thursday’s emergency UN Security Council meeting, western members published a joint statement, accusing Belarus of putting migrants’ lives in danger ‘for political purposes’.

That's true, of course, but to hear such words from France. Quelle hypocrisie!

There are far fewer migrants camping out in cardboard cities in Paris this year. Why? Because these camps have been broken up and the migrants – overwhelmingly young men from Africa and the Middle East – have headed north to Calais. Once there it's only a short voyage across the Channel to England, a voyage that 24,000 have made this year, nearly treble the number that succeeded in making the crossing in 2020.

‘They appear to have ceded sovereign territory to criminal people smugglers,’ a Whitehall source was quoted as saying of France’s incapacity to halt those crossing. ‘This abject failure will be raised in the strongest possible terms with Gerald Darmanin and the French government.’ Perhaps Boris Johnson should think of sending British soldiers to Calais as well as to the Polish border.

British protestations will do little good. Emmanuel Macron has started campaigning for next April’s presidential election and his biggest challengers come from the right: Marine Le Pen of the National Rally, the right-wing commentator Eric Zemmour and the centre-right Republicans who, while they have yet to select a candidate, have made immigration a central plank of their manifesto.

Furthermore, in the last 15 months there have been a number of Islamist attacks in France committed by men who entered the country illegally, including the murder of three worshippers by a Tunisian in a Nice church.

Macron therefore knows he must do something about the huge number of illegal immigrants in France – estimated to be around 900,000 – and what better solution than passing the problem onto the British?

A report on France's primetime television news on Thursday evening left viewers in no doubt that the French authorities are facilitating the migration across the Channel. The journalist described how the migrants had moved west from Calais, to the wild Dunes de la Slack, overlooking the golden beaches of Wimereux, a popular tourist destination for Britons between the wars.

A local fisherman explained to the journalist the frequency with which he sees boats departing for Britain. ‘The English can't be happy?’ said the journalist. Grinning, the fisherman replied, ‘Who cares!’

The TV crew didn't have to wait long before they saw a large group of migrants carrying an inflatable raft to the water's edge. On the second attempt they successfully launched the boat and off they set. Watching from the dunes were five policemen, lounging by their patrol car. The journalist said that they had arrived too late to prevent the launch of the raft, but they ‘contacted the coastguard who escorted the boat into British territorial waters’.

Not that the police have always been so lackadaisical, at least according to Human Rights Watch, who last month accused them in Calais of ‘abusive practices’, such as tearing down migrants’ tents or confiscating their belongings.

The truth is the police, like the good people of Calais, are at their wits’ end; for two decades migrants have been camped out in and around the port, and violence and crime is a concomitant reality that the political class have constantly failed to address. Their inertia is no different to that of Brussels, as clueless now as to how to deal with the migrant crisis as they were in 2015 when Angela Merkel threw open the continent’s borders.

Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko knows this. And while he stands accused of ‘weaponising migrants’, how is his behaviour any different to what is going on in Calais?

France is supposedly being paid by the British government to stop illegal immigration but they are doing nothing of the sort. It’s a little reminiscent of their behaviour in 2018 when French police in the south-east of country were accused by Italy of marching migrants they intercepted back over the border.

On the contrary, the inaction of the French authorities, one might even say their tacit encouragement, is endangering migrants’ lives. Two men drowned in a fortnight trying to cross the Channel and it was reported on Friday that three more are missing after setting out in kayaks.

Perhaps Britain should call another emergency UN Security Council meeting, and this time condemn France.

Written byGavin Mortimer

Gavin Mortimer has lived in Paris for 12 years. His next book, The Phoney Major, a biography of SAS founder David Stirling, will be published by Constable next year.

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