The Great Wall of Catastrophe

In this article Meg discusses the build of the wall in Calais to keep migrants from crossing the border into the UK and the legal, moral and ethical ramifications in relation to refugee policy.

Dubbed ‘The Great Wall of Calais’ by the media, a 13ft high concrete barrier is to be erected to protect the Rocade; the road leading to the port. The £2.3 million project is the “ Lorry drivers, shopkeepers, farmers and police blockaded the motorway earlier this year, demanding a definitive date for the closure of the refugee camp, The Jungle.

Nonviolent Peaceforce/Creative commons license

Nonviolent Peaceforce/Creative commons license

There is a rhetoric in politics and in the media surrounding the “migrant crisis”, with such simple but powerful choice of words subverting public opinion and guiding the conversation. “The Jungle”, “crisis”, “illegal”, “security”, “violence”, all of these words constantly surround and describe the plight of refugees across the world and, particularly in Britain, surrounding Calais. These words with their negative connotations are like a form of subliminal messaging, creating the impression that these amazing, strong, determined people who have fled their own countries to live free from war, persecution, torture, slavery and death are nothing more than threatening and violent entities, rather than human beings trying to obtain personal freedom and human rights. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, lawyers, businessmen, medics, to be defined by so much more than “migrant” or “refugee”.

The truth? Statistics say it all.

In Britain we have 117, 234 refugees. 0.18% of the population. 76, 439 fewer than in 2011. 45% of cases are granted asylum.

0.027% of Europe’s population are migrants.

1% of all European migrants are in Calais.

There are 84,088 detentions at France’s border every year.

An asylum seeker in Britain is not allowed to work while his case is being reviewed, which takes a minimum of 6 months. An asylum seeker receives £36.95 a week to live in Britain, £35.21 in Germany, £36.84 in Sweden and £56.62 in France. 

So why are they doing this? And is it really ok?

The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key legal document that forms the basis of refugee policy. According to the legislation, States are expected to cooperate with the UNHCR to ensure that the rights of refugees are respected and protected. According to this legislation, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. But in this document, it stipulates that a refugee is someone who has crossed an international border. This means that the legal obligation to accept a refugee is not applicable until that person has crossed into that state’s territory. Therefore, loopholes have arisen, allowing states to legally, although not ethically, use border controls and walls to keep out asylum seekers.

The media and the government regularly blur the lines between refugees and economic migrants, distorting the narrative further and painting refugees as people who want to use our resources, benefits and health care for a better life. In reality, refugees are strong, incredible people who have been denied their human rights and have risked everything to get them back, to be treated as they rightfully should, not tortured or persecuted or yes, held in detention camps. Meanwhile on the 19th September, a 14 year old Afghan boy just became the youngest refugee to die while trying to reach his family in Britain from Calais.

The Great wall of Calais may be legal, but it is certainly not ethical. It is skirting round the obligation to accept refugees, putting a cap on the amount that they will take rather than helping those who need it. It places the burden on the global South, on the economically weaker countries, ‘Two-thirds of the world’s refugees are in the global South, in countries that rank low on the Human Development Index… These inequalities are cemented in place by the measure that Western states use to prevent refugees arriving on their territory, like strict visa regimes, interdiction and carrier sanctions.’

malachybrowne/Creative commons license

malachybrowne/Creative commons license

The news makes refugees and migrants seem like criminals and terrorists hell bent on making life miserable and dangerous for us. But regardless of whether they are a refugee or economic migrant, they are simply seeking a better life for themselves, for their family. Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything.

Construction is coming, meanwhile the kitchens with L’Auberge Des Migrants can’t prepare enough food for the 10,000 refugees. There is a massive shortage of shoes.

The cost of the wall is more than sufficient to fix both these problems.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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