The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not representative of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.
CW: loss of life; racism
“you have to understand,/ that no one puts their children in a boat/ unless the water is safer than the land” – Warsan Shire, “home”
Last night, reports surfaced that numerous people had drowned on their journey from Calais to the UK after their boat sank in the English Channel. Twenty-seven bodies have been recovered by French authorities. Seven women, three children and seventeen other people equally deserving of life are among the dead. This is the biggest loss of life in the Channel since they began collecting data in 2014.
While two people have been rescued, very little is known about those who died, their nationalities or what made the boat sink in the first place. In a statement last night, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that this disaster emphasises how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way. He and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed “to do everything possible to stop the gangs responsible” for transporting people across the Channel.
But the government’s framing that this devastating loss of life is the fault of smuggling gangs making money from desperate people in search of a better life seems to ignore the obvious. This loss of life in the Channel and every life lost in detention centres and refugee camps on borders across Europe are the inevitable consequences of European authorities’ racist and inhumane immigration policies and what has come to be known as ‘Fortress Europe‘.
Until the UK government grants refugees safe and accessible routes to seek asylum, people will continue to die and our Channel will become a graveyard for those who happened to be born on the ‘wrong bit of land’.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel is the key culprit in shaping the UK’s border policies. In recent months, she has referred to those crossing the Channel as ‘economic migrants’ rather than ‘genuine asylum seekers’ and suggested that the vast majority are single men. This perpetuates the narrative of the ‘good/bad refugee’ which sees certain people coming to our shores deemed more or less deserving of help and humanity than others. Single men, in particular, are painted as dangerous, opportunistic or just economically inconvenient.
This intensified vilification of people seeking asylum in the UK is regularly painted as necessary in mainstream media due to the increased numbers of those making the trip across the English Channel in recent months. So far in 2021, 25,700 people have reached the UK on small boats, more than three times the 2020 total. This is thought to be for various reasons, including the reduction of lorries coming from Europe to the UK due to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to increased technology use in Europe which makes it more difficult for refugees to remain hidden on lorries coming to the UK. Therefore, rather than there being an increase in those seeking asylum generally (which may very well be the case), in making other previous routes to the UK – like lorries – less viable, desperate people are increasingly forced to take to the sea – increasingly via small boats across the busiest shipping lane in the world.
Until the UK government provides people with a safe and accessible way to claim asylum in the UK, people will continue risking their lives in pursuit of a better life. To blame the gangs who transport people across the Channel is to deflect the blame from those who are writing our country’s and Europe’s inhumane immigration policies.
Fortress Europe isn’t working. We need to realise that before any more people lose their lives.
Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske