A little over a year ago, on the fifth anniversary of the drowning of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, I speculated that maybe – just maybe – perhaps his horrific death had not been entirely in vain.
Perhaps, I thought naively, his appalling demise, conveyed so powerfully by the shocking images of his tiny body lying face down on the waterfront on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, could save others from the sea. same fate.
Sadly, I have counted without the selfish determination of politicians and governments to cling to power by yielding to the worst of human nature.
Last week, refugee deaths on a scale previously seen only in the Mediterranean finally arrived in the English Channel, the last narrow but nonetheless daunting barrier for migrants hoping to reach the promised land that many perceive to be Britain.
27 people trying to cross France to the UK drowned off the coast of France when their fragile inflatable boat ran aground. Among the victims were seven women, one of whom was pregnant, and three children.
This brings the number of asylum seekers, including 36 children, to nearly 350 who have drowned in the English Channel over the past 20 years.
What is most striking about this latest tragedy is how the reactions of the two governments that could have prevented it, have focused not on cooperation to prevent it from happening again, but on accountability. mutual in the pursuit of national political agendas.
This year, the French government failed to prevent 25,000 people from risking their lives crossing the English Channel in small boats, either by preventing them from going to sea or by dismantling cynical gangs of smugglers operating in all conditions. impunity in France.
Last week, photographs of French police officers appeared and watched the launch of a large tire on a beach near Calais. On board were more than a dozen adults and six children, ranging in age from three to seven.
For the French, and for the European Union as a whole, there is little to be gained from easing Britain’s post-Brexit unrest – especially those directly linked to the xenophobic engagement of Brexiteers and winner of the referendum to “regain control of our borders”. “
The EU cannot afford for other European countries to start thinking Britain is doing well with Brexit.
After the deaths of last week, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged that “France will not let the English Channel become a cemetery”, neglecting the fact that it has already done so.
Then, after Macron called an emergency meeting of governments, including Britain’s, France played on its electorate’s growing exasperation with Britain by disinviting British Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The French were offended by an extraordinarily undiplomatic public reprimand posted on social media by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson isn’t exactly known for his mastery of diplomacy. But that alone does not explain why he thought it wise to make public his demands that France establish joint patrols with British personnel and agree to take back all migrants who have crossed the Channel.
It wasn’t diplomacy. It was a very public waving of the isolationist flag by a government beaten almost daily by allegations of sordid and incompetence, and desperate to prove to an increasingly disillusioned electorate that Brexit had some sort of goal. in the real world.
Meanwhile, Patel comes under increasing pressure from right-wing Conservative MPs to “toughen up” on illegal immigrants – a goal she has embraced with enthusiasm.
Opening safe routes to the UK for migrants would, of course, kill the smugglers business model overnight, but that would bother Tory voters and their MPs too much.
Most surprisingly, at one point Patel proposed a bill that would have criminalized, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, assisting anyone attempting to illegally cross the United Kingdom by boat.
Unsurprisingly, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, whose highly respected volunteer boat crews have come to the aid of thousands of refugees with varying degrees of difficulty in the English Channel, were appalled by the knee-jerk reaction.
Meanwhile, as European “adults” bicker and maneuver for political advantage, children are drowning and, as they do, the causes of Britain’s migration problem have received little attention.
Perhaps the biggest and least recognized ‘pull factor’ attracting migrants to the UK is the English language, which was imposed on much of the world over the centuries of the great British imperialist adventure.
When desperate people see migration as the only possible solution to impossible circumstances, naturally those for whom English is a second language are drawn to Britain.
As for the circumstances that trigger migration, economic or otherwise, let us not forget that many of the crises which are currently creating such desperation in the Middle East and beyond owe their origins to past British colonial interference.
Today, as the rising tide of migration hits Britain’s south coast, it is no exaggeration to suggest that she had brought him here. The least it should do is take ownership of its imperialist past and act apolitically to save the lives of those thrown to its shores by the currents of British history.
In agreement with Syndication Bureau
Jonathan Gornall is a guest contributor. The opinions expressed are personal.