Reports that migrants are continuing to try to cross the Channel from northern France to southern England in small vessels, have the British reaching for Australian tools. These are basically outsourcing measures. The destination country is rendered a no-go area for the uninvited by intercepting migrant boats and processing them offshore. (For Australia it used to be Papua, New Guinea and Nauru. In Britain’s case, Rwanda, Albania and Ascencion Island are being mooted as possible holding camps.)
There are several problems with the whole notion of trying out tough and controversial Australian-style policies on migrants. Preventing asylum-seekers from ever setting foot on British soil may work for the UK (as it did for Australia) but it is not ethical and it is certainly not consistent with the 1971 Refugee Convention (now observed mainly in the breach). That’s a relevant if larger and ever so slightly separate issue.
At the moment, we should consider how European countries can deal with the matter, without being heartless or held hostage by people-traffickers.
French president Emmanuel Macron’s comments are the most hopeful pinpricks of light on a dark issue. He said France should further increase collaboration with the British, even though they “swing between partnership and provocation”. And he told a French local newspaper that he would seek to introduce reforms to the migration system when France holds the EU presidency in the first half of next year.
“If those [migrants] who want to go to Britain have family there, that’s about regrouping families,” Mr Macron said. “But if they are victims of people traffickers, we must break that system.”
That’s a good point.