JCRAG neither condones nor justifies the attempt at illegal entry into the UK by an Iranian national last Saturday. We will, however, state that this incident is a symptom of a much wider and deeper-rooted problem way beyond the island of Jersey or even the UK. Chief Minister Gorst’s announcement that Jersey has its hands tied by UK, EU and local law has not been examined by independent policy experts, and the reasoning behind the announcement certainly ignores the fact that this crisis is of such a magnitude that a continued engagement with the refugee crisis might well be required.
There are thousands of people on the move in Europe. These are people who have fled desperate situations, ranging from conflicts to repression and poverty. There has been no adequate response from politicians and lawmakers in the face of this challenge. When urgent action was required, there was paralysis or unwillingness, while most of the humanitarian work has been carried out by volunteers and volunteer organisations. They have been providing basic medical and sanitary facilities as well as feeding, clothing, sheltering and even educating the thousands stranded in Calais, Dunkirk and other camps across Europe. Access to these provisions are basic human rights, as laid out in numerous international treaties and conventions. Most of these international laws and principles seem to have crumbled in the face of this crisis now engulfing Europe.
Governments and officials have either looked away or taken inadequate measures to handle and process this challenge on a basic human level. The fact that the Calais camp has been allowed to exist for so long is proof in itself. In recent weeks the French authorities have taken some steps to ‘resolve’ the Calais issue. They’ve provided a limited amount of shelters, but this has been accompanied by tactics which volunteers have been describing as nothing short bullying. Shelters were bulldozed and communities were teargased with no alternative plan in place, only dispersing the refugees further and adding to their miseries. A pro-active, collaborative approach was needed to resolve the issue, speeding up the asylum procedures while providing ‘temporary’ reception facilities. Now, the authorities are opening up this issue to the criminal and underground circuit. Criminal gangs, people smugglers and other shady elements are stepping in where official channels are failing. They stand ready to exploit vulnerable people who are determined to improve their fate. This will ultimately lead to conflicts and calamitous risks being taken by people who see no other way. The tragic images from the Mediterranean are a stark reminder of what happens when a situation is not addressed. Only last week, Europol warned that at least 10, 000 unaccompanied refugee children have ‘gone missing’ in Europe, with fears they might have fallen into the hands of criminal organisations involved in the sex trade. One can only imagine the torment and desperation amongst those children!
The dispersing of the Calais camp will only scatter the refugee populations concentrated there. They will look for other possible entry points into the UK. It was only going to be a matter of time before Saint-Malo would appear on the radar. Whatever one feels about this issue, I think everyone can agree that an ‘official’ and pro-active response would always be preferable to a situation in which illegality takes precedence. Jersey cannot ignore its geographical position as a gateway between the United Kingdom and the continent. This forces our island to take a role in the biggest challenge to Europe since World War II. JCRAG certainly hopes the Jersey States will take a constructive and pro-active approach, as we only stand at the beginning of a crisis that is rapidly spinning out of control.