Twenty-seven dead off the coast of Calais, six years after Aylan: cry, but not change anything?

The sinking of a small boat, Wednesday, November 24, in La Manche having resulted in the death of 27 people, will he have the same electroshock effect as the image of little Aylan in 2015? Remember, that year thousands of Syrian refugees set off for Europe. Some drown trying to cross from Libya, others find it difficult to reach Greece, French and European public opinion is indifferent, even hostile. Then on September 2, the photo of Aylan’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach goes around the world and becomes the symbol of the tragedy experienced by migrants. In France, for the first time, public opinion, hitherto reluctant, is shifting and mostly asking that we welcome refugees. The Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, writes: “He had a name: Aylan Kurdi. Urgency to act. Urgency of a European mobilization”.

The emotion aroused Wednesday by the shipwreck off the coast of Pas-de-Calais sounds like an echo of this year 2015. Immediately, we saw Gérald Darmanin go to Calais; Prime Minister Jean Castex urgently organize a meeting of eight ministers and Emmanuel Macron express his “compassion” and declare that “France will not let the Channel become a cemetery”. Behind them, all the candidates for the presidential election of April 2022 said they were horrified, moved … whatever their political side and their outlook on the migration issue. But beyond words, beyond declarations, will this drama lead to decisions likely to get out of Calais and the migrants who find themselves there from the impasse in which they have been locked up for years?

A Turkish policeman facing Aylan Kurdi who died at sea, in Bodrum, Turkey on September 2, 2015. The photo had aroused worldwide emotion.

A Turkish policeman facing Aylan Kurdi who died at sea, in Bodrum, Turkey on September 2, 2015. The photo had aroused worldwide emotion.

afp.com/Nilufer Demir

Nothing is less certain as the situation has been known to everyone for months and no solution has been found. This is not the first tragedy in the region. Since January, before the shipwreck on Wednesday, the human toll has risen to three dead and four missing, after six dead and three missing in 2020. Almost every night, the emergency services carry out operations to recover the castaways and alert on the risks constantly growing. Since 2018, securing access to the Channel Tunnel and to the port has pushed aspiring exile and smugglers to deport themselves to the sea passages. The phenomenon has continued to accelerate. In August, the Pas-de-Calais maritime prefecture recorded 15,400 attempted departures and 3,500 rescued passengers. Despite the winter, the count on November 20 was much higher: 31,500 migrants had left the coast and 7,800 were helped.

However, France and the United Kingdom spend their time passing the buck rather than developing a joint response. On Wednesday again, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pointed the finger at the French, believing that they had not done “enough” to prevent crossings, despite aid of more than 60 million euros to strengthen surveillance of their coastline. Immediately, during a telephone interview, Emmanuel Macron “let Boris Johnson know” that he expected the British to cooperate fully and to refrain from using a dramatic situation for political ends “.

Finding solutions is certainly not easy. From the Bay of Somme to Dunkirk, the coastline is very extensive and cannot be monitored either permanently or entirely. The smugglers have understood it well, they launch on the waters of many boats simultaneously to overwhelm the surveillance forces and manage to get some of their “customers” who pay from 2000 to 3000 euros to join what they want. see like El Dorado.

But beyond that, fundamental questions arise for the French, British and Europeans. Thus, Emmanuel Macron has a nice game to ask for “the immediate reinforcement” of Frontex after the sinking of Wednesday. But a careful reading of the interview granted by Fabrice Leggieri, the director general of the European agency, on November 21 in the JDD, leaves us perplexed: he explains there that, since May, France has requested him for aerial surveillance, but that the call having, legally, included British companies, it is now blocked by … France, which prefers European companies for this mission.

Gendarmes from the Calais nautical brigade patrol aboard a speedboat in search of migrants attempting to cross the Channel.  The flow is such that they are overwhelmed.

Gendarmes from the Calais nautical brigade patrol aboard a speedboat in search of migrants attempting to cross the Channel. The flow is such that they are overwhelmed.

afp.com/FRANCOIS LEND IT

Another difficulty to overcome, the British asylum policy, extremely restrictive and likely to be even more so. However, the majority of those present in Calaisis are Iranians, Iraqis, Sudanese or Syrians and can claim protection. As it is almost impossible for a refugee to seek asylum without having reached the English coast, they try everything in their power to cross and have a chance to file a case. For now, the British are tempted to discourage them by treating asylum requests differently depending on whether the person has entered the country legally or illegally. But it is not sure that this will work as long as the exiles – especially the English speakers – will have the impression that they can work more easily across the Channel or simply because they have family there.

Sunday, will take place in Calais, and at the invitation of France, an intergovernmental meeting, in the presence of Belgian, German, Dutch and British immigration ministers and representatives of the European Commission. But it is above all a matter of dealing with the humanitarian emergency and “strengthening police, judicial and humanitarian cooperation to be put in place to better fight against the networks of smugglers at work in migratory flows”, according to the government announcement. But the time will not yet be for the great European reform of asylum that Emmanuel Macron calls for.

In 2016, to get out of the migration crisis, Europe signed an agreement with Turkey encouraging the latter to better control its borders in return for the payment of six billion euros for the reception and support of Syrian refugees on its soil. A formula that France and the United Kingdom have already started to experiment since it is the first to take charge of border control under the famous Touquet agreements and a contribution of 63 million euros. Not sure that Emmanuel Macron is ready to go further. Especially a few months before the presidential election. Wednesday’s emotion is likely to fizzle out.


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