The story about crowds of immigrants storming the freight terminal in the French port of Calais, trying to board trucks headed for the UK, has mesmerized onlookers from across Europe and beyond. The last in a long row of illegal-migrant-related incidents plaguing Europe for the better part of this year, the Calais crisis set out to dominate not only this week’s headlines but also the debate about the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
On the face of it, the hectic scenes of people trying to desperately enter the United Kingdom have expectedly played right into the hands of UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage. Mr. Farage, in a bid to rake in the benefits and bolster support for his eurosceptic party, was quick to condemn the events and deplore the “virtually lawless” situation at Calais, calling upon the army to step in.
Away from xenophobic venting and right-wing fear mongering, the UK tried in vain to curry favour with the European Union. The EU has said that it can provide help for France but has shown little sympathy towards the United Kingdom. British complaints fell on death years as some EU members states have to deal with 10 times as many asylum seekers as those camping at Calais. A European Commission spokesperson said on Monday, 3 August, that technical assistance would be provided to France. “The Commission is aware that the situation as regards migrants in Calais is deteriorating. This is another stark example of the need for a greater level of solidarity and responsibility in the way we deal with the migratory issues in Europe.”
The Commission’s reaction comes on the backdrop of recent disagreements between member states to adopt a scheme helping to distribute 40.000 asylum seekers that have arrived in Greece and Italy via the Mediterranean. The plan fell through in July, when the United Kingdom, together with Hungary and Austria refused to take part in the redistribution strategy. Britain also enjoys an opt-out on EU migration policy.
Though the port of Calais has become Europe’s new flashpoint in the ongoing migration crisis, the UK is far from bearing the brunt, with Germany taking in the largest number of refugees of all the EU states. Germany is set to process more than 400.000 applications, the highest wave of asylum seekers coming into the country since the ill-fated days of the Yugoslav conflict. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has only accepted around 10.000 applications with 32.000 people asking for asylum in 2014.
The sense of a disaster about to unfold has also been heightened by British tabloids calling for higher walls built around the entrance of the Channel Tunnel, while also suggesting that the French authorities aren’t doing enough to stop people from making it across to the UK.