Europe policymakers ‘fuel racism’ by focusing on border control

French riot police stand on a road to prevent migrants from reaching the road leading to the ferry port in Calais. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

French riot police stand on a road to prevent migrants from reaching the road leading to the ferry port in Calais. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

 

European policymakers are “criminalising migrants” and “fuelling racism” due to the current focus on border controls at the expense of adequate resources for supporting refugees, the EuroMed Rights network of non-governmental organisations has said.

EU member states were “in denial” about the seriousness of the situation, EuroMed Rights migration and asylum programme officer Marie Martin said, as reflected in the loss of 2,000 lives this year in the Mediterranean and the plight of migrants caught in the French port of Calais.

Concerns about the impact of attempts by “increasingly desperate” migrants in Calais to cross to Britain were outlined in the French port by the Irish Road Haulage Association last night.

IRHA president Verona Murphy said her members were facing a “significant increase in the level of threat and harassment”, coupled with what she described as a “lack of protection afforded by the French police”.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 migrants are barely surviving in camps in and around the French port, and recent strike action by French ferry workers over job losses resulted in nightly attempts by migrants to gain access to haulage trucks crossing the English Channel.

Desperation grows

Drivers had been threatened at knifepoint, had been robbed, and also faced heavy fines from British authorities if caught with people on board, he said.

The British and French governments have committed to a joint fund of €15 million for fencing and other security measures at Calais, along with further money to secure the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles.

British foreign secretary Philip Hammond said he thought his government had “got a grip” on the situation.

However, Ms Murphy said that European leaders needed to seek a long-term solution, as both migrants and haulage transport companies were “caught in the middle”.

She said companies were facing additional costs, due to time delays, damage to freight and enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules, which meant drivers queuing in tailbacks for hours on either side of the Eurotunnel were subject to fines under article 14 of the regulations for moving trucks during rest periods.

The British department of transport agreed on July 29th to a “temporary and limited, exceptional relaxation of the enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules”, applicable only to drivers whose journeys were delayed due to industrial action or disruption at Calais.

Ms Murphy called on the Department of Transport in Ireland to take “decisive action” to protect the livelihoods of the haulage sector which, she said, is “worth over €4 billion to the Irish exchequer and is responsible for 50,000 jobs”.

The department has said the Minister can only invoke article 14 “in relation to his/her own territory”.

Ms Murphy said that if the Minister was to take this step, it would represent significant progress. The Government should also liaise with Britain to ease penalties on drivers who faced fines of £2,000 if caught with migrants on board, she said.

Ms Martin said that, from the NGO perspective, the situation of hauliers highlighted that people on the ground were “put in competition if not in conflict with each other as if migrants were the cause of the problem . . . when in fact the prime responsibility lies on EU leaders’ shoulders”.