Refugees left to drown: who are the real “murderers”?

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
1 December 2021

It has come to light that both British and French authorities were contacted by the refugees whose flimsy blow-up "dinghy" was sinking in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. They gave their location: approximately halfway across the Channel. But both British and French officials refused responsibility - each claiming the dinghy was not in "their" waters.

    As a result, no rescue was launched until the afternoon, almost 12 hours later, by which time only two young men still remained alive: 7 women, 3 children and 17 men had already died in the freezing waters. French marine rescue eventually arrived, to take the 2 severely hypothermic survivors to Calais and retrieve the bodies floating in the vicinity of the deflated plastic raft.

    This means that these refugees could possibly have been saved. But that’s not causing any kind of shock nor uproar, not in the House of Commons, not in the French parliament, nor in the media. Instead, headlines remain focussed on much more “important” issues - like whether Christmas parties can or cannot go ahead, despite Omicron...

Refugees placed in a catch 22

However last week the British and French governments had a lot to say about refugees. As soon as the news of the drowning emerged, Johnson and Macron made angry denunciations of "people smugglers", blaming criminal gangs for these deaths and calling them “murderers”.

    And then, predictably, both sides resorted to blaming each other: the British claiming the French police stood by and watched refugees get into their rubber boats. The French claiming that Britain did not go after the people-smuggling “mafia”, unlike France, which straight away made some arrests...

    Johnson then made matters worse by publicly tweeting a letter he had just written to French president Macron, calling on France to take back the thousands of migrants who reach English shores! Which caused Macron to promptly withdraw Priti Patel’s invitation to attend a meeting of EU ministers on the crisis.

    Out of that meeting came French Interior Minister Darmanin's suggestion that British officers come to France to process asylum requests in advance, so that “migrants do not risk their lives trying to reach England... because there is no legal path for immigrants to go to the UK”.

    What Darmanin said is true: successive governments - but especially that of Theresa May, (whose policy instigated the ongoing "Windrush" deportation disgrace) - have ensured the sealing off of alternative migration routes. And at the very same time they have insisted that asylum applications can be made only once one is already in Britain. They have effectively caught asylum-seekers in a catch-22.

    So yes, now the only option left - and one which had always been dismissed by authorities as unlikely due to the risks - is to try to cross the Channel, the busiest shipping lane in the world, by any means possible. And the fact that the number of crossings has already tripled this year only reflects the increasingly critical situation which so many people from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa find themselves in today.

The “push” from the criminals in power

The wars fed by British, French and US weapons and their empowerment of puppet regimes, the famine and dire poverty affecting millions, these have not gone away during the pandemic; indeed, deprivation has got even worse.

     It is in this context that Patel is trying to get her Nationality and Borders Bill through parliament. It is in this context too, that she refuses to withdraw its proposal to "push back" refugee boats from British waters, no matter the danger to those inside them.

     But it is also in the context of the government’s waning popularity, thanks to Johnson’s serial failures (for instance the highest number of Covid deaths in Europe) and the need to recapture the votes of the Tory Brexit “take control of our borders” electorate.

     But even the BBC points out that the latest official figures show Britain has negative net migration - more people are leaving than arriving. And that when it comes to offering asylum, Britain offers sanctuary to far fewer people than Germany, Spain, Greece or France. So obviously for this, the 6th richest country in the world, it is no problem to accommodate as many migrating refugees as might wish to come here.

     Yes, and especially when the ageing and shrunken British workforce desperately needs this rejuvenating blood. Isn’t there a critical labour shortage (200,000 in the NHS and social care alone!)?

     But above all, those fleeing for their lives thanks to this ruthlessly unequal world capitalist system, are our brothers and sisters; our fellow workers. And they have much more right to a place here beside us than the bosses and their politicians - whose policies are killing us all.