THE responses of the French and British governments to the biggest human tragedy in the English Channel in recent years reflects an anti-migration sentiment that has become normalised in Europe. On Wednesday, 27 migrants drowned near Calais. They along with a few others had set sail for Dover in a rubber dinghy that collapsed under their weight. Unfortunately, while they traded blame, the French and British authorities hardly seemed sympathetic to the suffering of the hapless people trapped between borders. Most such migrants are desperate to flee persecution, discrimination and economic hardship at home and often fall prey to human traffickers who mint money on the back of human desperation.

Days before the Channel tragedy, both countries had agreed to uphold an agreement they had reached in July on illegal migrations and to prevent such dangerous crossings. Steps would involve greater surveillance and enhanced patrolling. But even as they devise plans to keep migrants at bay and then blame each for poor border management, they are losing sight of the bigger picture: that of the desperation of hundreds of thousands of migrants who out of fear for their lives or extreme poverty have braved hostile lands and climate in their attempt to reach safer shores, where their families can find refuge and solace. This story of economic despair and the dread of persecution is often lost on the richer countries, many of whose global policies have contributed vastly to the plight of the migrants in the first place. It is not enough to say that their attitude flies in the face of the humane values associated with the West; it is, in fact, a xenophobic approach that makes them turn a blind eye to the suffering in their own backyard. Within a span of two years, Channel crossings have gone up manifold as Covid and greater land surveillance has reduced the number of lorries smuggling in migrants. Europe can expect another flood of migrants as the Afghan crisis worsens. It must take a more humane view.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2021

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