Pass the hot potato over the barbed wire

First published on The Lady Shed 31/7/2015

They’ve had it up to here in Calais. It’s not so much the migrants, although that’s clearly a situation that has been a nightmare for years and years now, but they’re sick and tired of the hypocrisy of les Anglais. Yes I know my English friends, you won’t like reading this, and not all French people think all Anglais are horrible people, but, if les Anglais keep blaming les Français for this dreadful refugees situation in Northern France, the old entente is going to get anything but cordiale, again.

This is how some Français (and Europeans) think you, British Friends, think:

0. These migrants are in France, so France needs to solve the problem. You can replace France with Italy, or Greece, or Spain, different languages, same applies.

1. Les Anglais don’t even have an identity card, so it’s dead easy to travel anywhere within England.

2. Les Anglais have cheap labour, working for peanuts on the black market is still a damn side better than war torn countries, for desperate migrants.

3. Les Anglais want the Europe rules that suit them economically, they’re quite happy to accept migrants with lots of degrees like doctors but they don’t want to take on the social rules, or the human rights rules, or the employees protection rules.

We (the rest of Europe) are stuck in the middle. Les Anglais, yet again, want to have their cake and eat it. Marie Antoinette’s ghost is never far in England.

Now, please don’t shoot the messenger.
Even Cameron said, “Don’t blame the French”.

The fact of the matter is, from Kent to Pas de Calais, London to Paris, via Brussels, it’s a case of pass the hot potato.
The far right are rubbing their hand at being right. That Damn Immigration Problem.
Stop the wars that create the problems in the first place, say the utopians on the left.
Yeah right, say the gun lobbies and their many friends.

Forget the obvious traffickers who benefit from this tragic situation and let’s look at the other, more legitimate, actors in this story:

1. The British government: they help the French government financially, having managed to get the border on the French side of the Channel, clever so and so’s. They fine lorry drivers £2,000 every time a truck is caught with an illegal migrant on board, for each migrant. The haulage company at fault can have their licence revoked. On 14 July the Home Secretary announced the creation of a new secure zone at the port of Calais for 230 UK bound lorries.

2. The Port of Calais: since June they’re fine. They now have barriers galore (thanks in part to 13 million Euros from Les Anglais).

3. The French police: They pick people up from where they should not be, and drop them off again a bit further down the road where everybody wishes they weren’t. When the police use batons or pepper spray they are damned. When they do not use physical force and migrants get through, they are damned.

4. Private security firms. If focus is on economics and jobs, all is good. There is undoubtedly more room for more jobs in the future in this sector.

5. Eurotunnel: Having taken the French government to court in 2003 for loss of earning, and won after four years of lawyers’ fees in 2007, they have invested dozens of millions in security since they opened. They are still in the firing line for solutions and playing their part.
Back in 2003, less than a decade after the Tunnel under la Manche was opened, an agreement between France and the UK was signed in Le Touquet, a pleasant resort to sign treaties, much more so than say industrial Calais. The Touquet Treaty specified that when the UK border, placed in France, refuses entry to a migrant, France needs to take the person back. Since the person travelling to Dover actually never left France in the first place, thanks to UK border controls being on the continent, it is dead easy for Les Anglais to throw money at the problem and then, wash their hands.

It looks to many like: “Not my problem, mate”.

Oh to be an island. A little island that still thinks like a big Empire, many of its people oblivious to the consequences of being perceived as colonialists in the 21st century, its decision makers ramping up security. Not massively different from France, to be fair. Except the island bit.

Between 1998 and 2002, the migrants, unlike now mainly men, most well educated and rich enough to pay traffickers to get all the way to Northern Europe, were looked after by the Red Cross in Sangatte. The huge hangar, previously used to store Eurotunnel building stuff, got overcrowded, gangs and violence were reportedly rife. It got raised to the ground.

Closing down Sangatte was an agreement between Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, and the Blair government. The centre was closed by France in exchange for tougher laws in the UK, especially for Afghan refugees who used to have special status for a permit to stay and some work. The attraction of Sangatte was to be eliminated. Governments seemingly decided to stop passing the hot potato and worked together. The UK took 1,100 refugees (from Iraq and Afghanistan) France the remaining 400 of other nationalities. Since then, refugees have continued to come through Europe, some years fewer of them, some years more.

In June this year, 2015, Jules Ferry, a new centre was opened. There, migrants are recorded and the State knows where they are. Many do not want to go in the centre, where they fear the police, the government, rival gangs. They do not want asylum in France, they want asylum in Angleterre. Securing the harbour, the port, the tunnel area, as many Anglais advocate (‘If it was an airport the French would have secured it by now’) is not enough. Petrol stations near Calais are being run by gangs that ‘facilitate’ migrants getting onto the back of trucks; now the harbour area is more secure, the problem is moving south. Refugees, illegal migrants call them what you will, are not only near the Tunnel. They squat in Calais, they are found in the train stations in Paris. Since June, the situation has reportedly got worse.

My country, situated as it is in the centre of Europe, now part of the Schengen agreement that allows individuals to travel through European borders until they get to the Channel, is just one example of an international situation that only gets to the ‘news-papers’ when people die.

People are dying trying to get into the UK. And somehow, this is the fault of my fellow countrymen?

Tell you what, dear Anglais who think La France should be blamed for this sickening international situation:

how about we move that particular border to where it rightfully belongs: in Kent. 

Forget Operation Stack being a pain in the backside for the delays it creates on the M20 for lorry drivers trying to earn a living and holiday makers on their way to the sunshine, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

See how Les Anglais deal with that hot potato on their home soil.

I’m sure most Français will happily pay more taxes to help their European friends across the Channel buy gloves.

Just remember, Dear Anglais who think Les Français are ‘doing this in purpose’, we are in the age of international communication. You can close physical borders like dictatorships still do, get out of the European Union to do so if need be, but wonder what might follow if you keep attacking your cordial friends on the Continent your country belongs to. Then again, British ‘news-papers’ that lead the charge are not owned by Europeans are they?

Vive l’Europe!



——- ——— ——–



£2,000 per migrant. Lorry drivers’ stories. 2014.


“Get to England or die trying, innit”

the guardian


“Fallait il fermer Sangatte?”






2009 article from Rue 89



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