The mainstream media has recently been filled with howls and cries of indignation on the question of migration. Reactionary figures such as Nigel Farage have declared that Britain is under siege from an invasion of illegal immigrants.
Images of men, women, and children in overladen inflatable boats have been beamed across news channels and plastered upon the front pages of newspapers. Multiple news crews – from the BBC to Sky News – have even been deployed to track down those making the treacherous journey across the Channel.
Viewers are shown shots of helpless people bailing out their inflatable craft with makeshift bowls. Meanwhile, Priti Patel – who is adept in using divisive immigrant bashing – has joined in with this right-wing chorus.
I am working to make this route unviable.— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) August 7, 2020
1⃣ Stopping the boats leaving France in the first place
2⃣ Intercepting boats and returning those attempting to make a crossing
This is complex to do and we face serious legislative, legal and operational barriers.
In an attempt to whip up hysteria, the Tory home secretary has called for the armed forces to be deployed to prevent people crossing from France. A new token role has been created, with the grand-sounding title of "clandestine Channel threat commander", to oversee the millions of pounds of military hardware used to resolve the migrant crisis.
The right-wing rhetoric around illegal immigration and asylum seekers has been a top news event weeks. This provides the Tories with a convenient distraction from their horrendous handling of the pandemic.
Immigrants, meanwhile, are used by the ruling class as scapegoats for any social ill. The right-wing press foment a state of panic, blaming everything from the crumbling NHS to the lack of decent housing on the ‘illegals’. This obfuscation of the truth serves the interests of the real enemy: the capitalists and their system.
There has been an increase in the number of people travelling by small boats over the Channel in the past couple of years: from 500 in 2018; to 2,000 in 2019; to over 4,000 people so far this year.
Those travelling in this way, however, are still a very small proportion of the total number who claim asylum in the UK each year. This figure has stayed relatively constant at around 30,000 people per year since the migrant crisis of 2015-16.
So why the increase in the number of people travelling to Britain in one of the most dangerous ways imaginable?
On the one hand, it has been suggested that people-smugglers are exploiting Brexit. Apparently, traffickers are telling those desperate to seek asylum in the UK that it will be harder to do so when Britain fully leaves the EU at the start of next year. Hence an increase in the number of people crossing by boat now.
Predictably, in response, Priti Patel has promised that after Brexit, the government will change the law to make it easier to kick people out and return cross-Channel migrants to France. This would precisely prove that the smugglers are correct.
In this way, the relationship between the Tories and the traffickers is one that mutually benefits both parties. The government’s laws and actions are supposed to undermine the smugglers. Yet, in fact, they create the conditions for them to thrive.
For example, the Tories have increased the amount of technology used for border checks on lorries at Calais. This has resulted in it being harder to gain access to the UK via this route. But this, in turn, simply causes traffickers to seek more dangerous – and therefore expensive – means.
Socialism or barbarism
The truth, however, is that the capitalist themselves do not want to see an end to illegal immigration. While the gutter press cries about ‘swarms of immigrants’ arriving on our shores, the fact is that the bosses rely on despairing, precarious, and unorganised migrant labour that they can exploit all the more brutally.
In reality, the Tories cited aim of stopping people smuggling is simply a ploy. In polite company, it allows them to seem compassionate about the plight of those seeking asylum. At the same time, it offers a helpful distraction; an opportunity to whip up xenophobia and jingoism.
If they were not targeting smugglers, the Tories would simply be more brazen in their attacks on asylum seekers themselves. They would cite £37.75 per week in benefits as being too attractive a pull to our great nation, using the question of immigration to divide the working class, and to drive down welfare and wages across the board.
Solving the migrant crisis requires solving the problems that force people to flee and seek refuge in the first place: poverty, persecution, war, economic instability, and climate change – that is, capitalism itself.
As long as capitalism persists, the migrant crisis will only continue to worsen. The job of socialists is to point out the hypocrisy of those who defend the capitalist system, and to fight for a genuine alternative to this barbarism – the socialist transformation of society.