Monday 16 January 2017

As a human tide reaches Fortress Europe, the right answers can be hard to find

A 13-year-old boy said he'd spent months crossing desert and sea and had seen people die of hunger and thirst or beaten to death on the way to the continent of promise

Fergal Keane

Published 14/06/2015 | 02:30

HAVING REACHED THE CONTINENT OF PROMISE: Makbell, of Eritrea, sitting last month by the fire which he uses for cooking and for warmth at a makeshift camp for migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, northern France
HAVING REACHED THE CONTINENT OF PROMISE: Makbell, of Eritrea, sitting last month by the fire which he uses for cooking and for warmth at a makeshift camp for migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, northern France

The fat policeman was out of breath and irate. The Eritreans were just out of his reach. But he kept running. They dodged and ducked. He reached for his tear gas canister. They speeded up and disappeared between the lines of lorries. Behind me, a man was scampering across the roof of a truck while a policewoman screamed at him to get down. A group of migrants, tired of the drama, sat on the grass. "We are men like you. We are not animals," one shouted at the fat cop. A truck driver called me over. "It's madness this. Every bloody day the same thing."

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Madness indeed. On the shores of the Mediterranean, Europe is spending millions rescuing refugees and economic migrants. At the other end, riot police are chasing them around the port of Calais. In the time it takes to travel from Sicily to northern France they transition from being objects of compassion to targets of frustration.

Spurred on by media images of misery, the politicians sent the navies of the EU, including our own, to rescue those abandoned by smugglers on the high seas. The traffickers quickly understood that the EU had done them a great service. Now they could tell the desperate people struggling to reach Europe that there was a very good chance they would actually survive the journey. Business has never been better. As for those threats of military action to destroy the traffickers' boats? Another 'policy' knocked out on the back of an envelope and doomed to failure.

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