Jun 052017
 

News of Saturday night’s terrorist attack on London Bridge emerged just as I was finishing this post. I decided to defer its publication and return to the topic of terrorism in my next post.

UK Border Control at Eurotunnel Calais

This was the UK Border Control at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais on Friday night. Every single vehicle is stopped and passports of all the occupants are checked and scanned. For over 20 years, I have crossed this border many times when driving between Brussels and London.

However, for most Europeans, this type of border post is an unusual sight.  Since the Schengen Agreement was signed over 30 years ago, between most of the other Member States, you hardly notice the border as you drive through it on the motorway. The Schengen Area now covers 26 countries including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Only Ireland and the UK have opted out of the Schengen Area, which is why this border post exists. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are currently preparing to join the Schengen Area. This video illustrates what it is like to jog between two countries without border controls: Belgium and the Netherlands.

The experience at Calais has changed over the years and became especially sad in 2014-15 when refugees camped at the nearby ‘Jungle’ would try each night to smuggle themselves onto a Eurotunnel Shuttle. Several of them lost their lives in the attempt and there was a time when we would see some of them (usually men) making the two-hour trek in small groups in the dark along the motorway hard shoulder as cars and lorries whizzed past them, sometimes jumping into slow moving lorries. We have not seen any of them for over a year but the triple fencing topped with barbed wire and bright floodlights around the Eurotunnel terminal area are still there.

It seems hard to imagine that this border could be any more difficult to get through if the UK were to leave the EU. The only thing that might happen is that this border control, complete with the No Man’s Land between it and the French border control, might itself be sent back to the UK by France’s newly-elected President. The squalid conditions of the Calais Jungle have been an embarrassment for France and Calais in particular.

One of the main arguments of Leave campaigners was that the UK needed to “take back control” of its borders. Take another look at the photo above. The UK already has control of its borders. What they meant is that the UK should be able to refuse entry to whoever it wants. And it cannot do that to EU citizens … although benefits to EU citizens face some restrictions if they are unemployed for more than 3 months.

In September 2015, Hugo Dixon analysed whether or not the UK would have better control of its borders inside or outside the EU. He drew attention to the Dublin Regulation, under which “the country where asylum seekers arrive has to process their applications. If it grants them asylum, it is responsible for looking after them. The refugees are not free to travel where they like. But if they do end up somewhere else in the EU, that country can then send them back to the country where they first sought asylum.”

Nonetheless, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have both advocated excluding the free movement principles of the EU. The remarkably united reaction of the EU27 has been to refuse access to the Single Market without the free movement principles.

If the UK is outside the Customs Union, the Calais border control would shift to Dover and there would be no possibility to send refugees back to another EU Member State where they had claimed asylum – something which the UK had done with 12,000 refugees between 2003 and 2015. Regarding another border between the UK and the rest of the EU, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has said he will try to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, this may prove difficult as “customs controls are part of EU border management”.

Thanks to Leave campaigners, many people in the UK have been given the impression that controlling immigration would reduce pressure on the NHS and other public services, make more jobs available to Brits, avoid taxpayers’ money being abused by immigrants claiming benefits and reduce the risk of terrorism. Each of these beliefs is not supported by the statistics. In addition, the eligibility rules for benefits for EU nationals were tightened in 2014 and confirmed by the European Court of Justice as being in line with EU law.

And yet, for some years even as Home Secretary, Theresa May has been pushing an arbitrary and hitherto seemingly unachievable target for net migration. Could it be that the anti-immigration rhetoric of certain UK politicians has fanned the flames of terrorism?

My first feature-length film was Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-drama Shyama. In it, Tagore addresses a number of issues which are as topical today as they were in 1939, when he wrote Shyama. A year earlier, Tagore had written Prayashchiththo (Penance), which reflected his deep concern with both the increasingly turbulent atmosphere in pre-Independence India and the rise of Hitler in Europe.

In Shyama, in casting the character of Bojroshen as a foreign merchant, Tagore may have been referring to the persecution of Jews by Hitler at that time. When Shyama asks why Bojroshen has been imprisoned, the King’s Guard replies:

There has been a theft in the Royal Treasury.
We need a thief, no matter how, we need a thief.
It doesn’t matter if it’s just any man, we need a thief.
Otherwise we will lose our honour.
Who better to accuse than a foreigner … ?

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