Leading article: Europe needs to face up to the migration challenge

Governments cannot go on washing their hands of the problem

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First the riot police went in, then the bulldozers. By the time their work was done, the makeshift migrant camp on the outskirts of Calais had been wiped away. Politicians on both sides of the Channel expressed their conviction yesterday that this will help solve the migrant problem that has plagued the French port for almost a decade. If only it were that simple.

The reality is that we have been here before. In 2002, the French government ordered the closure of the Red Cross refugee centre in nearby Sangatte. The authorities argued that this would deter migrants from travelling to the area. It did not. The migrants still came. And in the absence of the accommodation centre, they simply built shanty homes in the countryside. There is every reason to believe the same will happen again. Yesterday's raid was broadcast in advance. Many migrants fled before the police moved in. Most expect those who escaped the net will simply establish a new squatter camp in another location.

The "jungle" in Calais, as it became known, was certainly a disgrace. An unsanitary eyesore, its existence was unfair to both its inhabitants and the local community. But simply tearing it down does not represent a credible way forward. A more thoughtful strategic approach is required.

First, politicians should look to where the migrants in this area originate. Most are from troubled states such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. If governments want to get to the root causes of the migration problem, rather than simply treating the symptoms, they should be making greater efforts to stabilise those nations and reduce the incentives for their populations to seek a better life elsewhere. Second, our leaders need to dispense with the fantasy that it is within their power to control migration flows. Some people from poor countries will always want to escape poverty or persecution, and they will endure extraordinary risks and hardship to do so. Furthermore, modern transportation and the open borders of Europe make it impossible to shut them out entirely. The objective should be to deal with the implications of the inevitable flow of people in the fairest and most humane way possible.

And migration does create problems, as the bottleneck of human misery and desperation in Calais demonstrates. Such problems can only be dealt with effectively at a European level. The migrants of Calais are but one manifestation of a continent-wide challenge. A human tragedy takes place each year in the Mediterranean as hundreds of Africans die attempting to cross the ocean in flimsy boats bound for Europe.

Sweden, the present holder of the European Union presidency, intends to put the issue of managing migration flows on to the agenda for a summit next month. One proposal is for co-ordinated processing and distribution centres to take the pressure off frontier countries in the Mediterranean. This would be a sensible way forward.

At present many governments are washing their hands of the problem, discouraging asylum seekers from making claims in their own nations and waving economic refugees on their way to Britain, which, traditionally, has been somewhere they can easily find work. Worse, Italy has adopted an ugly policy of turning back boats of migrants without checking if there are asylum seekers aboard. There have also been appalling cases of Africans being left to drown. Europe urgently needs to face up to the challenge of migration and work together to manage its consequences. Demolishing squatter camps and turning back boats of desperate people are not policies, but displacement activities – and morally bankrupt at that.

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