- 19 Nov 19
EU migration policies continue to result in horrific tragedies such as we witnessed in Essex.
I wouldn't doubt that when word came through of 39 migrants having suffocated to death in a sealed container in Essex, the response in Achill, Oughterard, Ballinmamore, everywhere, was of pity and grief. But we appear to have drawn lessons for day-to-day life. Not that we should beat ourselves up for weeping at news of the deaths of people who'd travelled halfway around the world in search of a better life, then snarling "fuck off" at any helped to make it as far as our own front door.
Anywhere people are forced to flee from hunger, torture, hopelessness, war, we will find gangs gathered to drive them away, often in uniform to represent the State. Ireland is far from the worst in this regard, and much better than many. But that doesn't make it OK.
Across the water, Priti Patel, promoted by Johnston to Home Secretary on account of her bad-mindedness, thought it politic to affect an expression of sadness as she signed a book of condolence for the 31 men and eight women who'd lost their lives. Patel wanted "tougher measures" to deter "gangsters" and "traffickers" preying on the misery of migrants. We must all cooperate to end "this evil trade", she advised, striving to reset her face to remove the smirk which is apparently her natural expression.
The trafficker narrative obscures the fact that the vast majority of migrants are not naïve, ignorant people funnelled by criminal gangs to work in horrible conditions in car-washes or cannabis factories, passports withheld, no means of escape. That may be how things turn out for some. But the underlying reason they find themselves in such fraught circumstances is that they have no legal route into Europe. Sealed borders kill more migrants than sealed containers. They will keep coming in unceasing millions. War and vast inequalities across the earth will drive them onwards. Europe's migration policies are specifically designed to keep the hordes at bay.
A couple of years ago, Irish Navy ships were patrolling the Mediterranean plucking migrants from the drowning sea and ferrying them to the European mainland. They weren't dropped into the lap of luxury but into ugly, makeshift camps. But at least they had their feet on dry land.
That practice has now been abandoned at the insistence of the far-right Italian government, with the acquiescence of all EU states, including Ireland. More than 700 people have drowned this year trying to make the crossing, shoehorned onto barges or dinghies. Those saved from the sea are not carried to Italy or Greece now, but dumped back on the Libyan shore into the hands of militias answerable to no one and slavers who see migrants as merchandise.
It was against this background that the EU parliament last month debated a motion calling on member states "to enhance proactive search and rescue operations by providing sufficient vessels and equipment specifically dedicated to search and rescue operations and personnel, along the routes where they can make an effective contribution to the preservation of lives". Tangled syntax, but the meaning clear enough.
It was hardly a ringing declaration of radical principle. Rescuing people in imminent danger wasn't made mandatory. But offering migrants faint hope of a haven beyond the horizon was too scary for some. The motion was lost by two votes. Fine Gael's four could have made all the difference. But they couldn't be arsed to do the right thing. Mairead McGuinness came up with the same decrepit defence as Patel. Cracking down on traffickers had to take priority over stretching out a hand to a drowning child.
The protestors of Achill were following in the footsteps of the main party of government.
Will the tragedy in Essex change thinking in these islands on migration? Unlikely.
In 2000, 58 Chinese people were found dead from suffocation in a container on a lay-by in Dover. Two somehow survived. They told of the 60 stood all around the sides of the container, hysterical, banging as hard as they could, screaming for help in a bedlam of woe, eventually subsiding to the floor as the last breath wheezed from their bodies. Who remembers them now?
Four years ago, we thought, again, things would never be the same after the whole world, or so it seemed, gazed appalled on pictures of three-year-old Alan Kurdi tossed like a sodden bundle onto a beach on the island of Kos. Only his aunts and cousins back in Idlib in Syrian Kurdistan seem to remember him now.
We only knew of Alan because there was a photographer at hand to capture the image, little boy seeming asleep at the water's edge, looking like any little boy you'd see holding his mum's hand in a supermarket. We will never know how many other Alans arrived in Europe as flotsam carried on the tide. We don't know how many in all have perished beneath the waves of the Mediterranean. Nobody has been counting, not carefully.
It would surely have been different if they'd been from western Europe, the alluring land for which they'd set out, intent on escape from the fear and hunger and hopelessness largely arising from the rampages of Europeans across their lands, across the ages.
There's no moral to be drawn. What the world needs now is revolution.