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Over the past several months the situation in Calais has gripped the nation’s attention. Migrants have fled thousands of miles from their homes to the north of France, seeking asylum and a better life in Britain.
David Cameron has described these desperate human beings as a ‘swarm’ whilst The Daily Mail warns us that this humanitarian crisis is the ‘biggest threat to Europe since the War‘, comparing the migrants to a ‘tidal wave‘. One of my personal favourites is The Mirror’s ironically stylised meet-and-greet of the ‘smiling’ illegal immigrants who ‘easily slipped into Dover’.
To be clear, as a nation we can (and should) be able to make the distinction between asylum seekers escaping war or life threatening discrimination, and economic migrants, who simply wish to benefit from our country’s prosperity. We can (and must) be able to enact policy that reflects that. We shouldn’t be fearful of a ‘swarm’ of desperate migrants but the dehumanisation of a group of people, and the fact that the media is conditioning our nation to be numb to a genuine humanitarian crisis.
We in Great Britain are being given a purposefully manipulated image of the migrants in Calais. It is simply untrue that a swarm is threatening to pour across our border, as threatening as Nazi Germany, made up of advantageous people who even have the cheek to smile as they are caught, so assured they are in their success.
The reality however, is not so black and white. Firstly there is the common myth that Britain is Europe’s dumping ground for asylum seekers. In fact we are currently fifth in terms of asylum applications and seventh in terms of application approval. The top five countries of origin these ‘illegal immigrants’ have come from are: Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Two of these countries are active war zones, one of which is slowly limping away from over three decades of war, and the others are riddled with poverty, corruption and all the pleasant attributes that force someone to abandon their home, and travel thousands of miles to a country they’ve never been to before.
When news outlets like the Daily Express use inflammatory headlines like ‘migrant killers and rapists could be flooding into Britain‘, it has a hugely damaging effect on the majority of asylum seekers whose only ‘crime’ was being born in the wrong country.
Britain and Europe need to act quickly to resolve this issue, whether it be agreeing on the distribution of asylum seekers, implementing safer avenues for those seeking asylum, or helping to stabilise the migrants’ home countries. The lack of solution coupled with sensationalist journalism – which not only criminalises but dehumanises asylum seekers – is causing great damage to these already desperate migrants.
Examples of dehumanisation don’t have to be as extreme as the go-to example of the comparison to the War. It can be very subtle, but nonetheless impactful. As soon as a group of people are dehumanised it becomes easier for them to be marginalised, discriminated against and despised.
If we allow those people at Calais, who each have their own stories to tell and reasons for being where they are, to be turned into a demonised ‘swarm’, then what will happen in the future when another humanitarian crisis occurs?
How will we view those who need our help? We are being conditioned by certain players in the media to view those migrants as a negative mass, leaving the general population cold, angry and completely lacking in understanding and empathy.