America isn't the only country struggling with an influx of migrants

by Rob Holmes
Posted 9/12/14, 10:15 am

As the flow of child migrants to the United States via Mexico shows signs of a major slowdown, France and Britain are facing an increase in migrant tensions.

According to Obama administration figures, 3,141 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S. border in August. But that’s down from a high of 10,622 recorded in June. Not since February 2013 have child migrant crossings been so low.

Earlier this summer, the Obama administration waged a public relations campaign in Central America to try to discourage would-be migrants from heading north. But it’s not clear that’s what slowed the flow. Experts say migrant numbers change with the seasons: Summer heat does more than U.S. policies to discourage migrants. Analysts forecast a rise in border crossings again early next year. An increase will add more fuel to the fiery debate about what to do with the children seeking a better life in America.

But compared to the U.S. border woes, Europe’s situation may be even more polarizing.

In Calais, a port city in northern France within sight of Britain, Mayor Natacha Bouchart is demanding assistance from the U.K. to cope with the steady stream of economic migrants camped there in preparation to cross the English Channel. Bouchart said last week she would close the city’s port to force action on the issue of Calais’ burgeoning migrant groups.

Migrants come to Calais and wait for a chance to sneak onto ferries and cross over to Britain. This month, more than 1,300 migrants—from the Muslim nations of Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan—are waiting in Calais, convinced the rainbow’s end is British, not French. And their desperate waiting in Calais has made life unpleasant for local people like Thomas Joly, who now compares the town to Africa: Migrants regularly ambush trucks and vacationers’ vehicles in an attempt to force their way to Britain. Last week almost 100 people climbed over high fences, storming the well-guarded port in attempts to invade a ferry bound for Britain. The boat had to temporarily pull up its vehicle loading ramp.

Calais’ migrant camp has become a focal point in the battle between France’s liberal and conservative constituencies. The latter, including  Joly’s far-right Party of France, want to remove the migrant masses, though they, like Central American child migrants in Texas, are far from home. Liberals label officials’ desire to keep law and order “extremist.” They arrange soccer games for the migrants, whose makeshift camp in the downtown area was forcibly cleared away in May to try and restore the image that makes Calais a port of call for 12 million legitimate border crossers each year. Bouchart claims the migrants are ruining the small city’s image, and port chief Jean-Marc Puissesseau believes a portion of holiday and trucking business is already rerouting to nearby Dunkirk and the Channel Tunnel.

Greece and Italy, on the northern shores of the Mediterranean, face similar crises as the human flow from African and Middle-East trouble spots make landfall first in these closest European nations. For many migrants, the wait in France is the final gauntlet.

Josef Faris is a 23-year-old Eritrean who wants to study accounting in Britain. After an epic journey including a boat ride from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, he has lived for months in Calais. He is dead set on trying to sneak across the English Channel. 

“I know that one day I’ll do it, and after that I’ll have all my dreams,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a World Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD correspondent.

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