Cause and effect
BY A B B A S N A S I R | 6/27/2015

IT isn`t clear how big the issue of illegal migrants arriving in droves in Europe actually is, but the politics and the media coverage around it at least in the United Kingdom suggests it may be a crisis of Titanic proportions.

When we drove into the French `commune` of Coquelles for an overnight stop, the hotel car park seemed taken over by police vehicles and a cluster of several hotels seemed crawling with policemen, apparently drafted in from across the country.

It is from Coquelles, part of the port town of Calais, that ferries and the Euro shuttle trains carry thousands of passengers and vehicles to and fro across the English Channel daily. And earlier this week about 3,000 migrants tried to break into lorries carrying goods to the UK in order to hitch a ride, precipitating the latest crisis.

I don`t think it was much of a story in France or elsewhere on continental Europe but the British media is near-hysterical over it. It was little surprise then that our hotel lobby and the restaurant areas had another distinguishing feature apart from the policemen: British journalists.

It wasn`t difficult to spot many familiar faces of journalists, some with their eyes fixated on laptop screens as they typed feverishly to meet their newspapers` deadline. No journalist ever finds a deadline reasonable and their strained faces said as much.

Among the more readily recognisable journalists was the portly figure of one of Channel 4`s main presenters, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, whom I first saw in another hotel lobby, probably during one of the elections in Pakistan in the 1990s, when he was a (slim) star reporter of BBC`s Newsnight programme.

As then, he was on the phone with his TV colleagues in London, presumably discussing that evening`s `running order` and the content of his input. Yes, seeing Krishnan brought back memories a decade and a half old, when, before the start of the US-led military campaign to dislodge the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the world`s media had gathered in Pakistan.

Hotel rooms in Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta were like gold dust. Anyone who managed to get one at extortionate rates (in my view, while the hoteliers would attribute their pricing to the market forces of demand and supply!) would be reluctant to let go of it.

Like most media organisations, the BBC also bool

The world`s media had dispatched their stars to cover that story. It was a real big story. At any time the hotel coffee shop had more celebrity journalists than any single newsroom. As my mind was going back and forth that evening another thought struck me.

This illegal migrant story too, among other factors, has its roots in that Afghan conflict and what that war triggered. If 9/11 was an atrocity, and it was a horrible one, at the hands of the savages who justified it in the name of religion, the democratic Western world`s reaction to it was a travesty too.

Travesty because, in addition to legitimate punitive actions against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, these were used as a justification by a coalition of world powers led by the US Republican neocons (and even by their Democrat successors) to effect regime change in the Mideast and North Africa.

The years of turmoil in Afghanistan and the instability and mass murder unleashed by the regime changes/attempted regime changes in Iraq, Libya and Syria have displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and home countries.

To get a sense of the tragedy, despite the drowning of hundreds of migrants as they attempted toreach Europe from their staging posts in North Africa, particularly in anarchic Libya, in poorly-fitted and overcrowded boats, some 130,000 migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia (mostly Afghanistan) reached Italy, Greece and the Hungary-Serbia border in 2015 alone.

While the old Libyan regime had not been removed by the West, Libya was not one of the major staging posts. Now with lawlessness rampant across large swathes of the North African Mediterranean country, it has become a safe haven for human smugglers who often send hundreds of these hopeless souls to their deaths in ill-fitted vessels.

Despite facing the brunt of illegal migration, continental Europe`s response is one marked by understanding and compassion as nowhere has this become an election issue, for example. The Greek far right and the right-wing coalition in Italy have both received setbacks at the ballot box. In Spain, which has also received more than its share of migrants, it isn`t a major political issue. This, despite seven relentless years of recession, cuts and massive unemployment.

However, in the UK which was seen as one of the most eager participants in the US-led adventurism post-9/11 xenophobia, even paranoia, marks the reaction to the issue. One need only look at the share in the vote of the xenophobic (some would argue racist) UKIP in the last election.

UKIP may not have won many seats in the polls but their share of the vote was staggering at over 12 per cent, a third of the governing Conservatives` 36pc, the latter having also run on a `dislike Europe, dislike immigration` slogan, apart from their claim of being good on the economy.

Unless responsible British politicians step up to the plate, accept their share of responsibility and explain some of the cause and effect behind what many of their compatriots believe is a tide of illegal immigration, the country will see a steady rise in xenophobia. This cannot augur well for a multicultural and diverse Britain.• The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com


Published in Dawn