Rarely since 1558, when Queen Mary lost the town to the French, can Calais have ruffled as many British feathers as it has this July. British lorry-drivers, British holidaymakers, and British booze-runners – they’ve all had their journeys wrecked by a recent rise in refugees attempting to break into the Calais end of the Channel tunnel.
Without wanting to entirely dismiss their experiences, it is nevertheless useful to remember that the Calais crisis is just a tiny part of a wider one. Of the nearly 200,000 refugees and migrants who have reached Europe via the Mediterranean this year, only 3,000 have made their way to Calais. This means that the migrants at Calais constitute between 1% and 2% of the total number of arrivals in Italy and Greece in 2015.
Far from the UK being a primary target for refugees, the country is much less sought-after than several of its northern European neighbours, notably Sweden and Germany. And while the chaos at Calais may seem unique, many more migrants arrive every week on the shores of Italy and Greece than will reach northern France all year.
Debunking this Anglo-centrism is not an academic exercise. It is crucial to understanding how the Calais crisis can be better managed.
Britain’s responses to the phenomenon are based on the assumption that it is a local problem. They include building more fences (Theresa May’s proposed recourse), sending in the army (Nigel Farage’s), or clearing the camp entirely (the default reaction in years gone by). Such solutions presuppose that the crisis is a one-off event peculiar to the British-French border, and that these migrants – once cordoned-off and forgotten about – won’t come back and try again.