Anneliese Dodds MEP

The South East's Voice in Europe

We need to tackle the root causes of the refugee crisis

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Today I visited Calais and Dover to see first-hand the impact of the ongoing refugee crisis.

The poverty and desperation in the refugee camps outside Calais was shocking. Thousands of people are living in the most basic conditions, with limited access to clean water and electricity. While I could see that the security situation around the Channel Tunnel in Calais is now genuinely improving, it was initially woefully inadequate. Nine migrants were killed in the area around the terminal this summer, and dozens more have been injured.

At the same time, less tragically but no less important for those involved, businesses across the South East have suffered the nightmare of day upon day and then week upon week of 'Operation Stack' - under which large sections of the M20 have been converted into a giant lorry park. In its initial design, Operation Stack led to large areas of Kent and the small and medium sized businesses operating in and out of the county being effectively paralysed. 

The French authorities must bear a lot of the responsibility for letting this situation develop, but the UK Conservative Government must also accept that it ignored the problem until it reached crisis point. Dangerously overstretched French police and security services have totally failed to get a grip of the problem, and yet UK Ministers only began to talk to their French opposite numbers once the situation had spiralled totally out of control.

More fundamentally, the UK government's strategy in relation to the crisis is yet another demonstration of its inept approach to dealing with the EU. Back at the start of the summer, Matteo Renzi, the Italian leader, quite reasonably called for the EU to take action to help deal with the refugee crisis in his country. Unbelievably, the UK was one of the strongest voices arguing to ignore Renzi's call and stick with the status quo. Indeed, it was the last Coalition government which pushed for spending to be slashed for coastguard services in the Mediterranean, only for the Conservatives to recant later once the horrendous implications of reduced services became clear.

With tragic inevitability, a proportion of the tens of thousands of refugees who were in Italy, Greece and Malta at the start of the summer have now ended up in Calais. The only way to ultimately deal with the current crisis is not to pit countries against each other, which seemed to be the UK government's initial approach, but to accept the need for cooperation.

Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to limiting the numbers of people trying to get to Europe in the first place - which, in the long term, is the only way this crisis is ever going to be solved. The lawless situation in Libya, coupled with civil war and widespread disruption in Syria and Eritrea, mean hundreds of thousands of people are prepared to risk their lives for even a relatively slim prospect of eventually reaching a place of safety. The criminal network of people smugglers operating across North Africa, and in Libya in particular, is capitalising on that desperation and giving people the opportunity - at an incredibly high price - to get to Europe.

Back in April I wrote, to Federica Mogherini, the EU's Foreign Policy chief , urging her to prioritise cracking down on Libyan people smugglers in her dealings with the Libyan authorities. We now need the UK government to work hand in hand with EU countries, the US and others to back this up and get the situation in Libya under control, as well as stabilising Syria and Eritrea.

If we do not attempt to stabilise the political situation in such countries, and at the same time crack down on the criminal gangs prepared to make money on the back of other people's desperation, then we are only going to see more and more people arriving at Calais, hoping to make the life-threatening journey to Dover. Today I saw the enormous human and financial cost that is going to have, on both sides of the Channel.

Our local businesses cannot afford this prospect- and morally we surely cannot countenance another 2,000 people dying on their way to Europe, including some who have risked everything to enter our own country. We owe it to everyone to put differences aside, work together and try to tackle the root causes of this terrible crisis.

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