Britain: tragedy in the channel – socialism or barbarism

The tragic drowning of 27 migrants in the English Channel has brought home the misery and devastation facing refugees worldwide. Capitalism is horror without end. Only socialist revolution can bring down the borders and avert this catastrophe.

On Wednesday 24 November, under the cover of darkness, dozens of refugees – in search of a more dignified life – drowned crossing the Channel. Huddled together with no lights, no radar, and certainly no plan B, 27 men, women, and children perished as their dinghy deflated and sank.

This is the worst (recorded) incident of its kind since the migrant crisis began.

Among those that died was a pregnant mother and three children. The first named victim is Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, a Kurdish woman from Northern Iraq, who hoped to be reunited with her fiance. The only known survivors are from Iraq and Somalia – both countries, it should be noted, that have been bombed into barbarity by western imperialism.

The story is so often the same that it barely needs repeating: those risking their lives were already caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The English Channel, as with the Mediterranean sea, has become a veritable graveyard for those taking the gamble of attempting to cross stormy waters, as they flee war, poverty, and climate change back home.

This is entirely the fault of the capitalist system, which has spawned the migrant crisis in the first place. The blame must be laid at its door.

Fortress Europe

This tragedy in the Channel could have happened days earlier, when a group of Afghan refugees were stranded at sea after their boat engine cut out. They understandably began to panic as they tried to throw out the water that was filling up around their ankles.

One of those in this life-or-death situation, a 24-year-old who was seeking to escape Taliban rule, said that he believed he was going to die. Despite this, he stated that he plans to go out again as soon as he can – such is the desperation that he and countless others face.

eu schengen visa border wide Image public domainAs the problems grow worse, and untold suffering plays out, ever fiercer repression is meted out against the victims of imperialism / Image: public domain

The limits of the nation state loom large over the refugee crisis. As the problems grow worse, and untold suffering plays out, ever fiercer repression is meted out against the victims of imperialism.

Reactionary politicians in the West are scrambling to seal off their borders and absolve themselves of any responsibility.

We need only look at Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland sending troops to the Belarusian border. Elsewhere, Greece is busy building walls to keep out refugees in Turkey – installing surveillance systems to prevent the breach of Fortress Europe.

Countries such as Britain that promised to take in Afghan refugees are now shelving these pledges. Even Macron – the darling of liberal capitalism – has said that Europe should “anticipate and protect itself from a wave of migrants” from Afghanistan.”

This reveals the ugly face of imperialism that lies behind the smiling mask of liberalism. Those that need ‘protecting’ are the refugees and migrants who are constantly harassed by the police and vilified by the press.

Chaos in Calais

With fewer and fewer routes that can be considered safe, migrants are being forced into riskier and more precarious situations.

Five years after the ‘Calais jungle’ was destroyed, 2,000 migrants remain in the area, with nowhere else to go. The surrounding refugee settlements are squalid ‘shanty towns’, lacking the most basic amenities, such as clean water and sanitation.

This horrific backdrop explains why three times as many small boats have arrived on Britain’s shores this year compared to 2020. Furthermore, it is in this context that these vulnerable refugees are preyed upon by smugglers who promise access to a new life.

Destitute and displaced, an increasing number are having to cough up ‘fees’ of €6,000 or more in order to get across the Channel, which they are frequently told is ‘just a lake’.

Tory home secretary Priti Patel has told Parliament that “in terms of toughness...I have not ruled anything out” when it comes to stopping boats crossing the Channel. In an attempt to stem the tide of migrants, their only chance of escape has effectively become criminalised.

As part of the Tories’ jingoistic chest-beating, the government is introducing a new Nationality and Borders Bill, which seeks to fragment the whole asylum seeking process. Only those who come through legal pathways – an ever diminishing amount – are afforded the luxury of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Furthermore, the new laws mean that those who arrive in the UK illegally can be ‘returned’. This is in direct contravention of internationally-recognised human rights, showing how toothless such treaties really are under capitalism.

It is vital to emphasise, however, that no amount of border-strengthening or repressive policing can ‘solve’ the migrant crisis. All the tough talk from the Tories will do nothing to stop desperate refugees from risking their lives in search of a real future.

Modern slavery

Nor will such draconian measures address the very real problem of human trafficking and smuggling.

At the end of the day, these criminal networks are extremely profitable, providing a groundswell of cheap, super-exploited labour for the bosses, which amounts in some cases to modern slavery in the UK.

Syrian Migrants Image GgiaHuman trafficking and smuggling provides a groundswell of cheap, super-exploited labour for the bosses, which amounts in some cases to modern slavery in the UK / Image: Ggia

One recent report by French police even showed how these networks are aided by bankers, and by officials alerting them of police activity. These criminal networks, the same report stated, are “operating on an almost industrial scale”.

Again, we see how the line between the black market and the supposedly ‘above-board’ actions of the capitalist class are, in reality, extremely blurred.

Despite the gangster stereotype of dodgy deals conducted in dusty backrooms and on street corners, one French official hit the nail on the head: “[The mafia chiefs] live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas. They earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City.”

There is a symbiotic relationship between the traffickers and the bosses, which enables these networks to be so professional.

The former prey on a flow of wretched men and women, who can be kept in constant fear – and sometimes in bondage – in order to provide a reliable supply of low-waged labour.

The latter, meanwhile, with the help of their Tory representatives, utilise the manufactured threat of migrants to whip up xenophobia and bigotry, in order to divide and exploit the working class all the harder.

Bluff and bluster

Instead of tackling such horrific exploitation, the Tories are far more concerned about stirring up jingoism and sabre-rattling with France, in order to distract from their own corruption and crimes.

Boris Johnson has cried crocodile tears over the tragedy in the Channel. His first response was to call for a closer working relationship with the French.

johnson macron Image Number 10 FlickrBoris Johnson has cried crocodile tears over the tragedy in the Channel / Image: Number 10, Flickr

What is needed, the Prime Minister initially said, is to root out these people that are “literally getting away with murder” – a little rich, perhaps, coming from a man with has blood on his hands when it comes to Britain’s COVID catastrophe.

As one might expect, these solemn words turned to air within a matter of days. Instead of the usual diplomatic maneuvering behind closed doors, away from the public eye, Johnson decided to tweet his response to Macron, playing to an audience of nationalistic Tory members and MPs.

Cutting through all the bluff and bluster, Johnson’s position is essentially that the French should take back ‘their’ migrants; control the crisis; and stop this from happening again.

None of this is being said and done by the Tory leader out of any care or compassion towards suffering refugees, but as a cynical and opportunistic attempt to appease the Brexiteer wing of his party by striking a blow against prominent European leaders.

Getting ‘serious’

Macron has urged Johnson to get ‘serious’ and stop politicising this for domestic gain. But isn't this exactly what ‘diplomacy’ between capitalist countries amounts to? Serious words are saved for the summits, followed by finger-pointing for the audience back home.

Needless to say, such confrontations do nothing to help those stuck in Calais or drowning in the Channel. Neither reactionary government is willing to take responsibility, with the French interior minister going as far as saying that Britain must make itself ‘less economically attractive’ to those risking the journey!

The already-fraught UK-French relationship has gone from bad to worse. From fishing disputes and trade wars; to the AUKUS military pact that excluded Macron: tensions are on the rise.

Capitalist politicians on both sides have demonstrated their impotence and inability to do anything over the migrant crisis. They cannot solve the crisis with crackdowns, which have merely made paths more perilous. The only thing they can agree on is that the other must do more.

Banging the drum

Following Brexit, Britain has left behind the Dublin convention, which ensured that those seeking asylum must be processed in the country they first step foot in.

But this is not enough for Tory Brexiteers, who are fuming that the UK has failed to ‘take back control’ of its borders since leaving the EU.

Indeed, there has been rumbling amongst Conservative backbenchers about doing away with the Human Rights Act all together. Justice secretary Dominic Raab, for example, has said in the past that “I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don't believe in economic and social rights”.

Priti Patel – before being disinvited from the discussions – informed Parliament recently that the UK Border Force was ready and waiting to turn around boats coming from France.

As PCS general secretary Mark Swerotka has pointed out, this amounts to a threat to break international law.

Reactionary red meat

All of this is just more red meat for the rabid reactionaries that have taken over the Tory Party. The narrow attitudes and interests of hardened Brexiteer backbenchers have reached their zenith over this question.

One such figure, Gainsborough MP Edward Leigh, has suggested that enough is enough: if we want to ‘take back control’, we must have offshore processing centres in France.

brexit now Image Socialist AppealFor the frothing rogues and reprobates that have taken over the Tory Party, the Tory leadership are flailing on one of their flagship policies: taking back control / Image: Socialist Appeal

Another, Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, seems to think that the actions of those that died are reprehensible: decent refugees should wait their turn, instead of queue-barging!

For these frothing rogues and reprobates, drunk on their little-Englander delusions, the Tory leadership are flailing on one of their flagship policies: taking back control. They are incensed that sealing Britain’s borders may become yet another of Boris’ broken promises.

But the Tories cannot ‘take back control’. The migrant crisis is only set to get worse.

The hawkish imperialism that these ladies and gentlemen stand for; the looming climate catastrophe that capitalism is fuelling; and the bosses’ reliance on super-exploited migrant labour for the sake of greater profits: all of these ensure that millions more are displaced from their homes, that trafficking will continue, and that further bodies will wash up on the shores of Britain and Europe.

Socialist revolution

The Tories’ attempts to feign shock and dismay at this disaster have worn thin. Many ordinary people are beginning to realise that there is no ‘serious’ answer that can be offered by these political representatives of the ruling class.

Extorted by traffickers; sold false promises; and then crammed into make-shift boats: this latest tragedy in the Channel was entirely predictable.

After fleeing war-torn countries, millions arrive in Fortress Europe: the land of ghettoised camps, hostile environments, and hardened criminal networks.

These appalling events further validate Lenin’s assertion that capitalism is “horror without end”.

Such calamities can only be averted by doing away with capitalism and imperialism. Only through international socialist revolution can we bring down the borders, stop the misery facing migrants and refugees, and end the conflict, chaos, and destabilisation that are responsible for this global agony and barbarism.

Originally published on 30 November at |

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