On 3 October 2013, 300 undocumented migrants drown in the Mediterranean after their boat sinks. “I hope that this will be the last time we see a tragedy of this kind,” says the Council of Europe’s Jean-Claude Mignon.
19 April 2015 A boat carrying migrants sinks in the Mediterranean. At least 800 drown. “It’s not possible to close our eyes again and only commemorate these events later,” says Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi.
2 September 2015 The body of a three-year-old Syrian toddler, Alan Kurdi, washes up on a Turkish beach. The prime minister, David Cameron, is “deeply moved” and says Britain “will fulfill our moral responsibilities”.
27 October 2020 A family of Iranian Kurds drowns in the Channel. One study suggests that 300 people may have died in the Channel since 1999.
There has been much shock at the latest deaths of migrants attempting to cross the Channel. There should, however, be no surprise. What is happening in the Channel is what has been happening in the Mediterranean for 25 years.
The trouble is, Britain’s response is also the same as the EU’s, a policy of “deterrence” that has signally failed in either deterring migrants or in preventing deaths.
Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, like their EU counterparts, place all the blame on people smugglers. Smugglers are often venal and vile. They are, though, not the cause of the problem but the products of immigration policy. One reason people take to crossing the Channel is that they can apply for asylum only on British soil.
So long as deterrence is the only policy, that list of deaths will continue to rise. And politicians will continue saying “this must never happen again”, knowing full well that it will happen again. And again. And again. It’s a shameful approach that needs challenging now.
• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist