Liberal democracies are being threatened, not by migrants but by the migration policies and practices that manage them.
Calais’s Prefect “categorically refuted” claims made by Human Rights Watch in a recent report denouncing the systematic use of pepper spray against migrants, including sleeping children. In the same vein, Gérard Collomb, the French Ministry of Interior, announced in a press conference on the 31st July that “security forces do not use pepper spray” against migrants apart from some occasional anomalies. Apparently, the alternative facts technique dear to US President Trump also appeals to France’s political elite. Human Rights Watch is an established, independent organization, committed to accurate and ethical fact-finding and known for its impartial reporting; the Calais report is based on over 60 interviews with migrants in Calais. It would seem that using one’s status as a figure of authority to blankly deny evidence based critique is not confined to tyrannical regimes; such authoritarianism is becoming increasingly mainstreamed into supposedly democratic regimes to avoid any kind of deliberation or debate, from France across to the United States.
Equally threatening to democratic practice is the recent decision made by the Mayor of Calais, Natasha Bouchart, to ignore the Council of State’s ruling that migrants should be given access to water points, preferring instead to pay a fine of 100 euros a day. The right to water and sanitation as a human right is inscribed in numerous international laws and treaties. Denying migrants access to this most basic right stands in sharp contradiction with the espoused commitments of the so-called patrie de droit de l’homme. Moreover, refusing to comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court for administrative justice makes a mockery out of the rule of law, which is meant to defend standards of obligation and equality among all individuals.
To add fuel to fire, French President Macron recently announced his intention to outsource asylum claims to Libya – a country suffering deep-seated instability that neither has the laws (Libya has not signed the Geneva Convention) nor a functional system to put laws into practice. The kind of “reception centres” in which migrants would be processed risk resembling Libya’s detention system where numerous reports have documented torture, rape, enslavement and other abuses towards migrants. In its efforts to illegalize migrants en route towards Europe, France is increasingly becoming complicit in illegal practices itself.
Such externalization practices, which have become characteristic of the EU border agenda function through care, control and containment away from European shores. Those who try to cross the Mediterranean are positioned as hapless victims of unscrupulous smugglers or an invading force. Rarely are they treated as political subjects who have a right to hospitality and dignified treatment as enshrined in asylum law. An alternative approach to migration would support France and Europe to restore the values they aspire to. Migrants might even be an occasion for Europeans to learn more about democracy.
Shoshana Fine holds a PhD in Political Science and International Relations from Sciences Po Paris where she is currently research associate and adjunct lecturer. Her research engages with critical approaches to migration, security and borders. She is interested in the actors, practices and underpinning rationalities of mobility governance, with a focus on the EU and Turkey.
Please note that the views held by the author are their own and are not representative of the institution(s) to which they belong.