While I am writing these lines (Wednesday evening), help is busy off the coast of Calais. We have already found nearly thirty victims of this shipwreck, including seven women and a little girl.
These people will need to be identified. Teams of police officers, gendarmes, forensic pathologists will carefully and respectfully identify the clues which will make it possible, compared to those provided by relatives, to establish the correspondences indisputable enough to be considered as evidence. When will the relatives of these migrants come forward? Thanks to mobile phones, it can be assumed that most of them were aware of the attempt to cross the Channel. But do they know who to call to ask if their loved one is among the dead? Do they not only know that they can do it, but that their testimony is hoped for, expected? This final step, identifying the victims, is crucial and can take a long time. Provided that these people whose long journey has ended tragically do not remain anonymous, and are buried with dignity.
It’s hard to understand why so many migrants, once in Europe, want at all costs to reach Britain rather than stay on the continent. In vain I searched for the answer in archival articles on the Internet. I thought Brexit was going to make a difference, but no. An official directly involved in these files told me that he could not simply answer this question. One of the elements could be, according to him, that Great Britain being an island, illegal immigration is by nature more difficult than elsewhere, and the means invested to control it are logically less. Nevertheless, life is expensive there, housing is scarce, illegal work is severely repressed, including for asylum seekers – and it is for the worker as for the boss, underlines the site. infomigrants.net. Denouncing undocumented migrants is even encouraged there. The supporters of Brexit have also widely voiced, during the campaign, their rejection of foreign workers, which is for many in the victory of the “yes”.
Horrible in itself, the death of these men, women and children in the sea that separates our two countries goes against what I took for the meaning of history. The first image that until then came to mind when we said “crossing the Channel” was that of Operation Dynamo, this crossing to life after fierce fighting and a cruel defeat inflicted by Hitler’s men. All that was floating had ended up saving, under heavy German fire, 340,000 soldiers, 140,000 of whom were French. This feat, worthy of the legends that span the centuries, did not erase other images, more simply joyful, such as the first plane crossing, achieved by Louis Blériot in 1909. But the image that would perhaps touch me the most, because that “I was there”, would be the handshake and the exchange of small flags between two Eurotunnel workers on the 1is December 1990, after conquering the last few centimeters of rock, with a jackhammer, on both sides, 100 meters under the sea. We were in Jules Verne. Each of these episodes was in its own way a feat, personal or collective, peaceful or warlike, always imbued with optimism and daring, accomplished by two countries that everything finally brought together and which, year after year, ensured that this rapprochement translates into action.
After the shipwreck of this Wednesday, November 24, we must draw from the grief and shame the momentum that will relaunch us on the path of rapprochement and sharing. Working together, British and French teams, for the time it takes to restore their identity to each victim found must be a humble and crucial first step.