Now they're targeting our cars and caravans. Except they're not.
Panic merchants of another era warned about ‘Reds under the bed’. Today the Daily Mail, the newspaper that brought us the Zinoviev letter – a fake document that said the Labour party was working for the Soviet Union – tells us we should now fear migrants in our car.
In the paper’s story ‘Calais in crisis’, about a Commons home affairs committee report on policing the French border, the Mail chose to zoom in on the threat of illegal immigrants sneaking into the cars of unsuspecting Brits. With the sub-heading, ‘Now they’re targeting our cars and caravans’, the story begins:
“British tourists are today warned to beware migrants trying to stow away in their cars or caravans amid a ‘crisis’ at Calais. […]
“Ahead of the Easter getaway, the situation has become so severe lorries are being told not to stop within 125 miles of the port for fear of people trying to clamber aboard.
“MPs say that, as a result of greater lorry security, cars and motor homes are a prime target.“
A person reading this might reasonably think the MPs on the committee had warned British tourists about these pesky stowaways targeting their cars. But they gave no such warning, and the topic features nowhere in the report’s summary of its findings or quotes from its chairman, Keith Vaz MP. In fact the possibility of cars being targeted is mentioned once in the 40 page report, in the following way:
“There are concerns that, as security around freight traffic at Calais port increases, those attempting to enter the UK illegally will adapt to hiding in a wider variety of vehicles, including private cars or caravans.”
As you can see, the report said there are ‘concerns’ potential migrants will switch from hiding in lorries to other vehicles including private cars. This is obviously very different from saying people are already doing this, as the words ‘now they are targeting’ in the story’s sub-heading implies.
So concerns about a possible action in the future magically becomes a problem right now, targeting you and your family.
The only source given for this line in the Commons report is one remark by John Keefe, director of public affairs at Eurotunnel, made while giving evidence to the committee in November. Here’s what he said:
“By keeping the traffic moving, it stops the opportunity for migrants to climb on board parked trucks or more recently – as we have heard in some instances – cars, and it keeps the doors open for trade.”
No source is given for this misty aside, which was not followed up by the committee. This cannot really be considered evidence of a problem that actually exists, as the Mail story would have you believe.
In the Mail’s defence, there were two stories published in September, one of a woman who found a man hiding in the back seat of her car, and another of a man having held onto the back of a couple’s mobile home.
The first story was reprinted today alongside ‘Calais in crisis’ as probably the only case of this happening the Mail could find. (If there were others, you can bet they would have used them too.)
Another thing to note, along with this lack of evidence, is the contingent nature of the ‘threat’. A potential victim would have to be driving on a certain road, in France, with an unlocked car or boot, remaining still long enough for someone to sneak up and climb aboard, and then stay quiet enough not to be noticed until it was too late.
To the extent that this is a problem at all, (a very weak proposition), it’s one that affects a minute number of people, and supposes unusual levels of neglect. Put simply, would you notice a person climbing into your car boot?
The ‘too late’ notion raises a bigger subject, one that lurks behind misleading stories like these, and that’s the media portrayal of immigrants as an alien danger, and probably criminal, rather than as scared and desperate fellow humans.
Here’s a taste of what I mean from the mobile home story:
“When they slowed for a traffic jam on the M25 […] the man – believed to be of African appearance – jumped out from his hiding place and ran into a nearby field.”
This might be a factual account of the incident, but it would take a very weak register not to see what is going on here. Another reason then to recall the spirit of Bob Dylan’s Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues:
“Well, I was lookin’ everywhere for them gol-darned Reds
I got up in the mornin’ ’n’ looked under my bed
Looked in the sink, behind the door
Looked in the glove compartment of my car
Couldn’t find ’em…”
Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.