Most people have heard of Cecil the Lion. Shot by Walter Palmer, an American recreational big-game hunter, the lion’s death sparked an international outcry. But have they heard the name Houmed Moussa? Or Achrat Mohamad? Probably not. They are two of the 12 people who have died trying to reach the UK from Calais since the beginning of 2015. Houmed Moussa, a 17 year old Eritrean teenager, drowned on the site of the Eurotunnel on 19 July. Achrat Mohamad, a Pakistani man of 23 years of age, died on the 16 July from injuries sustained in an accident in the Channel Tunnel. The identities of the most of the other ten people are unknown
While most people will not have heard of their name, let alone mourned their death, Cecil the Lion’s death has reverberated across the globe. A new phone priced at $2,560 with laser-engraving of Cecil and the words “For Cecil and his Kingdom” is now on sale. A pub in Norwich has begun selling a beer named after Cecil and in Leeds a baker has created a memorial cake on which a marzipan lion mauls an icing-sugar dentist. A T-shirt with “Je Suis Cecil” can also be brought online; the “Je Suis” slogan was originally used to express solidarity with France after the shooting of cartoonists in Paris.
People around the world are busy humanising Cecil, at the very same time the world is busy dehumanising people literally dying for a better life. No one is selling T-shirts with “Je Suis Achrat Mohamad” because no-body would buy them. The Daily Mail‘s front page on the 30 July featured the heading: “Agonising last hours of lion killed for this man’s deadly vanity”. Underneath was the main headline, which focused on a response to the crisis across the border, read: “Calais: Send in the Army.” This juxtaposition suggests that while the lion deserves our sympathy, the migrants deserve the total opposite.
The morning before the Daily Mail article was published, another man was found dead in the Channel Tunnel. Hours after the discovery, the British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a statement on the Calais crisis- an estimated 1,500 attempts were made to enter Eurotunnel site over the course of the night. Speaking from Singapore, he said: “I have every sympathy with holidaymakers who are finding access to Calais difficult because of the disturbances there and we will do everything we can to work with the French to bring these things to a conclusion.” Like another Daily Mail headline, (“How many more can Kos take? Thousands of boat people from Syria and Afghanistan set up migrant camp in popular Greek island – with holidaymakers branding the situation ‘disgusting'”) Cameron has placed the travel plans of British holiday makers above the plight of refugees.
On the 30 July, a day later, Cameron described the refugees and migrants in Calais as a “swarm”. He received harsh condemnations; Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman said the Prime Minister should remember he is talking about ‘people, not insects’ and the Refugee Council condemned the ‘awful, dehumanising language’. The very same day Cameron promised that Britain will play a “leading role” in tackling international wildlife crime after the killing of Cecil the Lion.
While the world continues to anthropomorphise a lion, they dehumanize the migrants in Calais, who, having fled oppression and war in their own countries, are herded like animals into the woods, surviving in makeshift camps with unsanitary conditions – and if they do finally make it to the UK, they will likely be caged in immigration prisons.
But unlike Cecil the Lion, we will never know their names.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.