Journalists would be less inflammatory if they just ran around the tunnel and shouted: "The Vikings are coming!"

The number of applicants for asylum in Britain - that is, those who apply rather than those who get leave to remain - represents less than 1 per cent of the world's refugee population. Yet these past few weeks, the hysteria surrounding asylum-seekers has reached new heights.

The biggest irony is that the people who moan loudest about asylum-seekers coming into Britain actually look like they could do with a good dollop of Kosovan refugee blood - just to broaden out the gene pool. They are so genetically challenged, it is a minor miracle that they give birth to live young. Some of them actually believe the Daily Express to be a newspaper, rather than promotional material for OK! magazine with a few racist headlines thrown in to lure Daily Mail readers.

Others have whinged about the cost of asylum- seekers trying to walk through the Channel Tunnel to Britain; although they really should understand that it is often quicker to walk than to stow away on Eurostar (refugees might be desperate, but they are not stupid).

However, as the Stepford racists bemoan this strain on the public purse, they forget that even more millions of pounds of taxpayers' money went into building the Channel Tunnel in the first place. I notice that nobody calls the Eurotunnel bosses scroungers, or suggests that they be paid in vouchers and held in detention centres. But it is an idea of which I am growing fonder by the day.

The mainstream media have played a large part in the creation of the myth that Britain is about to be "swamped" by "hordes" of refugees pouring down the Chunnel. The images of hooded figures trying to dodge security guards and crouching by barbed-wire fences are as predictable as they are relentless. There are probably as many British news teams and broadcasters roaming around Calais as there are asylum-seekers. Frankly, the press could have been less inflammatory if journalists had simply run around the tunnel entrance screaming "The Vikings are coming!" and "Head for the hills: they're all carrying foot-and-mouth!"

I have seen only one news piece where refugees were asked where they had come from. Surely trained journalists can ask simple questions such as "Why are you here?" or "If refugees are trying to get to Kent for sanctuary and tolerance, what kind of hell are they fleeing from?"

Little of the coverage has attempted to illuminate the corporate anti-asylum-seeker rhetoric. It is only since Eurotunnel has been threatened with fines for carrying refugees that it has called for the closure of the Red Cross centre at Sangatte, near Calais.

Eurotunnel's argument that Sangatte's existence encourages refugees is illogical. Refugees are at Sangatte because that is where the tunnel is. It is not the lure of soup and a roll that causes refugees to congregate there. If I am wrong, and the offer of free soup is the reason refugees have travelled hundreds of miles from their homes, friends and families, then Eurotunnel should call for a worldwide ban on soup, or at least a non-proliferation treaty. Activists should be abseiling down Campbell's head office, and the Baxters board of directors should be rounded up for conspiring to aid and abet the illegal traffic of humans.

Equally revealing has been the media coverage of Australia's handling of the Afghan refugees stranded on a Norwegian freighter in the Indian Ocean. The press has rightly attacked Australia's prime minister, John Howard, and the way he has turned the refugees' lives into a political football so near an election.*

But why aren't newspapers as critical of British politicians? Most important of all, why does the press consistently fail to report the very conditions and events that create refugees?

To mark World Peace Day in Turkey on 1 September, the Kurdish People's Democracy Party organised a march and rally in Ankara for peace and reconciliation between Turks and Kurds, as well as for Kurdish cultural rights. The Turkish authorities banned both march and rally, causing widespread protest.

The nationwide police crackdown that followed involved house arrests, road blocks, tear gas and beatings. Two people were killed, including Zeynel Durmus, an 18-year-old who fell five storeys while fleeing from a police raid on the People's Democracy Party offices in Istanbul. Hundreds of Kurds were corralled into a football stadium in Ankara, and an estimated 2,000, including a prominent lawyer, were arrested across Turkey.

When they fail to cover these events, the media not only fail to report why refugees flee their homes; they also allow the offending regime to continue its human rights abuses unchallenged. This, in turn, creates more refugees.

The bombing of Tamil villages and the murder of civilians by the Sri Lankan military also go by almost unnoticed. Sri Lanka receives prominent coverage in the papers only when British tourists are involved - such as when the Tamil Tigers bombed Colombo airport. Perhaps we should parachute British tourists into conflict zones. That way, we might get to turn on the news and hear: "A British holidaymaker is believed to have lost his lilo, as Sri Lankan jets bombed Tamil areas killing more than 20 women and children."

*To Australians in Britain who have been whingeing that their country is too full to accept refugees: would you kindly get the hell out of my country? You are nothing but economic migrants. Stop pouring that pint right now and leave. And take your inane love of MOR stadium rock with you.

This article first appeared in The New Statesman Essay - The love of a robot

2001-09-10