A newspaper picture today shows a three-year-old child being held by a man sitting atop a wire fence. According to the story, her mother has brought her to the migrant camp at Calais where, night after night, she is passed from hand to hand over razor wire fences as they try to get into the Eurotunnel compound.
'I tell her it's a game,' said Mary 'I tell her that if we win, she is going to meet Daddy'.And if they lose? How safe is a three-year-old amid mass attempts to breach a security perimeter in the middle of the night, let alone trying to board a lorry or train? Previous nights have ended with mother and child being turned away by police or removed from the enclave and returning to camp - they may not be so lucky next time.
They are apparently trying to join the child's father who, having left Eritrea before her birth to avoid military service, is now working in London as an 'odd-job man', which presumably means that either he has been granted asylum or other official status - in which case there are channels through which they can apply* - or he is working illegally.
If it is the latter, surely he could rejoin his wife in France and apply for asylum there (UK officialdom might well be persuaded to help) instead of waiting in London while they risk their lives trying to reach him. Something here is definitely not right.
Media accounts suggest that, in recent weeks, the camps in Calais have swollen with an unprecedented number of women and children. It is hardly surprising, then, that tactics are changing - instead of individuals climbing barriers and racing for lorries or trains, we are seeing fences flattened by mass movement and collective action.
Whatever the professionally offended think (Longrider and Anna Raccoon have tackled their objections admirably) the term for this is 'swarm intelligence'. As one path closes, the swarm seeks out new ways to overcome an obstacle; in the analogy that David Cameron didn't steal , I likened it to wildebeest crossing a crocodile-infested river, driven on by the arrival of cows and calves joining the advance guard of males.
There is, however, one important difference. Hungry crocodiles actively seek out helpless young wildebeest to attack; police and border guards will surely be particularly averse to using force on children. Unless something is done to remove them from the nightly onslaught, we may yet see babies and children forming an involuntary human shield in the fight against increasingly beleaguered defences.
Last night, in what seems to be a new development (swarm intelligence again), a group of men blocked a road by lying down in the path of lorries, only moving when the riot police arrived at dawn. How long, I wonder, before there are children lying on the roads and train tracks or held up in the vanguard of a stone-throwing mob storming the ferry or Eurotunnel terminals?
And who would willingly give the order to use tear gas and batons - or, given the likely escalation, water cannon and plastic bullets - against a little girl in pink leggings?
*Once a person is granted protection in the UK, they have the right to work, claim benefits and be re-united with their spouse and children (under 18).