“Images of drowned children from refugee boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea have generated intense shock among a broad global public, but they are just the latest manifestation of a long chain of countless tragedies that have victimized the peoples of the surrounding regions for decades now.”
Editor’s note: This statement was issued by the Office of the Chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle on 7 Sep 2015. The original full text is posted on the josemariasison.org site.
The International League of Peoples’ Struggle views the current surge of refugees to Europe as the manifestation and consequence of two grave problems for which the imperialist powers headed by the US are accountable. First is the relentless imperialist plunder in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and elsewhere, which displaces people from their lands, disrupts their livelihoods, and forces them to migrate within the region and to Europe for their economic survival. Second are the wars of aggression unleashed by the US and its NATO allies, and counterrevolutionary wars and jihadist operations instigated by the US, UK and the Zionists in these same regions, overthrowing or disrupting state systems notably in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan but also in a vast swath of outlying territories from Nigeria to Pakistan. Whether people are displaced by imperialist plunder or war, they are not migrants by choice but are refugees.
Images of drowned children from refugee boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea have generated intense shock among a broad global public, but they are just the latest manifestation of a long chain of countless tragedies that have victimized the peoples of the surrounding regions for decades now. These events include the long-standing US-led campaigns of embargo and sabotage against independent regimes throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the US-engineered breakup of Yugoslavia and Balkanization of Soviet-bloc countries in the 1990s, the all-out “wars against terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s, the chain of WTO and IMF-World Bank impositions leading to the food crisis, recession, and other impacts of the 2008 financial meltdown, and the series of US-sponsored regime-change operations hiding behind the so-called “Arab spring” from 2011 onwards.
The aforesaid factors and trends, especially in the Middle East, are confirmed by long-term UN migration statistics. A 2011 study had already projected a general trend in Muslim-majority Middle East countries of net (out-) migration of -80 per 100,000 population for the 2010-2015 period. In contrast, these had enjoyed a net (in-) migration of +63 and +266 per 100,000 in the preceding 1990-1995 and 2000-2005 periods—mostly due to the influx of migrant labor to oil-rich Gulf states. The projected out-migration rates as of 2010 were worst for Syria, Jordan, Yemen, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon; Iraq could not even provide migration rates due to demographic disruptions and public services breakdown.
The combined impacts of economic crises and armed conflicts were first expressed in big hikes in internal migration and internally displaced people in individual countries. As conditions went from bad to worse in the rubble of devastated towns and cities and congested refugee centers throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Central and South Asia, they triggered a chain reaction of increasing out-flux of migrants and refugees across borders and to distant overseas destinations. The melting-pot situation throughout the affected regions have also created fluid migrant-refugee corridors in adjacent areas that at first glance appear disconnected but actually part of the bigger mass exodus. In the 2010-2013 period, a UN report identified the Sudan-to-South Sudan, Palestine-to-Jordan, Somalia-to-Kenya, Romania-to-Italy, and Poland-to-UK corridors among the biggest ones. The Turkey-to-Greece-to-Balkans and Libya-to-Italy corridors are relatively recent and and are made conspicuous by the callous strenuous resistance of the European Union to accept the refugees.
In Iraq alone, based on 2007 data, the US war of aggression and continuing armed conflicts have created some 4 million refugees—the largest in the Middle East prior to the current Syrian crisis, with 1.3 million based in Syria and playing a big factor in the conflict in Syria. In Afghanistan, the US war of aggression in addition to the earlier Soviet invasion has likewise created a minimum of 2.8 million refugees as of end-2008. In Libya, the official refugee count as of end-2012 was only 65,000 (internal and external), but as of end-2014 Tunisia alone claims to host some 2 million Libyan refugees affected by the continuing post-Gaddafi civil war. Efforts at mass-return programs under the aegis of UNHCR have been only transitory and partially successful at best.
In the past months, the exodus of refugees from Syria has been particularly overwhelming in magnitude. According to an end-2014 report, Syria alone had 10 million displaced people, or 45 percent of its entire population; 6.5 million of these have remained within the country, while some 4 million have sought refuge abroad. Counting only those registered with the UNHCR and staying in just five neighboring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt), Syrian refugees already total 3.8 million. The relentless stream of boatloads from Libya represents not only displaced Libyan populations but migrants and refugees from all over sub-Saharan Africa, including Senegal, Nigeria, and Eritrea. Others, streaming through alternative routes, have originated from as far as Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The extreme plight of the refugees throughout the Middle East and overflowing to nearby countries is underscored by the many dangers they undertake in their indefinite stays in refugee centers and long-range treks towards countries that they hope would accept them. These vagaries include perilous journeys by entire households, including young children and old people, taking many days or even weeks in flimsy and overloaded boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean, or tightly packed inside trucks and trains via overland routes, with only minimal food, potable water, shelter, clothing, medicine, and survival gear. Their transport is often arranged by human traffickers interested principally in making a profit and not caring whether they survive the journey. They are often victimized again at border crossings, suffering more injuries and losses as they scramble through border obstacles.
As of August 31 this year alone, the International Office of Migration has already recorded 2,643 deaths related to Mediterranean crossings; many more have drowned, undocumented. There have been cases of death by suffocation in unventilated trucks. More than 70 percent of global deaths of war-displaced people or refugees this year have taken place in the Mediterranean region—which underscores the general direction of the mass exodus from Middle East and North Africa to Europe, with Greece, Italy and Spain as critical entry points. Greece alone has received more than 218,000 this year; up to 2,000 refugees are crossing every 24 hours from Greece into the Balkans (Macedonia, Serbia, Albania), through Hungary, and from there into western Europe. About 110,000 others have arrived in Italy.
Europe is understandably the most preferred destination of refugees from nearby regions because it is close by and is perceived as a huge territory with numerous options and opportunities for seeking asylum, resettlement and employment. However, there is a strict EU law that one can apply for asylum only in the country of disembarkation. As of June 2015, there were 567,785 pending asylum claims in EU’s 28 member states, of which 306,010 were filed in Germany. In addition, some 340,000 undocumented people have entered the EU between January and July—with 107,500 in July alone. Thus, the European authorities describe this influx of refugees as a crisis.
In the face of humanitarian disaster, involving so many unnecessary deaths and brutal conditions at border crossings and refugee centers, the EU has displayed a mix of superficial mea-culpas and promises to raise its levels of tolerance in coping with the refugee influx, and manifestations of a more hardened chauvinist and racist intolerance towards the refugees. There are moves to mitigate the impacts of the refugee influx on the EU’s economies. While there are tokens of humanitarian action and some amount of public guilt over the role of the EU and NATO in the US-led wars of aggression and other forms of military intervention, the more dominant and longer-term trend among EU states is to reject and resist the influx of refugees by limiting its scale, magnitude and timespan. The imperialists and their political agents continue to foment a rising wave of chauvinism or xenophobia, religious bigotry or Islamophobia, racism and other forms of reaction to conceal their accountabilities for plunder at home and abroad and for the many wars that they have masterminded.
Internal tensions within EU are also rising due to the differential impact of the refugee influx on its various member states, despite the principle of open borders. One major issue is that there is no cohesive EU-wide policy on handling asylum seekers, compounded by a de facto rule that refugees may apply for asylum only in the country where they land. This places the heaviest burden on Schengen border states such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and Hungary—which have reacted by calling for a more equitable system of inter-state cooperation and mandatory quotas for dealing with incoming refugees. Differences on this issue are emerging between Germany and France, on one hand, and UK and certain Eastern European countries on the other hand.
There has also risen the peculiar situation of the Balkan states (non-Schengen) and Romania and Bulgaria (soon to be Schengen)—which have become the preferred transit corridors for refugees wanting to enter Europe’s heartland. Some countries, including Russia, are raising danger signals that the influx of refugees is being used by US-organized “Islamic jihadists” to infiltrate the Balkans and foment inter-ethnic conflicts to the long-term advantage of the US and NATO, for example to use as base or backdoor for launching subversive actions and false-flag operations in Europe.
Ironically, the US and some other big imperialist powers that have ravaged Afghanistan and Iraq and afterwards supported mercenary troops and jihadist factions in Libya and Syria avoid and deny accountability for destroying the social infrastructure of these countries and generating the conditions for the current refugee exodus. One study listed eight countries that, combined, sent the most weapons to Syria since 2011, amounting to USD 16 billion in military “aid” received by various warring factions, but have accepted only 2 percent of the refugees that Germany has taken in thus far. The US, in particular, has been spending nearly USD 1 billion a year since 2011 in covert military aid for Syrian rebel groups, and launching 2,400 airstrikes purportedly against ISIS areas within Syria. And yet the US has accepted only 1,434 Syrian refugees. The other listed countries—Canada, Russia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and selected EU member states—have not fared much better. The four Gulf countries gave billions of dollars’ worth to Syrian rebel groups, and yet not one of them has agreed to accept any Syrian refugees.
The ILPS reiterates its deepest sympathies and most serious concern for the rights of refugees worldwide, and particularly those of Asian and African origins currently fleeing from their crisis-ravaged and war-torn countries. We join other progressive and humanitarian groups in reminding the more advanced countries of Europe and North America of their responsibilities under international law to respect these rights, including the right to asylum and protection.
However, we go further by condemning US imperialism and its NATO allies and Middle East regional proxies for creating the conditions that fuel such mass displacements and forced migrations, including continued military intervention and outright wars of aggression. Humanitarian measures to rescue, protect and resettle refugees should be linked to and not detract from the bigger question of tackling the problem at the root, i.e., resolving the internal conflicts and stopping imperialist intervention and wars of aggression.###