We had to walk for hours under heavy rain without knowing how far we still have to go. Winter is coming but all I can think of right now is to walk to my freedom. I need to escape from war. Me, personally, I don’t care about the weather. I just feel sorry for the poor women and their babies that they have to go all through these just for the sake of a better life.”- Ahmed, 20, refugee from Afghanistan (The Guardian)
When news agencies look back on 2015, the refugee crisis in Europe will undoubtedly make the list of the top news stories of the year. On December 22 the International Organization on Migration (IOM) reported that over 1 million people have entered Europe this year, through the various deadly crossings of the Mediterranean Sea. Over 4,000 refugees have needlessly drowned. The vast majority of these refugees looking for somewhere safe to be have come from the bombed out and war torn countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Despite the continuing movement of tens of thousands of refugees every day, stories of the complete human tragedy of the refugee crisis have begun to fade from major media in the last few months. This is regardless of the fact that, with the onset of winter, government action and human sympathy and solidarity for refugees is now more needed than ever.
Like Ahmed, the determined Afghan refugee quoted above, worsening weather and cold temperatures have not deterred hundreds of thousands of refugees from crossing the increasingly dangerous waters of the Mediterranean and continuing their journeys into Northern Europe, where they hope to find safety and a new home. 140,000 refugees made this perilous passage in November alone, only to find that once their feet reach the shores of Greece and Italy, their struggle for basic human rights and dignity in this new land was just beginning.
The European Response to the Crisis is Not Enough!
The response of European governments to the refugee crisis has continued to fall far behind what is required. For example, at the end of October E.U. and Balkan governments held yet another summit which resulted in a 17-point action plan to address the crisis. Within this plan it was agreed to “increase reception capacity [essentially shelter for refugees] to 30,000 places by the end of the year in Greece. The UN refugee agency will provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20,000 more people.” This number doesn’t even represent 40% of all of the refugees that landed in Greece in November.
Conditions for life remain unbelievably difficult even for those refugees who are able to make it to Germany. In all of 2015 Germany has registered over 1 million asylum applicants, which includes people from the Middle East and Africa, as well as people fleeing poverty in Eastern Europe. According to the Asylum Information Database, even as far back as 2012, there were already an issue with overcrowding in shelters for refugees in Germany, which has continued to intensify in 2015 and meant that refugees are being housed in emergency shelters conditions for an unacceptable amount of time. In the words of Karl Kopp from the German organization Pro Asyl, “The situation is becoming dramatic...If we put people up in undignified conditions then this will have long-term consequences for their health and their ability to integrate in the country.”(Associated Press)
To add even more to the physical and psychological stress that refugees have had to endure, the future for refugees that make it to Germany is far from secure. On December 2, 2015 Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany held a press conference in Berlin with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani where she declared "We will have to deport people to Afghanistan,” putting into question the legal status of 128,000 Afghan refugees that have entered Germany in the past year.
Living conditions have also worsened for those refugees that are struggling to make it to the U.K, and are stuck living in deplorable conditions in overcrowded tent camps in the cold rain of Northern France. Doctors of the World, a health organization attempting to provide services to the estimated 6,000 refugees in the Calais camp, has declared the camp to be a “violation of their human rights, dignity.” This organization has even filed an official complaint against French authorities for their neglect. A writer for the Guardian newspaper described another refugee camp located in Grande–Synthe, France as a “swamp,” where 1500 people are living with zero access to basic water and sanitation facilities.
Isn’t Canada Better?
Although images of the tragedies facing refugees in Europe are fading from the international media spotlight, media in Canada has given special attention to the arrival of the first Syrian refugees in Canada since the new Liberal government took power. It is undoubtedly moving to witness the arrival of Syrian families to Canada as they are welcomed at airports by their families and loved ones or by complete strangers who came to demonstrate the sympathy that people in Canada have for refugees. But these images are not enough to cloud the fact that the response of the government of Canada to this crisis facing humanity has been far too small and a long ways from human.
First of all, let’s look at the numbers of Syrian refugees that the government of Canada has agreed to accept. During the 2015 election, the Liberal party put forward the most progressive plan for accepting Syrian refugees of any of the three major political parties in Canada, a promise to bring 25,000 government sponsored refugees to Canada by the end of the year. Since the Liberal government and Prime Minister Trudeau took office that number has decreased, to 10,000 Syrian refugees (notice the absence of the word government sponsored) by the end of 2015 and 25,000 Syrian refugees (still not government sponsored) by the end of February. As is noted these commitments are no longer for government-sponsored refugees, but rather a mix of private and government sponsored refugees.
As of December 26, 2015, 2,413 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada, meaning that so-far the government of Canada has been able to settle less than 1/4 of its already reduced commitment, which it is unlikely to meet in the last few days left in December. Looking through the new #WelcomeRefugees website of the government of Canada, there is no information provided that distinguishes the numbers of government sponsored refugees from that of privately sponsored refugees, making any real understanding of how the Liberals are living up to their campaign promise of settling 25,000 government sponsored Syrian refugees very difficult. For a rich and spacious country like Canada, even 25,000 Syrian refugees was a disgracefully small number.
On top of the limiting the number of Syrian refugees settled in Canada, the Liberal government also limited the types of refugees that would be accepted in Canada. Firstly, they had to be refugees already registered with the United Nations or with the government of Turkey, a difficult or even impossible process for refugees that have fled their homes with little to no documentation. Secondly it was announced in November that Canada would only by accepting women, children and complete families as refugees, leaving out single unaccompanied men. This kind of pre-screening is based on the racist and Islamophobic assumption that single-men are more likely to be a “terrorist threat” to Canada, a notion that has no basis in reality. By applying this restriction, the government of Canada is really attempting to deceive the people of Canada, especially those that have been fooled into thinking that Syrian refugees, or Muslim refugees from any other country are a security threat. The government of Canada considering only what every other capitalist country considers when accepting refugees and other kinds of immigrants, they want to bring the people that are most able to be exploited in Canadian economy.
Also notice that so far I have only discussed refugees from Syria. With all of the media coverage and government policy announcements about Syrian refugees, what about refugees from other countries in the Middle East and Africa similarly destroyed by Western meddling, military intervention and sanctions? Because there have been no official plans announced by the government of Canada regarding non-Syrian refugees, we can only look at what has not been said to understand whether or not the policies of the government towards non-Syrian refugees has changed with the new Liberal government.
As of 2014 Canada ranked 41st in the world in per-capita acceptance of refugees, with 4.2 per hundred thousand people. In 2014, Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranked them the 15th largest in the world (International Monetary Fund). By contrast, Lebanon, with a GDP ranking of 84 has the highest per-capita acceptance of refugees in the world, at nearly 1/4 of their total population. Nothing in the government of Canada’s policies has been introduced that will fundamentally change these statistics.
Additionally, there are a number of exclusions and changes to policy that the government of Canada has said will apply to refugees from Syria, but not to other groups of refugees. This includes an immigration loan program that means that 90% of refugees arriving with next to nothing in Canada owe the government up to $10,000 to cover the costs of their travel to Canada, medical exams, and initial settlement expenses (according to an Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada report). Incredibly, the government even begins charging interest on these loans if not re-paid in 12 months. The new Liberal government also has a long way to go to reverse the in-human and anti-immigrant policies of the Harper government, including disastrous legislation passed in 2012 that, among other measures, lengthened the detention times for some refuges and severely cut refugee health services like dental work, prosthetics and medication. Not to mention new legislation like the so-called anti-terrorism Bill C-51, now law in Canada, this gives the Canadian state sweeping powers that will especially target immigrants and refugees.
Who Is Responsible for the Refugee Crisis?
"Just stop the war, we don't want to go to Europe," - Masalmeh, young refugee from Syria, speaking with police in Hungary
The words of Masalmeh are short and direct. They also summarize exactly the reason that over one million people have risked their lives and fled for Europe this year. The new era of war and occupation, which began with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, has unleashed a war machine that has leveled entire civilizations and made life simply unlivable for 10’s of millions of people in the Middle East and Africa. For over the last decade the reality for people living in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria has been one of constant violence and destruction at the hands of the U.S. government and their allies, including the government of Canada. People are fleeing their homes at such an unimaginable pace because there is no end in sight to the human disaster of imperialist war and occupation.
This has become increasingly true for the people of Syria, who have faced an intensified onslaught from imperialist countries, especially the government of France. France, with the support of the U.S., U.K and Germany has increased its bombing campaign in Syria in the name of fighting against the Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL) terrorist organization that claimed responsibility for the horrible November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. All this destruction while Daesh is in fact the direct result of the imperialist war in Iraq, the Western-fueled civil war in Syria and imperialist support for the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels. What the people of the Middle East and Africa need is self-determination and an end to imperialist meddling, wars and occupations.
Canada’s Hands Are Not Clean
"I decided life in Afghanistan was too dangerous...I have to protect my children. I have to make sure they survive - that's my job as a father...We miss our relatives and our home a lot, we never wanted to leave." – Javid, 27 years old, refugee from Afghanistan (Al Jazeera)
The government of Canada has also had a role in creating the refugee crisis through their involvement in every imperialist war and occupation since 2001. This includes Canada’s participation in the brutal NATO occupation of Afghanistan, where the government of Canada deployed 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel from 2001-2014. Refugees from Afghanistan now represent the third largest group of refugees leaving their entire lives behind to look for safety and security in Europe through the Mediterranean passage.
Also significantly, Canada contributed war planes and bombs to a U.S./France led aerial bombing campaign that completely destroyed Libya in 2011. Today, the chaos and complete instability in Libya created by imperialist intervention has made it the ideal running ground for human traffickers preying on desperate refugees from across the Middle East and Africa headed for the shores of Italy.
When seen in this light, it is clear that the government of Canada’s promise to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees is a far from justifiable response to the refugee crisis. Given the human and financial resources available to the government of Canada, it was entirely possible to re-settle 50,000 refugees by the end of 2015, and there is no excuse not to settle at least 200,000 refugees in the next year, with full human and legal rights.
Stop War and Occupation: Not Refugees!
When the clock ticks 12 midnight on December 31, 2015, the refugee crisis that escalated so overwhelmingly in 2015 will not be over. There will still be over 60 million refugees world-wide. Given increasing intervention and meddling by the U.S. government and their allies in the Middle East and Africa, 2016 is sure to be another year in which millions of more people are forced to flee their homes in desperation.
Peace-loving people from all around the world must unite to put an end to this disastrous human crisis. We must educate, organize and take action on the streets, not only to demand that imperialist governments around the world do more to welcome refugee with full human and legal rights, but to put an end to the imperialist wars and occupations that have led to this crisis.
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