On October 26 the Mediterranean Sea once again became a grave, as almost 100 refugees fleeing wars, occupations and foreign intervention in their countries drown in the deadly waters. Although rescuers worked to save 29 refugees, at least 97 lost their lives as an over-loaded ship sunk just 42km of the coast of Libya.
So far in 2016, at least one out of every 42 refugees forced to make the dangerous journey over the Mediterranean Sea has died on the journey, making this year the deadliest year ever recorded for the perilous crossing (UN Human Rights Commission - UNHCR).
This startling fact, however, has not stopped refugees from the Middle East and Africa from risking their own lives, and that of their families. No matter the risk, life has become so unlivable in countries ravaged by imperialist wars, occupations, sanctions and intervention that people are left with no other option then to flee to Europe.
There are now over 65 million refugees on the planet, the most ever in human history, and that number continues to grow. In the first 10 months of 2016, over 325,000 refugees have arrived on the shores of Italy and Greece alone(International Organization for Migration - IOM). The majority of refugees making the deadly crossing are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, all countries that have seen unbelievable death and destruction over the last 15 years of the new era of war and occupation; a period that began with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In this time, the US war machine and their imperialist allies including the UK, France and Canada, have completely destroyed basic infrastructure and housing, taken away access to clean water and sanitation, brought rabid corruption and even torn the very social fabric apart that holds these countries together. For people living in the Middle East and Africa, there is no end in sight to this deadly imperialist campaign.
The response of European and wealthy governments the refugee crisis has been devastating. In fact, the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan and China have accepted less than 9% of the global refugee population, while 86% continue to live in developing countries, as reported by the NGO Oxfam.
Britain and France Increase the Tragedy Facing Refugees
Rather than accept their responsibility as a leading ally of the United States in their attacks on the Middle East and Africa by opening their borders to refugees, countries in Europe like the UK and France have carried out devastating policies that have increased the tragedy and suffering that refugees face.
Since the refugee crisis in Europe began in 2015, a make-shift refugee camp in Calais, France known as “the Jungle” has been a destination for thousands of refugees struggling got the opportunity to build a new life in Britain, with many of them hoping to rejoin family members already living there. Without any official support or funding from any government, the camp lacked any regular supply of food, water or shelter and was often violently attacked by the police.
In the early morning of October 24, 1,200 well-armed police officers arrived at the camp in Calais. On the orders of French President François Hollande, the officers were to dismantle the camp and send the refugees living there to processing centres in other areas of France. Over the three days that followed, French officials reported that 4,404 refugees were relocated and 1,200 unaccompanied children were moved temporarily into modified shipping containers near the camp.
Only 70% of the 8,200 refugees that were estimated to be living in the camp at the end of October were accounted for by the forced relocation. The remaining refugees, including unaccompanied children, fled into the surrounding areas before they could be moved elsewhere, with many reported to have arrived in other camps along France’s northern shoreline. This includes a make-shift camp under a railway bridge which told the French television station BFM TV that the refugee population had grown from 2,000 to 3,000 people in just two days. The Save the Children Foundation also reported that hundreds of refugee children were found to be returning to the Calais camp to sleep, even as fires and bulldozers destroyed the camp around them.
It is not only those refugees that stayed, but also those that were relocated, that have an uncertain future. Those that left were taken to “reception centres” in 400 different areas in France. There, they will have to apply for asylum and deportation is a likely outcome for many of the refugees, a majority of whom come from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan. Despite the fact that their home countries have been ravaged by wars, occupations and foreign interventions, the government of France considers them “safe” enough for the refugees to return.
For example, 2015 was the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan in the last 15 years of imperialist occupation. However, despite this fact, the European Union signed an agreement with the government of Afghanistan at the beginning of October that allows an “unlimited” number of refugees to be returned to Afghanistan if their claims for asylum are denied. This essentially opens the door for refugees from Afghanistan to be deported, even those that have already been living in Europe for many years, not to mention the nearly 200,000 Afghan refugees that applied for asylum in Europe last year.
In all of the last year, Britain has resettled only 1,600 Syrian refugees, and just 282 refugees from other parts of Africa and the Middle East through the work of the UNHCR. This shamefully low number is not even a quarter of the refugees living in the camp in Calais at the time of its destruction. Now, the government of Britain has further exposed its inhumanity by agreeing to take in only 300 of the 1,500 unaccompanied children who continue to live near or within the Calais camp, many of whom are joining family members in Britain.
The Devastating Reality for Child Refugees
The destruction of the camp in Calais will also not change the fact that refugees, including children, will continue to risk their lives to cross the English Channel. It will not prevent tragedies such as the death of a Raheemullah Oryakhel, a 14 year-old refugee from Afghanistan, who was killed in September when he was run over by a car while trying to climb onto a truck driving en route from France to England, in order to join his brother who lives in Manchester. It should be unthinkable that a 14-year old boy is forced to risk his life jumping onto a moving truck in order to be re-united with his family. However, that is the reality facing hundreds of thousands of children that are refugees not only in northern France, but across Europe today, many of whom have never known a life without war.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the number of child refugees around the world grew by 77% in the five years from 2010 to 2015. At least 600 children have lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 alone, a number difficult to determine as the age of refugees that die in the sea is often unknown and only 60% of the bodies of drowned refugees are ever recovered (International Organization for Migration).
For many child refugees, their fate when they reach European shores is also unknown. In Italy, the UNHCR recorded that 15% of refugees that arrived so far this year have been unaccompanied children. Aid groups working in refugee camps in Italy have reported that an average of 28 children go missing from the camps every day. Although some may have just run away from the awful conditions they are forced to live in, thousands of them will be trafficked.
For child refugees in Greece, their fate is no different. There are currently more than 60,000 refugees left stranded in Greece and at least 3,300 of these refugees are unaccompanied children. A recent report by Human Rights Watch described the conditions for these child refugees in Greece, stating, “Children are being detained for weeks and months, and are being made to live in filthy, bug-and-vermin-infested cells, sometimes without mattresses or access to showers.”
In 2016, the European police agency (Europol) reported that at least 10,000 child refugees had gone missing since the beginning of the refugee crisis. Whether out on their own, or living in overcrowded and underfunded refugee camps and detention centre with their families, refugee children in Europe are left fighting for their lives, let alone their rights to education, healthcare, housing and proper nutrition.
Open the Borders! End Wars and Occupations!
Britain and France are not the only Western countries that have fueled the death and destruction that has created the refugee crisis, and then closed their doors to refugees. The same could be said for the United States, France, Germany and yes, even Canada, which has been a strong ally of the US in wars and occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and beyond.
As-long as the United States and their allies continue to bring death and destruction to the Middle East and Africa, refugees will continue to flee to the shores of Europe. This crisis will not be resolved with more fences and walls, nor with more agreements to militarize the border, as European countries are attempting to do. The crisis will only be resolved when the wars and occupations that created it are put to an end.
In order to prevent more needless deaths, human suffering and misery, the only solution to alleviate the crisis is to open the borders and provide safe passage to all refugees.
The government of Canada also carries this same responsibility. Although there have been steps taken to bring in 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 (keeping in mind that the Trudeau government initially promised to have 25,000 government-sponsored refugees in Canada by the end of 2015), Canada must do more. Not only can a country with the size and resources of Canada easily accept at least 200,000 more refugees this year, and not just from Syria, but the government of Canada also has the responsibility to grant them full legal, human and citizen rights when they arrive.
The New Era of War and Occupation
The refugee crisis in Europe is a devastating result of the imperialist wars, occupations and interventions that characterize the world that we live in today. As the world economic crisis deepens, the US war drive for hegemony and strategic control of the Middle East and Africa is only going to increase, and with it so too will the refugee crisis. As poor and working people in Canada, we must stand with refugees in their struggle for a dignified life and somewhere safe to be, and call for end to imperialist wars, occupations, sanctions and interventions.
Open the Borders Now!
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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