There are now more displaced people in the world than any other time in history. As of the end of 2015, 65.3 million people, or one out of every 113 people on the planet, has been forced to flee wars, occupations and devastation in their homes in search of somewhere to be safe.
It is no coincidence that this horrible record has been reached after nearly 15 years of imperialist wars, occupations, sanctions and all forms of foreign intervention in the Middle East and Africa. Since the U.S. invaded in Afghanistan in 2001, this new era of war and occupation has brought unbelievable death and destruction to people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. People across the Middle East and Africa have been left with no other option then to abandon everything that they have ever known for the possibility of a future and some sense of security, in another city, country or continent.
The Origin of the Refugee Crisis
The utter devastation of imperialist intervention can be seen clearly in a report “Global Trends 2015,” released by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). According to this report, Syria and Iraq have the world’s 2nd and 3rd largest numbers of internally displaced people (the country with the most displaced people is Colombia). This comes as no surprise given that since August of 2014 alone, over 46,000 bombs have been dropped on the people of Iraq and Syria in the U.S.-led bombing campaign (Airwars.org) all under the pretext of fighting against the terrorist organization Daesh (ISIS/ISIL).
The report from the UNHCR also shows how imperialist intervention in the Middle East has expanded in the last year. One-half of all people newly internally displaced during the year 2015 were in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, all countries that have faced increased foreign military intervention. In fact, 10% of the population of Yemen was displaced in only 12 months of a U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian bombing campaign and war on their country that continues today. In Canada, this level of displacement would be as if the entire population of Alberta was forced to flee their homes.
For some people, fleeing their homes or cities is not enough to ensure safety and they are forced to escape their country all-together and become a refugee. The UNHCR report for refugees in 2015 also illustrates the devastation of U.S.-led attacks in the Middle East and Africa. More than one-half of all refugees came from countries destroyed and destabilized by U.S. intervention, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The world’s largest refugee population continues to be from Palestine, with over 5.2 million refugees registered with the UN.
Officially, the United Nations recognizes over 21.3 million refugees world-wide. The vast majority of refugees (around 90%) stay in the countries that surround their homeland, packed into over-crowded refugee camps, and their children forced to work in order to survive. For refugees that stay close to home either have no other option, or carry with them the hope of returning one day.
When this hope is gone and no end to the war and devastation is in sight, that is when someone is forced to make the difficult decision to risk their lives fleeing for Europe. This is why one refugee, when interviewed by Doctors Without Borders, said “[the word refugee] means being defeated by war.”
Over 1 million people fled the Middle East and Africa for Europe in 2015, packed on all sorts of dangerous boats, risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea for a chance at life and safety. 80% of them were from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. In the last year and a half, over 4,600 people have gone missing or have died while crossing what has become known as the “Sea of Death.”
European Refugee Policy Has Deepened the Crisis
For those that are lucky enough to survive the journey, their struggle for basic rights and dignity has only just begun. Once in Europe they face inhuman conditions in processing and detention centres, barbed-wire fences, increasingly closed borders and complete uncertainty about their futures. Tragically, this devastating crisis situation continues to be the status quo despite over a year of meetings, summits and negotiations in Europe. As one Palestinian refugee who fled Syria remarked to Doctors Without Borders “Coming to Europe I thought that I would never again see humans treating other humans in such an inhuman way, but I was wrong,” describing the treatment that her and her children faced when being forced from Macedonia back to Greece.
In September of 2015 a deal was finally reached that allowed for the relocation of 160,000 refugees from countries like Greece and Italy to other European Union member-states. Although this number represents just about 10% of all refugees that have arrived on the shores of Europe, even such a low commitment has proven impossible to achieve. According to the most recent data available from the European Commission, by May of 2016 only 1,441 refugees had been relocated. This means that tens of thousands of people are stuck living in limbo in Greece, Italy or Hungary. For example, the Greek government reported in June that there were over 57,000 refugees living in the country.
For some, like Ali Al-Zobady, a refugee from Iraq, life in Europe was so difficult and humiliating that he chose to return back to Iraq. As he told USA-today, “We left my country because of the war…We just want peace. We dream of a new life. The European governments did not save my life.”
Another deal between the European Union and Turkey was struck in March that was supposed to help control the refugee crisis. Instead, it has actually increased the number of refugees dying in their journey to Europe. The deal taken most simply, allows for the deportation of refugees back to Turkey in exchange for the re-settlement of a refugee directly from Turkey to Europe (a practice which has been declared “reckless and illegal” by Amnesty International). This has indeed slowed the flow of refugees from Turkey into Greece, but as a consequence more and more refugees are instead fleeing to Europe through Libya. Crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy is a more dangerous route. As a result, more than 2,800 refugees have drowned this year as compared to 1,850 deaths at this time in 2015.
Increasing War and Occupation
At the same time that refugee policy in Europe is making life for refugees more dangerous and difficult, the United States, and their allies, including Canada and many European countries, are also increasing their overt and covert attacks against people in the Middle East and Africa, creating more and more refugees.
The refugee crisis in Europe is a direct result of these continued bloody attacks, a list of which continues to grow each day. Whether it is the increasing imperialist bombing attacks and special forces deployments to Syria and Iraq, the continued occupation of Afghanistan under the auspices of a NATO training mission made up of 13,000 foreign troops (a force to which the United States and Germany are the largest contributors) or the more covert and less reported on U.S./U.K. and French operations in Libya and other parts of Africa, or the continued U.S.-backed mobbing of Yemen, the new era of war and occupation is showing no signs of slowing down.
Why Does the Refugee Crisis Continue?
When over 1 million refugees, largely from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq arrived on the shores of Europe last year, the people and governments of Europe could no longer turn a blind-eye to the death and destruction of imperialist wars and occupations in the Middle East and Africa. Refugee camps in the Middle East and Africa had spilled over, and people who longer had any hope of returning to a home without war had arrived at their doorstep.
Some governments, like Germany, saw the opportunity in the determined faces of refugees. They took a good look at their aging population and need for workers in low-paid jobs and decided that accepting refugees made good economic sense. Other countries shut their borders almost immediately. All governments have been interested in one thing, preserving the status-quo.
At this time, keeping business-as-usual in European countries, also means maintaining an agenda of government cut-backs and austerity measures. This is more easily accomplished when poor, working and oppressed people are divided, a task that can be accomplished through Xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Imperialist countries around the world are also working to maintain and expand wars and occupations in the Middle East and Africa. For people living in the Middle East and Africa this means getting used to living under perpetual war. The U.S. government and their allies do not want tens of millions of refugees to flee the Middle East and Africa, they want to be able to control their movement, lives and futures in a way that benefits their capitalist interests the most.
What About Refugees in Canada?
Canada is not immune to the refugee crisis. In fact, Canada, is one of the imperialist countries responsible for its creation and therefore should gladly open its doors to refugees.
According to the government of Canada’s website about Syrian Refugees – called #WelcomeRefugees – a total of 28,640 Syrian refugees have been re-settled in Canada between November, 2015 and March, 2016. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to re-settle 25,000 government sponsored refugees in the same time period, only 15,385 Syrians have been brought to Canada as government sponsored refugees.
In reality, this is a shameful response from a rich and spacious country like Canada. Even the conservative newspaper National Post exposed the government of Canada’s weak humanitarian response to the refugee crisis. An article from December of 2015 states “Based on its population and the size of its economy, Canada would have to accept about 670,000 refugees to match the compassion Sweden has shown over the past year. To be as welcoming as Germany, Canada would have to take in about 450,000 asylum seekers in a little over half a year. Even tiny Finland has put Canada to shame. With about one-seventh the population, Finland has accepted about 30,000 refugees since June. That would be like Canada taking in 210,000 refugees in seven months.”
As the above comparison illustrates, the government of Canada is fully capable of welcoming in 200,000 refugees, Syrian and non-Syrian, before the end of this year and it is their moral obligation to do so.
The government of Canada also has the further obligation to grant all refugees immediate human and legal rights in Canada. In this regard, Canada’s program for accepting Syrian refugees has utterly failed. Refugees have reported trouble with accessing food banks, sub-standard housing and 16-month long wait-lists for federally funded English classes. Take for example, the front-page headline from the Province newspaper in Vancouver which read “Refugees Face New Hurdles: Disabled sisters who fled Syria in their wheelchairs struggle in a Burnaby apartment that is not accessible.” Since coming to Canada as refugees, these women have essentially become trapped in their own home.
From Europe to Canada to the United States (which, shamefully, has only offered to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year), it is clear that the refugee crisis is not going away. This crisis is a painful and devastating symptom of the crisis for humanity caused by continuing wars and occupations in the Middle East and Africa.
Over the past five years, the number of internally displaced people in the world has grown by two and a half times. As the imperialist war machine accelerates, so does the environmental and human destruction that it creates. Refugees escaping wars, occupations and complete devastation must be given a safe passage to where ever they choose to settle. From here in Canada and North America, we must work not only to welcome all refugees, but also to end imperialist wars and occupations.
No to Wars and Occupations! Yes to Refugees!
Open the Borders Now!
Follow Alison on Twitter: @alisoncolette
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