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      Why Working and Poor People Must Support Refugee Rights
      What We Have Learned from the Recent Refugee Crisis in Europe
      Open the Borders, Let 200,00 Refugees Com in to Share Life With Us!

      By Alison Bodine

      On Thursday September 3, 2015 “Syria” became the most searched term on Google in Canada with “how to sponsor a Syrian,” the top related search. That day, an image of a 3-year old boy from Syria, lying dead on a Turkish beach, opened the eyes of many people around the world to the tragic reality of the refugee crisis in Europe today.

      Unfortunately, this horrific photo and the death of Alan Kurdi, whose brother and mother also died attempting to cross from Turkey into Greece, is only one of thousands of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean in just the past year. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 2,900 people have died so far this year crossing the Mediterranean for Europe and somewhere safe to be.

      Humanity is in exodus from the Middle East and Africa, fleeing wars, occupations and the complete destruction of their lives. By the end of September 2015, 540,000 refugees arrived on the shores of Europe through the Mediterranean crossing (which includes crossing the Aegean Sea). Every day an average of 5,000 refugees land in Italy or Greece on overcrowded rafts and boats. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) now estimates that 1.4 million people will make the perilous crossing through the “sea of death” by the end of 2016.

      No Other Choice

      Refugees are risking their lives and leaving everything they have ever known because they have no other choice; no future in their home countries and no end in sight to the wars and occupations that have torn apart their reality. Just under 50% of refugees landing in Europe this year have been from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, with the largest percentage, one- third of all refugees, coming from Syria. This is no surprise considering that these countries have had their basic social fabric bombed to pieces by imperialist wars, occupations and foreign intervention. This refugee crisis, the movement of desperate people at a level not seen since World War II, is a result of the new era of war and occupation. This period of imperialist wars and occupations began with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and continues to expand today, with the most recent attacks coming in the form of the criminal and deadly U.S.- backed Saudi bombing of Yemen.

      One only has to read the news headlines to see how this imperialist onslaught on humanity has continued. Just in late September, U.S. war planes once again resumed bombings in Afghanistan, a country they have occupied for the last 14 years. For Syria and Iraq, the tragedy of imperialist intervention has had no end in the last 12 years. In 2014 the U.S. and their allies began bombing Iraq, and then Syria in the name of fighting ISIS/ISIL terrorists. Since then, the role of the U.S. and their allies in creating ISIS/ISIL through their intervention and meddling in Syria and Iraq has been exposed. Today even US military officials are admitting that no progress has been made in stopping the extremist terrorist force.

      In fact, the death and destruction in Iraq and Syria has only expanded. The Western fomented civil war in Syria and new bombing campaign has displaced 40% of the population of Syria, creating 12 million refugees. Four million of these refugees have fled Syria for the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, while the rest remain internally displaced. On top of Western bombs and the new war on their country, the people of Iraq are also facing a U.S. strategy to divide the country. This has created more division and violence in Iraq and ever-increasing humanitarian crisis for its population, of which 8 million people are in need of basic food and water.

      Extend this level of crisis to Libya and Yemen, and take into account decades of increasing military and foreign intervention by imperialist governments in Africa, and you have the cause of the refugee crisis in Europe. The new era of war and occupation is the reason that refugees are escaping into Europe in waves.

      The Crisis Comes Home

      As many as 3,000 people per day arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos. With a lack of adequate housing and resources, as many as 12,000 sleep on the streets as they await the paperwork that they need to pass on through Greece and then deeper into Europe. The inhuman conditions that refugees are forced to live in have created a tense and desperate situation that has evoked a brutal response from the police on the island many times. This brutality is then repeated over and over as refugees continue to flee, from the streets of Italy to train stations in Hungary and the Calais refugee camp in France.

      For refugees escaping their war-torn countries, the violence that they have endured has not ended in Europe; it has only taken on a different form. Shot with tear gas and water cannons attempting to pass through ever- changing police lines and fences, or locked within stadiums awaiting their right to travel, their experience is much more like herded animals then human beings guided into a safe and normal life. Inhumanity and arrogance have characterized the response of European government to the refugee crisis. Every time there is an international outcry for a humanitarian response, whether it is the suffocation of 71 refugees discovered in the back of a semi-truck in Austria, or the drowning of 3-year old Alan Kurdi, European governments are once again forced to respond. And what do they do? More fences, more brutal police and another “European summit,” of course!

      Their Response and Our Response The latest summit resulted in an agreement to relocate 120,000 refugees in Europe, bringing the total number of refugees that they have negotiated to relocate to 160,000. This is a disgustingly low number and a completely inhuman and brutal reaction to a human crisis for which the US, Canada and their European allies are responsible. Not only have over 500,000 refugees landed in Europe just this year, but we are also now entering into the coldest and most miserable time of year.

      Although European governments arrogantly claim they are doing their best, in reality they are doing nothing, especially when compared to the countries bordering Syria. Nearly 2 million refugees from Syria live in Turkey. In Lebanon, 20% percent of their population is now made up of refugees (a country 100 times smaller than Europe). Iraq, which has 3.6 million internally displaced people and is facing a new U.S. led war, has become home for 250,000 Syrian refugees. The total number of refugees that have fled to Europe in 2015 represents a tiny 0.01% of the Europe population, and suddenly the rich developed nations of Europe are claiming they don’t have the resources for refugees?

      More than that – European governments are spending resources on measures that attack refugees, making their hurried and frantic journey through Europe more perilous. In Hungary, a country that is en route from Southern Europe to Germany, the government has just completed a 13 foot high, 109 mile long fence along its border with Serbia. Crossing this razor-wire fence is punishable by 3 years in prison. Hungary has also legalized the use of the army to defend the border with “pyrotechnics, tear gas, and ‘net’ guns.” (Reuters)

      History has shown us that higher fences and tighter border controls do nothing to prevent refugees from travelling through Europe, they only cause more death, pain and humiliation, and force refugees to rely more and more on high cost human traffickers and the criminal underground for their passage. Hungary is only one example of many European countries with plans for new fences and increasingly militarized and violent reaction to desperate refugees.

      The response from the U.S. government, the government most responsible for the new era of war and occupation has also been disgusting. In the first four years of the civil war in Syria, fomented by U.S.-led intervention and meddling, the U.S. only accepted 200 refugees from Syria (Washington Post). In response to the refugee crisis in Europe, the U.S. government has completely avoided its responsibility in any sense, saying only that they will increase with total number of refugees admitted into the US by 20,000 in the next two years. Instead, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has responded with racist and Islamophobic excuses for their callousness, claiming “budget constraints and vetting requirements established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks limited the scope of the response.”

      As working, poor and oppressed people in Canada, it is also important for us to recognize that the hands of the Canadian government are also bloody when it comes to the refugee crisis and the new era of war and occupation. From the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, to the bombing of Iraq and Syria today, Canada has committed itself to joining in the imperialist assault on oppressed people around the globe. During this election period all three major political parties have formulated their careful, yet completely inhuman responses. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that the Conservatives will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, with Jason Kenney adding that “the government must put the security of the country first.” The Liberals have said that they would resettle 25,000 refugees by the end of this year, and the NDP proposes accepting 10,000 refugees this year and 46,000 in the next 4 years.

      This is an immoral and bankrupt response given the responsibility that Canada has in creating the crisis, and also the capacity of Canada to accept refugees, as the second biggest country on the planet. The Conservatives say that their refugee proposal will cost $25 million over the next two years. They have also pledged $100 million in additional dollars in humanitarian assistance for refugees in countries surrounding Syria. These numbers pale against the modest estimate from Canada’s Defence Minister Jason Kenney that Canada will have spent over $500 million in the war on Iraq and Syria by September of next year.

      However, beyond the cold calculations of the US, Canada, the UK and the European Union, there is also the response of people around the world. As the refugee crisis in Europe has unfolded over the last few years, some people across Europe have shown concerns, but in contrast to the arrogance of European and imperialist governments, there has also sympathy and solidarity developing in working, poor and oppressed people for the hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping onto the shores of Europe. Those that plan rallies to welcome refugees into Austrian train stations, or hold “Refugees Welcome” banners in German soccer games have not bought into the xenophobic and racist lies and deceptions of Western governments and the corporate media.

      In Canada, Fire This Time demands that the government of Canada immediately accept 50,000 refugees, and grant them full legal and human rights. In the next year the government of Canada must, at a minimum, accept 150,000 additional refugees. 200,000 refugees in the next year represents only one-third of one percent of the 60 million refugees in the world today. This is the least that a developed country like Canada must do.

      Open the Borders Now! The New York Times reported on a recent visit with refugees in Germany by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. During this visit, “Syrians, asked by Mr. Kerry why the surge of migrants had been so great in recent weeks, said they had despaired of being able to return home and that life in refugee camps was becoming harder as food rations were cut back...’The reason people are coming now is because they gave up hope completely,’ one woman said.”

      The fight for life for refugees and people facing wars, occupation and imperialist intervention is not getting any easier. By this time next year it is estimated that there will be 4.7 million refugees attempting to get by in overcrowded camps, or slum neighborhoods in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. With no end in sight to the continued US-led bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the Saudi bombing of Yemen, and imperialist intervention in Africa, there is no doubt that refugees will continue to risk their lives to flee to Europe.

      The only solution to this crisis for humanity is to open the borders immediately. Everyone forced to flee for their lives from the Middle East and Africa must be given a safe place to be, and granted full legal and human rights where they choose to live. Whether for the hundreds of refugees from Eritrea that travelled in an overcrowded boat to Italy, locked below the deck against their will, or the 200 children a day that arrived unaccompanied in Greece in the month of September, there is no other human solution. In just the last two years, nearly 7,000 people, many of them unindentified, have drowned escaping through the Mediterranean for Europe (IOM). Every single one of these deaths is a needless death. If the borders are open, and the passage made safe, no more refugees have to die. For poor and working people around the world, defending refugees is our human obligation. We cannot sit idly by as our brothers and sisters uproot everything they have ever known and risk their lives to escape complete death and destruction.

      As people living in Canada, we must also understand that the wars, occupations and foreign intervention that the government of Canada is complicit in are responsible for the refugee crisis and the new era of war and occupation. Opening the borders is not a long term solution to the exodus of people from the Middle East and Africa. The long- term solution is ending wars, occupations and foreign intervention committed by the US government and their allies like Canada. The destroyed lives of refugees are evidence of the atrocities and criminality committed by the governments like Canada and the United States abroad, our support for refugees is our opposition to these criminal wars and occupations.

      We must unite to stop this new era of war and occupation and defending refugee rights is part of this fight!

      Imperialist Hands Off the Middle East and Africa!

      Open the doors to all refugees now!

      Successful Forum in Vancouver Discusses the Roots of the Refugee Crisis in Europe

      As of the beginning of September, 2015, the refugee crisis in Europe had made its way into the hearts and minds of people across Canada. Out of a great human feeling of support and solidarity, people across the lower mainland had been speaking out to ask how the government of Canada was going to respond to the hundreds of thousands of people escaping to Europe. However, what was missing from the dialogue was any discussion about the very roots of the refugee crisis and why so many people are fleeing their homes and countries.

      In response to this, on September 29, 2015 the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice organized a public forum and discussion “Humanity Denied: Who is to Blame for the Refugee Crisis in Europe” At this forum, held in East Vancouver, Alison Bodine, from Fire This Time editorial board addressed this question, placing the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of imperialist governments responsible for the new era of war and occupation; governments like the U.S., U.K. and Canada. She described how U.S.-led wars, occupations and foreign interventions in the Middle East and Africa have created a situation that is completely unlivable for people in the region, who are left with no other option but to escape to Europe.

      The forum also included news clips and videos about the refugee crisis. The evening concluded with a lively and impassioned discussion, which had many participants in the forum speaking about their own experiences coming to Canada and questioning the government of Canada’s lack of response to the refugee crisis. Fire This Time organizes regular public forums and discussions.

      Please visit the website www.firethistime.net to find out about the next one!

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