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      Who is to Blame for Refugee Crisis in Europe?

      By Alison Bodine

      It is only September and already the year 2015 has been marked by severe humanitarian crisis and devastation. This time embodied in the waves of refugees fleeing to Europe from countries destroyed by imperialist wars, occupations and foreign intervention. Tens of thousands of people are moving from the poverty, violence and danger of bombed and ruined countries, through the Mediterranean crossing to Europe putting their lives at risk in search of a life and a somewhere to be safe.

      The numbers of women, men and children forced from their homes and livelihoods in Africa and the Middle East are staggering. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) 350,000 refugees have crossed into Europe in 2015, increased dramatically from 280,000 estimated to have crossed in 2014.

      However, even these numbers are far from the total number of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. On top of this unbelievable forced movement of people, in fact, only a fraction of refugees make the perilous journey to Europe. A far greater number of people remain in refugee camps in the region. Take for example the nearly 8 million internally displaced people in Syria, 2.5 million people displaced in Darfur, Sudan or the 1.5 million people that fled Afghanistan and now live in Pakistan. There are now 60 million refugees in the world, people fleeing wars and persecution (United Nations).

      In no calculation can the exodus of this many people be considered a normal or regular process, or one that represents the search of migrants for a better life when faced with poverty and the lack of a future. This is a refugee crisis resulting from the new era of war and occupation, the over 14 years of escalating imperialist wars, occupation, sanctions and foreign intervention in the Middle East and Africa.

      Life destroyed by Western intervention, war and occupation

      "You have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless water is safer than land"
      - Somali poet Warsan Shire

      This quote sums up the situation facing tens of thousands of desperate refugees. Simply put, they have no other option for life then to move no matter the perils that they face on the way. The new era of war and occupation that began with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 has created millions of displaced people with no option but to look for somewhere safe to be.

      According to an article in the BBC, 27% of refugees entering Europe through the Mediterranean crossings come from two countries, Syria and Afghanistan. It is no coincidence that these countries are also two of the countries completely destroyed by imperialist powers over the last 14 years.

      However, this is not the end of this horrific story. The new era of war and occupation has also left Iraq and Libya in ruins, and through more bombings, sanctions and covert and overt intervention has also especially targeted the people of Yemen, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, threatening to tear open the entire social fabric of Africa and the Middle East.

      The crisis for refugees does not begin in Europe

      Long before we see the frightened yet determined faces of refugees rescued at sea off the coast of Italy or walking along railroad tracks in Macedonia, their journey has begun face to face with chaos, death and destruction at their front door. In order to better understand the reasons why people are forced to flee, we have to go beyond the shores of Italy, Spain or Greece, even thousands of kilometres away, to the countries from which the refugees are leaving.

      It would be impossible to include a list of all the devastating effects of continued imperialist interventions in Africa and the Middle East in this short article, but in order to better understand the conditions that have led to the refugee crisis in Europe, it is important to better understand just how the new era of war and occupation has formed its deadly web.


      In the words of an Afghan refugee and mother, "All of my children grew up with this war. They are somehow used to the fighting and the bombing. Of course they are afraid, but they know that they need to stay inside and never go out of their room in case a bullet or a rocket hits them. They know what to do when the fighting is here."

      Afghanistan is a country torn open by 14 years of imperialist war and occupation. The 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan was promoted as an invasion and occupation meant to liberate Afghanistan from the evil clutches of the Taliban, and invasion to bring the people of Afghanistan to a new age of democracy and women's rights.

      Instead the war and the US/ NATO/Canada occupation has brought nothing but destruction to the people of Afghanistan. Now the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 35-40% and 36% percent of the population do not have access to food, shelter, clothing or clean water.

      Reconstruction projects billed as the good results of an imperialist occupation are quickly falling apart, as most were built with a photo-op, not a human life, in mind.

      Today, one out of every 42 women of child- bearing age dies from complications related to pregnancy or child birth. In urban areas, only 20% of the women in Afghanistan age 15-24 are literate; the literacy rate for women living in rural Afghanistan is three times lower.

      In 2014 the aid organization Doctors Without Borders painted a picture of the complete lack of infrastructure and access to health care that the people of Afghanistan face. They reported that 66% of people in Afghanistan said that they lived on around $1 US dollar a day.


      According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) 40% of the population of Syria has been displaced over the last four year. Nearly 8 million people are internally displaced and four million have crossed the Syrian border mainly to live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey (New York Times). Syria now has the largest number of displaced people of any country in the world.

      And what has caused this humanitarian crisis for the people of Syria? - imperialist intervention in the form of devastating civil war. This war, which has killed from 210,000 - 300,000 people by varying estimations, started in 2011 as a movement of so- called rebels against the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad.

      The US and other imperialist countries quickly intervened and began funding and supporting these "rebel" groups, like the Free Syrian Army, adopting a policy of facilitating regime change in Syria. Imperialist intervention has continued to fuel the fire in the civil war, which has now left the country fragmented and destroyed. In January, 2015 the World Health Organization reported that 1 million people have been injured in this devastation.

      The crisis in Syria escalated to another level in 2014 when the extremist organization ISIS/ ISIL emerged from the rubble of the civil war.

      The so-called "moderate" rebels supported by the US and other imperialist governments were no longer so moderate. ISIS/ISIL now violently controls a part of Syria and the US has begun a bombing campaign in Syria which they say is in the name of stopping the spread of ISIS/ISIL, but in reality it has been widely reported that US bombs have been killing Syrian civilians instead.


      Travel to the East of Syria and there is yet another country destroyed by imperialist wars and occupation, Iraq. Iraq was invaded by the US in March of 2003. On May 1, 2003 US President George W. Bush stood in front of a banner stating "Mission Accomplished" and declared the war on Iraq over.

      What ensued was over 12 years of a brutal US occupation that perpetrated some of the most horrific injustices and war crimes upon the people of Iraq. With all basic infrastructure destroyed, today, the United Nations estimates that 8 million people in Iraq are in need of basic necessities like food and water.

      Depleted uranium is the legacy of US and imperialist war and occupation in Iraq. In Fallujah, a town targeted by the US military during the occupation, Iraqi babies are miscarried or born with birth defects at a rate many times higher than those seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the US nuclear bombing, a rate 33 times higher than in Europe.

      In Iraq, 3.6 million people are internally displaced. In fact, in the past year Iraq has experienced the highest growth in the number of internally displaced people of any country. This increase in refugees coincided with the new US war on Iraq that began with the first Western bombings of ISIS/ISIL.

      Yemen The most recent savage wing of imperialist intervention in the Middle East has come in the form of the brutal US- backed Saudi-Arabian bombing of Yemen. After over five months of bombing, the UN World Food Program has warned that a famine in Yemen is developing, not a surprise given that Saudi Arabia has also imposed an air, land and sea blockade. Now, 80% of the people of Yemen are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.

      Refugees fleeing Yemen travel by boat to the Horn of Africa, where they continue their dangerous travel north to the Mediterranean crossings into Europe.

      Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia

      "Yes, it's dangerous. I know I can die. If I get a chance to live, OK, better. But if I die, that's also OK. I cannot go anywhere else to change my life. I can't change it in my country and that is why I want to leave." - Judie, an Eritrean refugee and widow, smuggled into Libya.

      On top of the recent influx of refugees into the Horn of Africa from Yemen, this region of Africa is already reeling under the effects of colonization and imperialist intervention. The U.S. and imperialist forces escalated their intervention in the Horn of Africa starting in 2007. In this year, the US backed an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia through training, arms and logistical support given to the Ethiopian army. This invasion resulted in the overthrow of the government of Somalia. From that time on the entire region has faced extreme destabilization. Today, the UNHCR estimates that 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month, many ending up on the Libyan coast. Additionally, Ethiopia is the African country with the most refugees, many of which are running from continued violence in South Sudan.


      Going towards Western Africa, there is once again another country bombed by imperialist governments in the last 14 years. The people of Mali were bombed in 2013, in a campaign led by France that included the support of the US and Canada. This bombing was in the name of fighting terrorism in Mali, but like a tragic number of similar stories, the result was devastation and instability for the people of Mali that continues to this day.


      The tragic story of the refugee crisis would not be complete without a closer look at the country where many of the refugees reaching the shores of Europe risk their lives to cross the "Sea of Death" (Mediterranean Sea).

      The Western bombing of Libya began in March of 2011. For the next seven months a US/UK/France/Canada/NATO coalition continuously bombed Libya, flying over 26,000 bombing sorties and eventually assassinating the President of Libya, Muammar Ghaddafi. The Western intervention was justified in the name of supporting a movement of so-called Libyan rebels fighting in Libya for human rights and democracy. However, over four years after the bombing, Libya, once the wealthiest country in Africa, is a fractured and devastated land.

      The World Health Organization reported this year that Libya has just 1,500 medical clinics and hospitals to serve 6.5million people. The UNHCR estimates that there are 2.5million people in Libya in need of humanitarian assistance, among them, the 400,000 internally displaced people that fled their homes in search of safety just in the last year alone.

      In the sheer destruction and chaos that Western intervention brought to Libya, a space opened up for smugglers to operate without fear or consequence. From the shores of Libya, people depart for Europe on overcrowded boats and rafts, frequently without life jackets and almost always with not enough fuel to make it to the European shores. It is also in Libya that they are held at the mercy of human smugglers for months at a time, kept in cruel and inhuman conditions inside of Libyan detention centers, awaiting a boat or raft to take them to the Greece or Italy.

      Depths of the refugee crisis

      From the grim figures above, it is clear that the result of the last 14 years of the new era of war and occupation has been death and destruction. An entire region, from Africa to the Middle East has been destabilized to the point of being unliveable. The basic social and economic fabric in these countries has become unbound, and through the rips and threads, people have been forced to leave behind what is left of their lives.

      It is clear that life for millions of people in Africa and the Middle East has become simply unliveable. It is either die in the country they are from, or take a risk for life and a future for your family. And so the refugee crisis in Europe has now become the most visible wound of the imperialist wars and occupation devastating Africa and the Middle East. Since January of 2015, more than 300,000 refugees have sought to cross the Mediterranean Sea and at least 2,636 people have drowned in its waters.

      The depths of this human tragedy once again became the focus on international media on August 27, 2015. On this day as many as 550 people were killed when two boats capsized on route from Libya to Italy. Then the world turned in horror with the news that 71 people, including four children had been found dead in the back of a semi- truck in Austria. Refugees take this risk because they see no other option and no end of the war, occupation and devastation in sight.

      Europe must open its borders

      So far the response of the government of Europe to the human crisis of refugees has been disgraceful; people and families moved and pushed along, shot with rubber bullets and tear gas, turned back and told to pass through newly built fences. At a time when the border should be opened to facilitate the mass movement of people to places where they can live as humans and be safe, instead the borders of Europe are tightening. In fact, the Hungarian government has just completed a barbed-wire fence to restrict the movement of refugees through its 109 mile long border with Serbia.

      Face-saving manoeuvres meant to cover-up the minimal and callous response of European governments to the refugee crisis have also continued in the last few months of escalating humanitarian crisis. What has been the latest move? A camp in Calais, France where refugees go in order to attempt a dangerous crossing from France into the UK, has just received funding in order to be turned into a proper refugee camp with conditions fit for humans. What's the problem with this? - the camp has only been given enough fundin to house 1,500 refugees, when it is currently holding at least 4,000.

      On September 14 the European Union is having an emergency meeting which will bring together the interior ministers of 28 different countries to discuss the refugee crisis. In the two weeks that will pass until that time around 15,000 more refugees will arrive in Europe. Whatever solution is developed, it will certainly be a case of too little, too late for tens of thousands of refugees.

      The only short term solution to the crisis is for Europe to open the borders to all refugees and grant them legal status.

      Canada's hands are not clean

      Although this article has mostly focused on the responsibility of European governments to solve the refugee crisis, in no way are other imperialist governments like the US and Canada clean of their own responsibilities. From here in Canada it may be easy to look at the photos of refugees risking their lives in over-crowded boats, passing newborns beneath barbed wire fences, or jumping onto the sides of moving buses and trains headed into Europe, but Canada's role cannot be ignored. Canada is one of the imperialist countries responsible for creating the disastrous situation in the Middle East and Africa.

      Since 2001, Canada has provided directly military support or logistical and intelligence support for every major imperialist intervention in Africa and the Middle East from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya and Mali.

      Most recently, Canada has committed itself to the US-led coalition fight against ISIS/ ISIL in Iraq and Syria. So far Canada has provided over 600 armed forces personnel, six CF-188 aircraft, one mid-air refuelling plane and two surveillance aircrafts. Let's not forget that Canada was also part of the coalition that participated in bombing Libya for seven months resulting in hundreds of civilian death.

      It is time that the government of Canada take responsibility for its acts against the people of the Middle East and Africa. In light of the severe human crisis for refugees in Europe, Canada should immediately offer to accept in 50,000 refugees and legalize them immediately with full legal and human rights.

      Capitalism and imperialism is the cause of the refugee crisis

      Whittled down to its very core the new era of war and occupation is about the global war for resources and hegemony. As the US and their imperialist allies continue to face economic crisis, they will also continue their drive for more and more resources and more and more profit to keep their system afloat.

      The refugee crisis that is so visible today is a devastating symptom of the imperialist and capitalist disease, a disease that has forced millions of people to flee their home. People would not risk their lives if they didn't have to, if imperialist countries had not destroyed their lives in the name of expanding profits and exploitation of resources. No matter how many fences are erected, or how dangerous the crossing becomes, humanity will always find a way to take a risk for life in the face of a certain death.

      Europe and imperialist governments around the world like the US and Canada must take responsibility for the human tragedy they have created, whether it is walking though the Sahara desert or yelling out in the night hoping to be rescued by a passing fishing boat.

      The only immediate solution to the refugee crisis is to open the borders, the long term solution is to end imperialist wars and occupation.

      Imperialist Hands Off the Middle East and Africa!

      Open the doors to all refugees now!

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