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      Refugee Crisis: Imperialism, Hate and Bigotry

      By Alison Bodine

      "Politicians said after the death of my family: never again! ... Everyone allegedly wanted to do something after the photos that had so moved them. But what is happening now? The dying goes on and nobody's doing anything." - Abdullah Kurdi, father of Alan Kurdi (Bild Newspaper, August 31, 2016)

      On September 2, 2015 a three year-old boy named Alan Kurdi drowned while attempting to cross the Aegean Sea with his family. The photograph of his lifeless body on a Turkish beach was front page news around the world. Major corporate media news anchors and western politicians alike spoke about the tragic death of Alan, his five year old brother Galip and his mother Rehanna, claiming that they would “take action” to end the refugee crisis.

      One year later, it is clearer than ever that they were all crying crocodile tears.

      The refugee crisis in Europe today has not only continued, but the depth of human suffering for refugees in Europe and Canada and the U.S. has also increased. Over the past year, more and more refugees from the Middle East and Africa in Europe and the U.S. and Canada are facing inhuman living conditions as well as the spread of racism and Islamophobia.

      The Refugee Crisis Continues

      Today, over 65 million people, or one in every 113 humans on the planet, has been displaced by force. In 2015, over 1 million refugees from the Middle East and Africa arrived in Europe by sea. As of August 31, 2016, a further 278,000 refugees have been forced to do the same this year.

      In 2016 alone, nearly 3,200 people have died crossing the Mediterranean in dangerous and overcrowded rafts and boats (International Organization for Migration – IOM). This is an over 37% increase in the number of completely needless deaths when comparing the same period in 2015 to today. In fact, despite the promises by politicians to end the needless deaths of children in the Mediterranean, an average of two children have drowned in the Mediterranean every single day over the last one and a half years.

      According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the great majority of refugees that arrived in Europe from January 1, 2015 – July 31, 2016 came from three countries: Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. These three countries are also main targets of brutal imperialist interventions since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan 15 years ago. Refugees continue to flee from their homes to Europe because they had no other option for safe life and a future in the face of the complete devastation caused by wars, occupations and foreign intervention in their countries.

      Worsening Conditions for Refugees in Europe

      One would think that after more than 1.5 years of summits and negotiations between European government leaders, the conditions for the more than 1.2 million refugees in Europe would be improving. However, in fact the day-to-day reality for refugees in Europe is actually getting worse. After risking their lives to escape to Europe, refugees are confronted with further danger and humiliation when they reach Italy or Greece.

      “No one tells us anything — we have no idea what our future is going to be… If we knew it would be like this, we would not have left Syria. We die a thousand deaths here every day.” - Shiraz Madran, living in a make-shift refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece (New York Times, August 13, 2016)

      With these words, Shiraz, a mother of four is describing what it means to be one of over 57,000 refugees stranded in Greece. The camp where she is currently living with her family is near Idomeni, a town on Greece’s Northern border with Macedonia.

      European response to the refugee crisis, which has closed borders and built barb-wire fences, leaves tens of thousands of refugees in complete limbo with no place to live in dignity as they await decisions on their claims to asylum. Non-governmental organizations and human rights groups have documented the squalid conditions in these camps, which include a lack of food, water, housing and healthcare, compounded with severe overcrowding. In one camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos, 40 people were found to be living a single container. Conditions for the estimated 140,000 refugees living in Italy are no better.

      In addition to inhuman living conditions, refugees living in camps in Europe have also been subject to further violence and harassment from the police and army forces. As one example of this, a recent report by the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) of England and Wales, highlighted a disturbing pattern of “police violence, police failure to protect residents within the camp and a lack of access to justice,” for the over 8,000 refugees at a camp near Calais, France.

      Europe’s Inhuman Policies Fail Refugees

      It is not only the neglect of European governments that has forced tens of thousands of refugees to live in inhuman conditions, but it is the complete failure of European government’s to act that has stranded refugees in Greece and Italy in the first place.

      This is especially true for refugees that are not from Syria. Nearly all refugee policies and resolutions passed by European, Canadian and U.S. governments have completely ignored the basic human and legal rights of refugees from many different countries across the Middle East and Africa.

      Take, for example, the response of the government of the United Kingdom. Following the death of Alan Kurdi, the then Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Britain would accept 4,000 Syria refugees a year until 2020, for a total of 20,000 refugees over the next five years. Put into proper perspective, at the time of this announcement an average of 8,000 refugees were arriving in Europe every day. At the same time, this shockingly low number also represents only 0.03% of the population of the UK.

      Following another pressure campaign by NGO’s and some sympathetic members of Parliament in May of 2016, the government of the U.K. passed a referendum calling for the resettlement of an additional 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. As of August, fewer than 20 had arrived according to the Guardian Newspaper. On top of this, the government is currently under fire from children’s rights advocacy groups for delaying or outright refusing to accept the resettlement of just 387 children, living alone in a devastating refugee camp in Calais, France, some of whom are waiting to be reunited with family members already living in the U.K.

      This completely unjustifiable inaction in the face of the refugee crisis is even more sickening given that the U.K. is one of the main countries responsible for creating the refugee crisis in the first place. The U.K. has taken a leading role in bloody imperialist wars, occupations and interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Yemen that have displaced tens of millions of people.

      On the whole, the European Commission’s strategy for the resettlement of refugees from Greece and Italy to other European countries has been a complete disaster. After months of negotiations, the European Commission agreed to the eventual resettlement of 160,000 refugees into Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration, as of August 25, 2016, member-states have made spaces available for less than 10% of that commitment, a mere 12,990 refugees (this does not include resettlements to the U.K. or Denmark).

      There is also the disastrous European Union agreement with Turkey. This plan, which was enabled beginning in March, was supposed to increase the number of Syrian refugees directly relocated from Turkey to the E.U. in exchange for Turkey’s acceptance of refugees denied asylum in the E.U. after arriving on the shores of Europe. So far, only 1,152 refugees have been resettled from Turkey to the E.U., and less than 500 have been sent-back to Turkey from Greece. Once again, the so-called response from European governments is far from adequate to address the human suffering and disaster of the refugee crisis.

      Bigotry, Islamophobia and Racism: Capitalist Tools for Division

      “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X

      There is another dimension to the humiliation and suffering that refugees face after arriving in Europe (or in Canada or the United States for that matter). On top of uncertain and inhuman living conditions, refugees are also confronted with a capitalist campaign to sew bigotry, Islamophobia and fear in society. This reactionary campaign ensures that people in the U.S., Canada and Europe see themselves and their interests as divided from that of refugees and gives capitalist governments a scapegoat for deepening economic crisis.

      An important component of this campaign is the way that Western governments have been able to use their own inaction towards the refugee crisis to further their attack on poor, working and oppressed people. By perpetuating the refugee crisis, and refusing to give refugees legal and safe ways to get to Europe and to move within it, governments are giving far-right political parties exactly what they need when they claim that Europe is facing an “invasion.” And this kind of fear campaigning is not limited to the far-right, Prime Minister of the U.K. also referred to refugees coming to Europe as “swarms,” likening them to insects instead of human beings desperate for a safe place to be.

      One example of the devastating results of this campaign in Europe, which is propelled forward by major capitalist media and politicians alike, is included in report presented to the European Union in May, 2015 called the “Europe Islamophobia Report.” This study documented cases of violence and harassment against Muslims across Europe, including violent attacks and the vandalizing of Mosques and community centres as well as physical and verbal assault on Muslims. The report not only found that Islamophobia was on the rise across Europe, with attacks increasing as much as 500% in France in 2015, it also concluded that the refugee crisis was fueling resentment towards Muslims across Europe.

      Another way that governments insure that poor and working people see themselves as separate from refugees is through their campaign to ensure that refugees are equated with terrorists. This can be seen clearly in the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump, who, following the shooting in San Bernardino, California, announced “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on…”

      Similar statements have been used by far-right and populist politicians in Europe, who are also intent on whipping up more fear and division in society to gain popular support. According to a Pew Research Centre survey, this campaign in working, in Europe, despite the fact that not a single refugee has been linked to any terrorist attack, their survey found that “In eight of the 10 European nations surveyed, half or more [people surveyed] believe incoming refugees increase the likelihood of terrorism in their country.”

      Through their response to the refugee crisis, the capitalist class has also imposed divisions between refugees themselves. By introducing policies and resettlement opportunities that are only open to Syrian refugees, or favour Syrian refugees, they have created an atmosphere of competition between refugees. When they are able to divide refugees between one another it makes it more difficult for refugees to stand together for their human and legal rights.

      Canada’s Role in the Refugee Crisis

      As poor and working people in Canada, it is important that we recognize the leading role that Canada has played in the death and destruction in the Middle East and Africa that has led to the refugee crisis. Because of this, Canada has the responsibility to open its borders to refugees.

      As of the end of August, 2016, Canada has accepted 30,275 refugees. Some people might argue that by taking in more than 25,000 refugees Canada has fulfilled this responsibility, but this is far from the truth. Not only does the government of Canada need to do more to guarantee refugees their basic human and legal rights, Canada also has the responsibility to accept more refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa. Canada could accept 200,000 more refugees this year, and grant them full human, legal and citizen rights.

      Even the family of Alan Kurdi, whose photograph caused so many politicians around the world to declare their commitment to “help” refugees, has not been able to find permanent housing in Canada since they arrived.

      Refugees Welcome! Fighting Back Against Bigotry & Racism

      As imperialist wars, occupations and interventions in the Middle East and Africa expand, the refugee crisis is only going to continue to grow. In turn, governments in Europe, the U.S. and Canada are also going to increase their propagation of hate, bigotry and Islamophobia in their attempt to bring the crisis under their control.

      In response to this racist campaign, poor and working people in imperialist countries must demand that all borders be opened immediately. This is the only way to immediately alleviate the pain and suffering of refugees. Refugees must also be welcomed into Europe, the U.S. and Canada by granting them full human and legal rights that enable them to live dignified lives.

      As poor and working people we must also stand with refugees from all over the Middle East and Africa, people who, like anyone, do not want to be forced to leave their homes, families and everything they have ever known. We have a responsibility to put an end to the refugee crisis and educate, organize and mobilize to end imperialist wars, occupations and interventions!

      No to Wars and Occupations!
      Yes to Refugees!
      Open the Borders Now!

      Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette

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