Picture a group of refugees gathered in a clearing on the Aegean Coast of Turkey, awaiting the arrival of a small rubber boat to take them to the shores of Greece. People from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, all of whom carry in their eyes and movements the experience of a perilous journey to Turkey and the weight of having left their entire lives behind them. They are anticipating the final stage of their passage to Europe, a four kilometre ride on a boat, or more often than not, a rubber raft filled with far too many people to make the journey safely. 14 people have already drowned in the water this morning, seven of them children.
What is the one question that you would ask them if you were there on the coast? Maybe it would be “Why are you here making this dangerous journey to Europe?” This is the same question posed to a young refugee from Afghanistan recently. He responded, “I am not interested to go to Europe, Europe is not better for me. Afghanistan is better for me, but they took Afghanistan away from me. They do not let me be in Afghanistan.”
“They took Afghanistan away from me”
This entire sentence is only six words long, but it has wrapped in it all of the reality that this young man faces. His country, his home, his culture, his community, his history has been taken away from him. And with nothing left he has now fled towards Europe.
The words of this Afghan refugee, whose name was not given in the interview, could be echoed of times by millions of refugees, most of whom have not made it as far as Europe and are scraping by a living in slums and refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey. In the last 14 years of the new era of war and occupation, not only has Afghanistan been taken away from Afghans but Syria has been taken away from Syrians, Iraq has been taken away from Iraqis, Libya has been taken away from Libyans and the list goes on.
The direct result of the U.S. war machine’s terrible path through the Middle East and Africa has been a devastating increase in the number of refugees crossing into Europe in the last year. As of December of 2015 an estimated 1 million refugees have entered Europe through the both land and sea crossings, fleeing violence and chaos in their home countries, putting their own lives and the lives of their families in the hands of human smugglers. This is four times as many refugees made the same crossing in 2014. According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) the vast majority of the 1 million refugees, men, women and children of all ages, are from Syria (53%), Afghanistan (18%), and Iraq (6%). These are all countries that have has their basic social fabric torn apart by U.S.-led foreign intervention, war and occupation.
These three countries also have something else in common; there is no end in sight to the wars and occupations that have imposed this unbelievable destruction and resulted in the deaths of millions of people (it is estimated that 1.5 million people have been killed in the war and occupation of Iraq alone).
In fact, misery, not hope, has only increased for people trying to build a life in the rubble of devastated infrastructure and complete chaos. U.S. drones and fighter jets have continued to drop bombs and rain terror on people in Afghanistan, who have been fighting against foreign U.S./NATO occupation ever since the 2001 invasion of their country. For people in Iraq and Syria their devastation comes from both the direct military intervention of the U.S. government and their allies, and the support that these same imperialist forces have been giving to the extremist terrorist organization IS (also known as ISIS/ISIL). With one hand the over 12 year long U.S./U.K occupation of Iraq has set the stage for the development of IS by fomenting sectarian divisions and tearing apart the Iraqi government and civil society. With the other hand imperialist forces have also given direct material support to IS both through their support for the so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria, which have benefitted from weapons, training and funding by the U.S. government and their allies, including reactionary gulf countries such as Saud Arabia.
Although an average of 8,000 people a day landed on the shores of Greece in the month of October (International Organization for Migration – IOM), many more millions of refugees are living in poor developing countries adjacent to the home that they are fleeing. Take for example, Syrian refugees. After nearly five years of a bloody and brutal Western-fomented civil war in Syria, 40% of the population of Syria is now displaced, with 8 million people internally displaced and 4.5 million people who have fled through the borders of their devastated country; there are 2 million refugees from Syria in Turkey and 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The refugee camps and slums of these countries are at their capacity and more and more people are taking what little savings they may have left and fleeing for their lives and futures once again. As one Syrian father of four put it, conditions in Beirut left him no choice but to find a way to continue on their journey for safety, "What can I say, we have lost everything, and now we are being forced to give up our dignity, “ he said to a representative of the UNHCR.
The escalation in the number of refugees fleeing for Europe is the direct result of imperialist intervention, wars and occupations in the Middle East and Africa. Humanity can only take so much pain, humiliation and death before it looks for somewhere safe to be.
Refugee Crisis – Crisis for Humanity
Nine months have passed since the shocking April, 2015 deaths of over 900 people in the Mediterranean Sea, who drowned when the smuggler ship taking them from Libya to Italy cap-sized. From that point on “refugee crisis in Europe” has been a constant presence in mainstream media as the needless deaths continue, yet there have been no significant improvements in the lives of refugees. As of December 1, 2015, over 3,500 people have drowned crossing the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, fleeing overcrowded refugee camps and countries destroyed by war and occupation. Hundreds more have been killed at the hands of human traffickers. As winter sets in Europe, the journey has only become more perilous, and with it will come more painful refugee deaths and suffering.
In the face of this continuing crisis for humanity, European leaders have continued to hold meetings and summits that have so far changed very little for the inhuman conditions that the refugees are confronted with when entering Europe. Greece remains largely underfunded and unprepared to continuously accept so many refugees. Even with additional funds for constructing centers to receive refugees at three new sites, Greece will only have the capacity to register, let alone feed and house with dignity, 3,500 refugees, far short of the at least 5,000 arriving every day.
Due to new regulations governing how and where certain types of refugees from certain countries can move, a further crisis has developed leaving large groups of people stranded outside along different European borders. This includes the border between Greece and Macedonia, about which a United Nations Children’s Fund spokesperson recently stated, "They [refugees] are living in extremely poor conditions, with inadequate shelter. People are sleeping sometimes 30 to 40 inside of a tent to keep warm. A lot of families that we spoke with had been there seven to 10 days, and that includes families with children." In a callous and inhuman response to this crisis, a new metal fence between Greece and Macedonia is now under construction.
The violence and brutality faced by refugees in Europe has continued largely in the form of police and military forces in different countries along the way deploying tear gas and rubber bullets against refugees. Due to the inaction and inhumanity of European governments, refugees have also had to rely on a risky passage with human traffickers and the criminal underground for at least part of their journey towards countries like Germany and Sweden which are accepting larger numbers of refugees.
Refugee = Terrorist?
Not all of the violence that refugees face in Europe comes directly from state police and military forces. Refugees are also targeted by attacks from anti-immigrant and Islamophobic political parties and racist groups in Europe. These far-right organizations have been able to capitalize on a climate of fear, stoked by the global capitalist economic crisis and mass corporate media world-wide. This relationship can be seen very clearly in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris.
“Official: One of the Paris terrorists came to Europe with Syrian war refugees,” was Fox News headline appearing almost immediately after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Multiply this hundreds of times over, and what began as a speculation extracted from a falsified passport found on the scene of one of the terrorist bombing is now a fact. The idea that refugees are responsible for the terrorist attacks in Paris is quickly and firmly planted within the heads of hundreds of thousands of people, not only in Europe, but around the world. In fact, just hours after the terrorist attacks in Paris the refugee camp in Calias, France was lit on fire.
In the United States, the country most responsible for creating the refugee crisis itself, 24 state governors publicly declared that they would not accept refugees in their states, although they have no actual power to enforce this. In Canada, Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan also said that refugees were not welcome in his Province (although under the new Liberal refugee plan Saskatchewan is set to receive 850 Syrian refugees). To put this in context, the U.S. government has so far only committed to admitting a disgustingly low 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year.
That these racist and Islamophobic ideas can be expressed so publicly and outright, and receive support from some working and poor people in Canada and the U.S. is a testament to the effectiveness of the anti-Muslim campaign. This is a campaign that has especially been ramped up since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in NYC and the invasion of Afghanistan. The capitalist class in imperialist countries is certainly not interested in working and poor people here in the U.S. and Canada developing more sympathy and solidarity with refugees who are fleeing their wars and occupations.
Although the majority of refugees entering Europe this year have come from three Middle Eastern countries pinned directly under the boot of the U.S. military, there are also a large number of refugees that have made dangerous crossing to Europe from African countries. To further divide people, Western governments are also enforcing a distinction between refugees and so-called economic migrants. Although these definitions may be of some significance under existing international law, on a human level and for poor and working people, there is not in fact any distinction. Refugees from countries in Africa, such as Eritrea are also fleeing devastation caused by imperialist intervention. This includes both the direct intervention of the U.S. backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, as well as the continuous violence and extreme poverty caused by a legacy of colonization and the exploitation of resources by foreign governments.
Broken Promise - Syrian Refugees in Canada
For many people in Canada, the question of accepting Syrian refugees was an important recent election issue, so much so that Syrian refugees have been one of the first issues addressed by the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau. The Liberal party platform prior to the election read, "Many Canadians have already offered to help those fleeing Syria, and it is time for the federal government to offer more help, too. We have a responsibility to expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war a safe haven in Canada. To that end, we will expand Canada’s intake of refugees from Syria by 25,000 through immediate government sponsorship. ..”
In late November, Justin Trudeau broke his election promise and announced a new and reduced plan. Now the government of Canada has committed to bringing only 10,000 refugees (both government sponsored and privately sponsored) by the end of December. By the end of February they say another 15,000 will arrive. This brings the total number of Syrian refugees to 25,000 (again, both government sponsored and privately sponsored). One year from now, at the end of 2016 is when they expect to have fulfilled their initial commitment to bring 25,000 government sponsored refugees to Canada. The Liberal government has also introduced criteria into the selection of refugees that excludes single men from the possibility of being chosen, indicating that they have bought into promoting the refugee = terrorist argument too.
So what changed? Justin Trudeau has himself cited the terrorist attacks in Paris and security concerns of people in Canada as one of the factors influencing the decision of the government of Canada to reduce its earlier commitment. Outside of that, they have claimed that provincial service agencies need more time to properly coordinate and to be able to accept so many refugees.
However, behind all of these excuses, Canada is still the second largest country on earth with plenty of human and natural resources to accept far more than 25,000 government sponsored refugees in the next year. Fire This Time continues to demand that Canada immediately accept 50,000 refugees, with full legal and human rights. Over the next year, we demand that Canada accept at a minimum 150,000 refugees. This is the least that the government of Canada can do to take responsibility for its complicity in the wars and occupations in the Middle East and Africa, including the bombing of Syria and Iraq.
What is the Solution to the Refugee Crisis?
Despite the coming of cold weather and increasingly dangerous sea crossing, refugees fleeing countries destroyed by imperialist wars and occupations continue risk their lives for the shores of Europe. In the month of October alone 220,000 refugees entered Europe.
No amount of fencing, violence and intimidation will stop people facing no future and no life in their home countries. It is our responsibility to demand that Europe and all imperialist countries and their allies open the doors to refugees now, but it is also our responsibility as poor and working people living in Canada to unite and fight to end imperialist wars and occupations.
As we look towards the coming year, the U.S.-led war machine is showing no signs of slowing down on its deadly path. Not only is the French government now bombing Syria with a renewed brutality in the name of fighting IS, but the U.S. government has committed to continuing its support for so-called moderate rebels in Syria. Already, $600 million has been dedicated to supporting Syrian rebels in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act budget. Here in Canada, although the Liberal government has said that Canadian fighter jets and the Canadian bombing of Iraq will stop when the mission expires in March, they have also pledged their continuing support for the U.S.-led coalition further dividing and destroying Iraq and Syria in the name of “fighting IS terrorists.”
As peace loving people we cannot forget the words of the refugee from Afghanistan who said “I am not interested to go to Europe, Europe is not better for me. Afghanistan is better for me, but they took Afghanistan away from me. They do not let me be in Afghanistan.”
We must unite to stop this new era of war and occupation and defending refugees is part of this fight!
Imperialist hands off the Middle East and Africa!
Open the doors to all refugees now!
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