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Editorial of the Socialist, issue 892
Refugee crisis: cruel capitalist regimes responsible
As the European Union (EU) referendum campaign gears up, the issue of migration has been put centre stage by the pro-big business campaigns on both the 'remain' and 'exit' sides of the debate. Some of those who are rightly repelled by the 'little Englander' nationalism of the capitalist 'leave' campaign will be tempted to vote to remain in the EU in the hope this would mean a more humane attitude being taken to refugees fleeing war.
The truth is very different. As arguments over refugees threaten to tear the EU apart it is highlighting how capitalist politicians - in or out of the EU - are incapable of offering a solution to the refugee crisis. Instead they all attempt to offload the problem onto other countries while leaving refugees living in appalling inhuman conditions.
Capitalist politicians continent-wide pose as being 'tough on migration' and play on workers' genuine fears about the ability of public services to cope with an increase in the number of refugees. Public services, of course, that have been cut to the bone by those same capitalist politicians.
Contrary to the propaganda of capitalist governments most of those trying to reach Europe are only doing so as a result of the truly desperate situation they face at home. Of those who arrive first in Greece (currently more than half of the total) more than 85% have come from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
All of these are countries where Western military intervention has helped to create the nightmare situations from which people are now being forced to run. Most never reach Europe - for example around six and a half million Syrian refugees are displaced within the country.
Britain's New Labour government took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite massive opposition from the population, which was the beginning of the hell on earth that has since engulfed large parts of the Middle East - above all Syria. Now the current government has joined in the US-led bombing of Syria alongside France and other countries. This will do nothing to bring peace to Syria, but will only increase the death, misery and the number of refugees forced to flee for their lives.
And it costs a fortune - £438,000 per raid according to the Metro newspaper. Yet while a fortune is being spent raining death on Syrians, hardly any are being granted asylum. In the last quarter of 2015, after Cameron had been forced under public pressure to promise to help Syrian asylums seekers, only a measly 339 were granted refugee status by the UK government.
But nor is the EU a haven for refugees: it is not known as Fortress Europe for nothing. The tragedy of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean has been caused by EU policy over recent years.
The building of huge walls, guarded by armed soldiers, stopped people crossing into Europe by land, so they took to the sea. The capitalist politicians of Europe, including the British government, responded by cutting back the rescue boats. The barbaric logic of the argument was that, if more refugees drowned, it would convince others not to come.
This unbelievable cruelty didn't work of course. Instead the numbers drowning increased exponentially. In April 2015 1,308 migrants are believed to have drowned compared to 42 in the previous April when the Mare Nostrum rescue boats were still in operation.
In the summer of last year capitalist politicians temporarily changed tack in the face of the public outcry following photographs of a drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi. A number of countries - particularly Germany - relaxed the borders and allowed more refugees to enter. That phase, however, did not last long.
Quickly the different countries of the EU started squabbling among themselves as they tried to offload refugees onto others. The Schengen agreement, which previously allowed free movement within large parts of the EU (but not Britain), has effectively been suspended as country after country reintroduced national border checks.
The latest ruse to emerge from an EU summit is to try and pay the Turkish government to act as the border police holding back refugees trying to reach Europe. In return they have promised €6 billion in aid to Turkey (although the previous pledge for €3 billion has not actually been paid) and to speed up EU membership talks.
In addition, for every individual returned to Turkey the EU has agreed to take one Syrian refugee from Turkey (where there are currently more than 600,000). This desperate plan will be a logistical nightmare to try and implement.
Nor will it actually give Turkey an incentive to try and stop boats of refugees setting off for Greece. On the contrary, the Turkish state may conclude that allowing the boats to set off will force the EU to take more Syrians from them.
In their desperation to dump the refugee crisis on Turkey the EU has brushed aside the highly undemocratic character of the Turkish regime and the war it is conducting against the Kurdish people. Yet just last Friday the Turkish government stepped in and took over the largest circulation national newspaper because it had dared to criticise them.
And the Turkish government has been carrying out a brutal civil war against the Kurdish people in south-eastern Turkey, resulting in hundreds of deaths. It has also been bombing Kurdish controlled villages within Syria - effectively aiding Isis. Yet EU powers have done no more than gently chastise Erdogan, Turkey's president, for this crime.
The EU's proposals also turn Greece into a giant holding pen - in reality a prison camp - for refugees. There will soon be an estimated 70,000 refugees trapped in Greece following the closure of Greece's border with Macedonia. This decision was not taken by the Macedonian government alone, but as a result of a 'mini-summit' of Austria and central and eastern European states. Greece was not even invited.
The vast majority of refugees are not aiming to settle in Greece, but to travel through to northern Europe. Now they are left - starving and homeless - on the streets of Greece. Greece is already suffering vicious austerity at the hands of the EU - with over 50% youth unemployment and average wages having fallen by more than a third - now the country is being expected to somehow look after the bulk of the refugees who manage to reach Europe.
Control of decisions whether to grant asylum cannot be left in the hands of the Tories, or the equally callous governments of the rest of the EU. The workers' movement across Europe should demand that elected committees of ordinary working people, including representatives of migrants' organisations, have the right to review asylum cases and grant asylum.
Many working class people - in Greece but also Britain and other countries - feel that, while they sympathise with the suffering of the refugees - their countries' public services and housing supply cannot cope with the numbers that are looking for shelter. This idea is whipped up by the right-wing politicians who are constantly telling workers that the reason they are not paid enough, or cannot find decent housing, or a job, is because of the migrants.
At the same time it is usually the poorest sections of society whose communities are expected to house refugees. In Britain, for example, the private companies onto which the government has offloaded responsibility for housing refugees have a 'business model' reliant on housing refugees in the parts of Britain with the very lowest rents.
Meanwhile, in the richest boroughs of London there are an estimated 75,000 empty residential properties, mostly owned by speculators interested only in making a fat profit. If homes owned by speculators alone were requisitioned by the government it would go a long way to providing housing both for the 68,000 households currently registered as homeless in Britain, and to providing houses for refugees.
Refugees and migrants are not responsible for the endless austerity we have endured both in Britain and across the EU. In Britain £80 billion was cut from public spending under the Con-Dem government, coincidentally the same amount as the bankers have received in bonuses since the economic crisis began.
If we allow the governments of Europe to falsely lay the blame for austerity with migrants instead of with the crisis-ridden capitalist system and the bankers and billionaires who benefit from it, then the capitalists will succeed in grinding our living conditions into the dirt. It is vital that the workers' movement offers a way forward, otherwise the far right can make gains.
It is a condemnation of the capitalist EU - with a population of 500 million - that it is facing an existential crisis over its inability to cope with the million or so refugees. Yet, according to the Guardian, there are eleven million empty homes in the EU - enough to solve the housing crisis of existing citizens as well as to house the refugees.
The wealth exists to provide help for refugees - but it should not come from those already suffering austerity - but from enormous riches of the 1% - both in Britain and internationally. It was left to Abdullah Kurdi, the bereaved father of the toddlers who drowned in the summer, to point out that the regimes of the Middle East are doing nothing to help refugees, not even recognising the right to asylum in their countries.
Vast sums owned by the billionaire elites of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern regimes are salted away in Britain and other European countries. Over 80% of properties worth over £2 million in London are owned by overseas business people, many from the Middle East. The Middle East elite's wealth in Europe should be seized to pay for looking after the refugees from their regimes and wars.
The Socialist urges its readers to vote for exit in the EU referendum on a socialist and internationalist basis. The EU, as its treatment of refugees demonstrates, is not internationalist.
In essence it is a coming together of big business across Europe in order to maximise markets and profits. Far from resulting in European harmony, as the current refugee crisis shows, any serious problem leads to an increase in nationalist tensions as the different capitalist classes of Europe attempt to make sure they are not the ones to carry the burden.
EU laws and treaties are designed to assist the capitalist classes of Europe at the expense of the working class and poor. As a result the modest proposals in this editorial to make the 1% pay for the crisis would be illegal under EU law. Of course this would not prevent a determined socialist government implementing such policies, but they are an extra difficulty to overcome.
At the same time any government which implemented socialist policies would not be isolated. It would be enormously popular, not just at home, but internationally. It would be able to make an international appeal for support from workers across Europe and the world.
The only way to permanently end the refugee crisis is to fight for a democratic socialist world. On the basis of capitalism, there will always be people forced to flee their country, not by choice, but out of desperation as a result of war, environmental catastrophe and starvation.
A socialist society would harness the wealth, science and technique created by capitalism in order to meet the needs of the majority worldwide. Only on that basis would it be possible to have a world where people are free to move if they wish to, but are not forced to do so by the nightmare they face at home.