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From: The Socialist issue 872, 30 September 2015: Organise, strike, resist!

Search site for keywords: Refugees - EU - Europe - Syria - Military - War - European - Asylum - Police - Refugee - Terrorism - Libya - Turkey - Arab - Afghanistan - Detention - Economic crisis - Imperialism - Housing

Demo in support of refugees, Sept 2015, photo by Paul Mattsson

Demo in support of refugees, Sept 2015, photo by Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

EU ministers squabble while refugees drown

Steve Score

As the horrors facing millions of refugees multiply, the splits between the leaders of the European Union (EU) demonstrate their inability to solve the crisis. People fleeing the devastation of war, repression and poverty, caused by political instability and capitalism, face nightmare journeys in an attempt to reach what they hope is safety.

On the way thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean and thousands more have come up against razor wire fences, tear gas and police violence as they are impeded on their route.

Pictures of the plight of these refugees have resulted in a wave of support from many people across Europe, but their governments have not shown the same sympathy.

On 22 September - after months of arguing between the different ministers inside the EU and against the opposition in particular of the eastern European governments - they decided on a new quota scheme to distribute 120,000 refugees across Europe. 66,000 are to be 'shared out' this year and the rest a year later. Even as this was passed senior EU diplomats were being quoted as saying it will never be implemented.

The British government stands aloof from this, with Prime Minister Cameron only pledging to take 20,000 from inside Syria over five years. But this compares to the 480,000 refugees that have made it to Europe so far this year. Millions more refugees remain outside Europe.

An estimated two million are in Turkey for example.

The EU leaders all wish to maintain 'Fortress Europe', but are split on how many to allow in.


Their main plan, to date, is to spend more money (although still inadequate) on aid to refugees in camps outside Europe and to increase funding to transit countries in the hope they can prevent more refugees coming in.

EU ministers want to establish 'hotspots', ie detention centres, in Italy and Greece to process large numbers of asylum claims, while beefing up coastguard and border regimes (Frontex) on the southern edge of Europe.

At the same time they are fingerprinting refugees as they arrive in Italy and Greece in an attempt to contain them to their allocated destinations and deport those they deem as 'economic migrants' rather than refugees.

This will not work. Whatever barriers are placed in their way, the desperation caused by the appalling situations in their home countries pushes people on.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pointed out that unless the war in Syria ends, there could be millions more on their way.

One of the central reasons for these mass movements of people is the military interventions of western governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya for imperialist motives, notably 'regime change', but carried out under the pretext of 'stopping terrorism' and for 'democracy'.

These military campaigns have created further instability and even more repression, allowing reactionary sectarian movements such as Isis to grow.

Yet the refugee crisis is being used to argue for further military action by western governments. France has already started bombing missions inside Syria, and Cameron also wants to extend action from Iraq to Syria.

New fault lines are being opened up within the EU, already divided over the economic crisis.

On the one hand EU governments want to keep out as many refugees as they can, but on the other they want to maintain the 'free movement of labour' within the so-called 'Schengen zone' in order to allow the maximum exploitation of workers within Europe.

However, this huge movement of refugees is threatening the Schengen agreement. Germany, which is short of labour, opened up one of its borders to the new wave of refugees but then closed it very quickly.

Ultimately, lasting solutions to wars, sectarian violence and poverty can only be achieved by ending imperialism and capitalism internationally.

Revolutionary struggle

To that end, united movements of the working class and poor need to be built - such as were glimpsed during the 'Arab spring' revolutionary movements of 2011.

These movements must be encouraged and embraced by the workers' movement in the advanced capitalist countries.

In the meantime, the right to asylum must be defended within Europe. Resources need to be directed to helping refugees.

But at the same time, resources - which could come from the currently untaxed profits and assets of the super-rich and giant corporations - need to be used to deal with the problems facing all working class people within Europe.

Deploying such resources would also cut across resentment being whipped up by right-wing politicians and organisations against new arrivals. This means action on housing, low pay, jobs and services. The big business governments of Europe will not be able to deliver on that - only a socialist movement can.

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