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Proletarian issue 68 (October 2015)
Who is to blame for the refugee crisis?
Why is it that so many more refugees are heading for western Europe than was the case five, ten or twenty years ago?
The following article is an expanded version of the statement that was issued by the CPGB-ML at the Refugees Welcome Here demonstration in London on 12 September.

The conscience of the British people was moved recently by the picture of the poor dead little Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, lying on a Turkish beach, drowned along with his mother and brother.

Aylan and his family were fleeing from the horrors being inflicted in Kobane by the terrorist IS organisation. These terrorists have been created and funded by imperialism to further its attempts to overthrow Syria’s legitimate elected government headed by President Assad. IS’s notorious brutality and the devastation that it creates wherever its militia go are making life impossible for millions of Syrians.

The devastating picture of Aylan followed hard on the heels of news of 71 refugees having been found dead in a lorry abandoned on an Austrian highway at the end of August. As the British people came to realise that these deaths were only the tip of an iceberg of deaths being suffered by fleeing refugees, many signed an online petition to demand that the government start to welcome refugees instead of continuing to demonise them.

The British government responded by promising to take in some 5,000 a year, though it was soon made clear that this grudging minimalist concession is to be curtailed in every way possible, with all the children who are admitted to be deported as soon as they reach the age of 18.

In actual fact, although the government has seemed to be responding to the humanitarian demands of the British public, offering a genuine welcome to refugees would fly in the face of the constant anti-immigrant, anti-asylum seeker propaganda that characterises all European imperialist governments, regardless of the party in power.

Normally, these governments and the imperialist media warn of impending societal breakdown, and bourgeois politicians talk of hordes of invaders. All this rhetoric would make you think that Britain is faced with armed invasion, when in fact it is a question of defenceless refugees fleeing from the chaos and misery that British imperialism and its allies have created with their aggression in the Middle East and elsewhere. Presently, a significant number of refugees are from Syria, where marauding proxy jihadi armies have been tearing the country apart.

While this supposedly ‘worst refugee crisis since World War Two’ is indeed a humanitarian catastrophe, millions of people have for a long time suffered violence at the hands of imperialism and its lackeys. What is different now is that more and more (though it is still a very small number compared to those seeking refuge in neighbouring middle-eastern countries) are making their way to Europe in order to survive.

Now that the places they used to flee to (Syria and Libya in particular) have been made unsafe or completely destroyed by the latest imperialist wars, thousands are instead making their way towards western Europe each day – on one day alone, around 15,000 crossed into Austria from neighbouring countries, many of them en route to Germany and elsewhere.

In the midst of the chaos, trains were temporarily suspended between Hungary, Austria and Germany, and delays and cancellations are still common for these routes, leaving hundreds of migrants stranded along the way. In Vienna, the sight of masses of refugees sleeping at train stations and public green spaces has become an every-day occurrence.

Similarly, the camp of refugees at Calais has become notorious, as desperate people there daily risk (and sometimes lose) their lives trying to get onto the trains and lorries that travel to Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

Hungary has reacted to the crisis by building a massive, barbed wire fence along its border with Serbia, and is considering doing the same along parts of its borders with Romania and Croatia – the latter two being members of the EU but not of the Schengen (free movement) area. Meanwhile, Germany and Austria have reinstituted border controls.

All this is increasingly laying bare the reactionary, inhuman nature of the European Union – supposedly a beacon of peace and prosperity in this world. The reaction of this gang of imperialists to its victims turning up at its doors has been an increased militarisation of the outer borders, with barbed wire fences going up, and a massively increased – and increasingly aggressive – police and army presence.

Those lucky enough to make it to central and western Europe without drowning in the Mediterranean may still suffocate in the back of a lorry or be beaten and sent packing. The rest are herded into huge prison camps, or end up in makeshift slums (as in Calais). And after all this, they face brutal attack from neo-nazi mobs and other thugs, whipped up by the EU’s politicians and media to believe that these victims of their own ruling class’s bombs are some kind of threatening invasion force.

As the true, anti-people nature of the EU is becoming clearer and clearer to the working masses of Europe, the imperialist media are trying to whip up a storm of xenophobia in order to distract them from the real problems and drive a wedge between those on the inside and those on the outside.

Tug of war and grander visions

All across Europe, the imperialist ruling classes are already attempting to use the situation for their own political ends. Supported by the media, various sections of the bourgeoisie are trying to push their agendas, garner electoral support or gain an upper hand in the intra-EU power struggle.

In a joint move, Germany and Austria have both suspended the Schengen agreement regarding free movement of persons with the EU and reinstated border checks, with the latter deploying up to 2,200 soldiers to its eastern and southern borders to ‘assist’ the police. The EU sees nothing wrong with it, as the measures are alleged to be only ‘temporary’ – that and because the countries in question are part of the EU’s imperialist core.

As there have not been any reports of refugees being turned back at either the Austrian or German border, this move looks to be above all else to be a show of strength of the imperialists vis a vis their poorer, eastern EU neighbours. The countries most responsible for the refugee crisis, which are also the richest countries most able to provide the necessary facilities for refugees, are trying to palm them off disproportionately on poorer EU states. The latter have been voicing their opposition to proposed immigration quotas, and Hungary has tried to use its strategic geographical location by both closing its outer borders and shipping migrants directly to Austria.

Is there anything more to the imperialists’ reaction to the crisis than opportunism and fearmongering? There are certainly one or two common themes emerging – not least, the push towards an increased militarisation of the outer borders of Europe, as well as increased internal surveillance and repression in the name of security.

In an interview with Austrian state television, the country’s interior minister stated that she intended to send a strong signal to the world that things cannot go on as they have been with regards to migration, openly saying that: “Above all else, we need here a more intensive control of outer EU borders.” Similar statements can be heard from politicians in Germany and elsewhere.

But the imperialist bourgeoisies of Europe are, of course, not really opposed to an influx of cheap labour. Indeed, in a number of countries, we can already see a drive towards fast-tracking asylum seekers into the labour market.

Meanwhile, the Austrian Raiffeisen Bank ex-general secretary, who is now official ‘refugee coordinator’, has quite openly admitted that the plans to accept more refugees in Austria are to be combined with a lowering of required living standards. In other words, the ruling classes of Europe are leaping at the chance to blame refugees for yet another austerity initiative, through which they hope to make their enterprises more profitable by lowering wages and decimating social spending still more.

The limitations of social work

In the midst of hysteria and outright violence against refugees, there have also been positive reactions. People are offering to take in refugees and others are flocking to the camps and prisons to offer material aid.

But, however positive such well-meaning gestures of wanting to ease the immediate suffering of the victims of imperialism, it also highlights the limits that plague left-liberal thinking and much of ‘the left’.

If we are really serious about helping to end the horrible conditions that refugees and all oppressed peoples of the world find themselves in, we must not stop at aid work, but strike at the root of the problem. It is the system of capitalist imperialism that creates misery throughout the world and forces people to leave their homes and embark on greatly perilous journeys in order just to survive. Even where there is no open war, imperialist exploitation forces people to move in order to live.

‘Bomb Syria – for Aylan’

In a perverse twist, politicians, supported by the media, are now starting to use the refugee crisis to step up their open aggression in Syria. Just as IS, which was itself built up by western imperialism and its allies in the first place, was used as an excuse for direct attacks, certain politicians and commentators have started arguing that the best way to help the refugees is to drop even more bombs on Syria!

In fact, the bombing has already begun – on the pretext that it is targeting the terrorists responsible for the refugee crisis! Unashamedly, the media have been hailing British drone strikes that killed some British-born IS jihadis with great enthusiasm.

However, any British imperialist campaign to ‘rid Syria of IS’ is completely overshadowed by the continuing imperialist determination to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government – a project in which IS is its tool and ally. If imperialism was anxious to put an end to the psychopathic IS organisation, then why did Washington demand of Greece recently that it should prevent Russian aircraft overflying its country to send military support to the Syrian government in its fight against these brutal terrorists?

There was no crisis of refugees from Syria, Iraq or Libya until imperialism undertook its campaigns to overthrow their governments. Indeed, these countries offered their citizens a high level of security, whatever their religious beliefs, and a good standard of living. Even a relatively honest bourgeois journalist, such as Matthew Parris of the Times, is prepared to admit that imperialism is responsible for the crisis, although in his position he has to blame ‘neocons’ rather than imperialism in general:

“No wonder the neocons are flapping their arms today. They gave us this crisis, with their lordly confidence that removing Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad – indeed ... Najibullah in Afghanistan – would make things better. Would the world actually be worse today if those men had been left alone? We are dealing with the consequences of liberal adventurism.” (Stop crying if you are serious about migrants, 5 September 2015)

‘Liberal adventurism’ – there’s a euphemism for you! We would call it naked imperialist aggression.

The British imperialists try to distract from their warmongering by putting on a ‘humanitarian’ façade – making a u-turn and declaring themselves willing to accept more refugees. Considering that it is the imperialists’ relentless attempts to overthrow the Syrian government that has made many of the people coming to Europe today refugees in the first place, this playing of the humanitarian card is nothing but adding insult to injury!

Furthermore, Cameron has made it clear that his government has no intention of providing shelter to the thousands of Syrians and Libyans who have struggled across Europe and managed to arrive on or near our own borders. They will apparently be left to rot where they are or shipped back to the warzones they have fled. Instead, the proposed plans will focus on taking young Syrians from specific locations in Turkey – ‘refugee camps’ that are actually notorious as being terrorist training centres near Syria’s borders – and sending them back once they reach the age of 18. It is blatantly obvious that the imperialists are not intent on solving the refugee crisis but are merely using it in their continued pursuit of regime change.

Because of British imperialism’s close alliance with US imperialism and both powers’ continuing determination to oust Syria’s legitimate government, which could in the present circumstances only be replaced by fascistic fanatics such as IS or any of the other similarly vicious outfits whose cruel fanaticism is driving desperate people out of their homes in their hundreds of thousands to seek sanctuary in Europe’s unwelcoming embrace, we can be sure that British bombs are not the way to bring peace back to Syria.

Living in the oldest, and still one of the most vicious imperialist countries, it is our internationalist duty to do everything we can to stop our ruling class’s plans from operating smoothly. We must build up a broad movement of non-cooperation amongst the workers of Britain to bring the logistics of imperialist war to a standstill in the belly of the beast.

Let us not be distracted by refugee quotas and apolitical aid work. As long as there is imperialism, there will be war and misery, and as long as we do not organise to seriously challenge our own imperialist ruling class, we will share part of the blame. Let us unite to bring down imperialism!

In the meantime, we demand:

- Full backing for Syria’s legitimate elected government, headed by President Assad.

- Full support for the Syrian government and army in defeating terrorism.

- All military operations in Syria to be under the exclusive control of the Syrian government.

- No more imperialist interference in the affairs of sovereign states.

- No more terrorised dead infants.

- No cooperation with British war crimes.

Hands off Syria!
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