Solidarity with migrants: taking on Fortress Europe

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014

There has been a sharp rise in the last year in the number of migrants attempting to reach Europe as they flee imperialist wars, repression and poverty. Following dangerous routes across land and sea, often paying thousands of euros to unscrupulous people-smugglers, men, women and children are risking their lives in ever growing numbers to reach what they see as the relative safety and and economic security of Europe. In response, the imperialist countries have poured millions of euros into securing European borders, while brutally harassing, detaining and attacking those who do succeed in breaching the racist defences of Fortress Europe. But as repression intensifies, so does resistance.

Calais

On 2 July 2014 French police launched a dawn raid on a migrant food distribution centre run by activists in Calais. Teargas was used and exits were blocked to prevent 500 migrants who were sleeping there – including around 100 children – from fleeing. Solidarity campaigners, legal advisers and journalists were ejected as police destroyed sleeping bags and personal possessions. Two other squats were also raided and 200 migrants were detained. The attacks followed new regulations brought in by the mayor of Calais banning ‘vagrancy’ and ‘temporary shelters’, which she described as a ‘health hazard’. Within ten days of the raids, migrants and supporters marched to denounce the new law, and created a new centre in a disused factory. Calais attracts thousands of migrants, mainly from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan, who hope to cross the Channel to Britain. Many are unaccompanied minors. 3,000 have been detained so far this year, compared to 300 in 2013. Since the French authorities closed down the Red Cross Sangatte centre in 2002, migrants have had no option but to organise their own temporary shelters; conditions are desperate. Eight migrants have died in Calais this year.

Ceuta and Melilla

At the end of May, 1,000 migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, rushed the six-metre razor wire fence that marks the border between Morocco and Spain’s tiny coastal colony Melilla. 400 made it over, shouting with joy as they landed on European soil. Many had spent months living in makeshift camps on the Moroccan side of the border, subject to harassment and beatings by Moroccan police. In February, 15 men drowned when Spanish police fired rubber bullets at hundreds of migrants attempting to swim to Spain’s other north African enclave, Ceuta.

Lampedusa

Ever more people are risking their lives crossing from north Africa to Italy on overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels, the vast majority from war-torn Syria. The Italian state’s response to the more than 39,000 migrants who have arrived on its shores since the start of the year has been to double the number of detentions, from 3,500 in 2013 to more than 7,000 so far in 2014.

Fortress Europe

The European Union’s response, inevitably, has been to put even more effort into securing its borders. Italy has received €23 million to patrol the Mediterranean; Greece – another key entry point – €83 million. The European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur) has just become operational at a cost of a projected €340 million over the next six years. But millions of euros, new technology, even greater repression on the borders of Fortress Europe will not solve what the United Nations has described as a ‘colossal human catastrophe’ – because the real catastrophe for humanity is imperialism. As long as it foments wars in Africa and the Middle East and creates poverty and desperation across the globe, migrants will continue to risk their lives in the hope of a better existence in those wealthy nations which have exploited and destroyed their own countries for so long.

Cat Wiener