- Created: Wednesday, 13 April 2016 15:16
- Written by Tom Vickers
The death toll at Europe’s borders continues to rise, with at least 525 people reported dead or missing between 1 January and 20 March 2016. This is a direct result of the EU’s restrictive border controls, which disproportionately affect refugees and migrants from oppressed countries. There is no let-up in the wars, poverty and repression that force people to move, and so the repressive measures of European states do not stop people attempting to enter Europe, but only add to the death and misery, as well as removing rights from a section of workers who then become subject to super-exploitation. Tom Vickers reports
The main countries of origin for refugees and migrants seeking to enter Europe via the Mediterranean are Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – all of which have been subject to murderous and destructive imperialist interventions in recent years. Research recently published by the MEDMIG project has confirmed earlier findings that many migrants have little information about immigration policies in their countries of destination and often make ad hoc decisions en route about which country to move to, showing that more restrictive immigration policies do not stop people trying to reach Europe. The research also confirms that increased restrictions have ‘led to protracted and fragmented journeys and make it increasingly difficult for people to safely and legally access protection and employment’.
European imperialism flexes its muscles
In February WikiLeaks released a classified report on the first six months of Operation Sofia, the EU military intervention that is targeting refugee boats in the Mediterranean; the operation involves 24 countries, using a force of five ships and 1,300 personnel. The report, written by Operation Commander Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, announces his readiness to proceed to ‘Phase 2B’ of the operation, involving military operations within Libyan territorial waters, to be followed by ‘Phase 3’, which will include military operations on Libyan soil. This is not about saving lives or reducing smuggling, as it has been well established that it is precisely increased restrictions on migration that fuel the market for smuggling and push people to use more dangerous routes: it is about a further militarisation of Europe’s borders.
Credendino’s report is quite open about the political role of his mission, stating: ‘the main message to the International Community is that the EU is capable of launching a military operation in record time, displaying a strong resolve and remarkable unity of intent’, and he reports positively on his trip to Washington and New York in December 2015 to promote the success of the mission. In February 2016 NATO deployed its own naval forces to the Aegean with the stated aim of intercepting ships taking migrants from Turkey to Greece. Several British ships were added to the NATO force at the start of March.
Turkey: outsourcing European violence
By late March the number of people stranded in the camp at the crossing between Greece and Macedonia because of the border closure had grown to more than 13,000. They resisted attempts by the Greek authorities to remove them to ‘accommodation centres’ run by the Greek army. On 22 March two refugees set themselves on fire in protest against the border closures and conditions in the camp, while others staged a sit-in protest on the rail tracks. Demonstrations have also taken place on Greek islands where thousands more refugees are stranded.
The EU is pursuing a strategy of outsourcing as much as possible of its border policing to Turkey. The EU initially agreed to pay €3bn for this and in mid-March a deal was struck increasing the sum to €6bn. This enables the mass expulsion to Turkey of most asylum seekers currently in Greece. There have been multiple reports of the Turkish coastguard using violence against migrants, attacking boats and burning life vests.
Turkey has been designated a ‘safe country’ by the EU, but is not a full signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which means that once refugees have been removed to Turkey they can be more easily deported to other countries. Within hours of the deal being signed, Turkey deported a group of 30 refugees to Afghanistan. In response five major aid agencies including the UN’s refugee agency announced that they were suspending their operations in many of Greece’s refugee centres because these had been turned into detention centres for the purpose of deporting refugees to Turkey. The aid agencies complained that this was in contravention of international law – under the impact of the imperialist crisis, Europe’s liberal facade is crumbling.
Britain: racism and resistance
In Britain, repression against migrants and refugees has also intensified. As the Immigration Bill 2015/16 has proceeded through the committee stage to the House of Lords, the Labour Party has continued to challenge only limited parts of the Bill, accepting in principle the need to further reduce migrants’ rights. The ‘right to rent’ scheme, requiring landlords to check on the immigration status of new tenants, which was introduced in the 2014 Immigration Act, came into force on 1 February 2016. The latest Bill extends this to require landlords to carry out ongoing checks, but an amendment added at committee stage will excuse landlords from knowing the immigration status of anyone else who might be staying with their tenant – a measure to protect landlords as much as migrants. The Lords have also added amendments to allow overseas domestic workers to change employers and to allow asylum seekers to work once they have been in the UK for six months – both would represent significant advances in workers’ rights but to become law these amendments still need to be accepted by the House of Commons.
Resistance continues in detention centres and on the streets. On 3 March protests took place in many cities across Britain as part of a Europe-wide day of action, with FRFI supporters playing a key role in mobilisations in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle. On 12 March FRFI supporters from London and Nottingham joined thousands of people on the latest of a series of inspiring protests called by the Movement for Justice, which surrounded the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre in solidarity with the women organising and protesting inside. On 5 April Croydon RCG is organised a protest against the Immigration Bill outside the Home Office UK Visas and Immigration Lunar House HQ.
As the liberal pretentions of European imperialism are exposed by its ever more brutal attacks on migrants from oppressed countries, we need to take every opportunity to build solidarity and resist immigration controls.
Solidarity with migrants and refugees! Safe passage now!
Smash Fortress Europe!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 250 April/May 2016