By Kevin Henry
The left-wing Labour MP Tony Benn once said, “The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.” The breaking up of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais has again highlighted how ruthlessly right-wing governments across Europe are treating those most desperately in need of help.
Ten thousand people have been living in the squalid conditions of the Jungle over the last couple of years, hoping to be granted asylum in the UK because they have family in the country, because they can speak the language and so on. The British government’s response can only be described as heartless. Well over 1,000 unaccompanied minors had been living in the camp but the British government have agreed to take a measly 200 children, who have arrived in Britain to a tirade of racist abuse from the right-wing press.
The camp in Calais is, of course, only a small part of a massive refugee crisis. This year, the number of people drowning in the Mediterranean attempting to seek refuge in Europe again increased, with 3,800 deaths by the last week in October.
This is despite the total number making the journey going down dramatically because a European Union (EU) and NATO clampdown off the Greek islands has driven people onto much more dangerous routes. The death rate has soared from one death in every 269 arrivals to one in 88. Half of those crossing this year took the route from Libya to Italy, with a death rate of one in 47.
The approach of the European leaders has been to strengthen Fortress Europe rather than a humanitarian approach. The EU has made a deal with the authoritarian Turkish regime which sees refugees arriving in Greece being sent to the country. In return, a regime that is waging a war on the Kurdish people and is repressing any dissenting voices within its borders will receive funding from the EU and have its EU accession-bid considered. The EU wants to go further and “outsource” its refugee problem to other countries, including dictatorial regimes like Tunisia and Egypt.
These refugees are fleeing from the carnage in the Middle East resulting, in large part, from Western military intervention, direct and indirect. Over 50% of Syria’s population have been displaced, yet while right-wing politicians demand more bombing and “no fly” zones, they completely refuse to deal with the refugee crisis it causes or to stop the floor of weapons into the region. British arms companies continue to sell to the Saudi regime, which sponsors fundamentalist forces and is engaged in a genocidal war in Yemen.
Across Europe, it is estimated that there are 11 million empty housing units. Enough to deal with the current level of homeless twice over. Yet we are told there is no scope to let refugees in. The European Union – with its 510 million inhabitants and GDP of £12.8 trillion – is apparently not able to support those fleeing conflict. Yet Lebanon – with six million inhabitants and a GDP of £54.1 billion – hosts approximately 1.1 million refugees. The necessary wealth is there to meet the needs of the current population and aid refugees. We need a united struggle to demand the super-rich, the bankers and the arms trade are made to pay for investment in jobs, housing and public services for all.
It is an indictment of the kind of world which global capitalism has created that we even have to deal with a refugee crisis in the 21st century. There are an estimated 60 million refugees on our planet. Experts predict that – as a result of continual wars, poverty and deepening environmental crisis – this figure is set to rise.
The refugee crisis exposes some of the worse aspects of capitalist society. But it also shows the lengths working class and young people are prepared to go to in order to show solidarity, with many volunteering their time to provide support and marching in their tens of thousands to demand refugees are treated as humans. We need to fight for a different world which can rationally and democratically organise society’s wealth and resources to tackle the problems facing humanity – a socialist world founded on solidarity and compassion.