Increasingly, we are trapped by militarised borders. Since the ’80s and ’90s, border controls have become more and more brutal, inhumane and all-pervasive. The answer of the capitalist-imperialist States to augmented migration has been to make it impossible for most to travel legally, build detention centres for immigrants and to carry out more deportations.
In the UK, the right to asylum has been destroyed through cuts in legal aid, a “‘culture of disbelief”, a media hate campaign against asylum seekers and other
migrants, and quotas of people to be deported, even to countries at war. Refused asylum seekers lose all support, and are left homeless and destitute.
The idea of a “hostile environment” is nothing new. Fortress Europe has shut itself against an imaginary “invasion” by people of other races and religions. Invasions however did happen — the invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11th 2001 attacks and that of Iraq (2003-2011) by the US, UK and NATO killed and displaced millions of people, and caused a massive flow of refugees.
The Arab Spring (2011) was followed by a long season of repression. In Libya, concentration camps for migrants were built with Italian and European money following accords with Ghaddafi to control immigration to Europe (since 2002). When NATO waged war on Libya, many more boats arrived to Italy, and many more people drowned.
The so called “refugee crisis”, however, only gained general visibility in September 2015, when the war in Syria and the invasion of Northern Iraq by Daesh (ISIS) resulted in the destabilisation of the whole area and an even sharper increase in numbers of refugees. The heart-breaking photo of little Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a beach shocked public opinion and contributed to the birth of a large solidarity movement — which shows where people’s hearts are: despite so many years of relentless anti-immigrant propaganda, people mobilised to help. Pity much of that beautiful solidarity movement was immediately co-opted by charities, in Calais like in Lesvos, and led in a direction convenient to the State.
Over 33,000 innocent men women and children have died in the Mediterranean since the millennium. Italy has made new accords with Libya to stop immigrants, at the same time hampering the NGOs’ boats and criminalising the rescuers. Arrivals to Italy have more than halved this year compared to the same period in 2017, “thanks” to the Libyan coastguard bringing people back to hell, but deaths in the sea have gone up in proportion, two per 100, as the journey’s conditions have become more dangerous. In Libya, black Africans are being detained in inhumane conditions, women raped; people are tortured for ransom and slave markets are flourishing, causing outrage worldwide.
But people migrating to Europe have been tortured and sold into slavery for years before the public became aware of it. There are many more arrivals on the Greek islands, and more arrivals also to Spain. 15,000-plus people are detained on the Greek islands at time of writing, in appalling and overcrowded conditions. If they are refused asylum they can be deported back to their countries or to Turkey, following accords with Erdogan, who has built (with EU money) a wall hundreds of kilometres long at the Syrian border, where Turkish soldiers shoot to kill.
Civilians are killed if they stay and if they flee. Thousands are stranded in appalling conditions on the Balkan route, border police using extreme violence to stop them. The UK is spending millions in taxpayer’s money to secure the Calais border, where they built a massive fence, and are paying the French police to harass and brutalise migrants.
In front of what is happening we cannot just stand by and watch. We must act in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We must connect with struggles for liberation, against capitalism, for workers’ rights, for housing, services and education, against racism and fascism and against all prisons.
In the UK the Anti-Raids Network is empowering communities to successfully resist raids by immigration officers and police.
French students are joining the workers on strike and sheltering migrants in occupied university buildings. Belgian citizens are sheltering people from police raids in their own homes — in Brussels alone a growing network of over 600 households has the capacity to shelter every migrant sleeping out in that city!
We need to step away from the humanitarian/charitable frame: solidarity not charity! We need a political movement that is transnational, migrant-led and supported by people with residence rights. This is not a “humanitarian crisis”, this it is the result of politics. Mass migration is driven by imperialism, capitalist exploitation and climate change. We are all under attack, we are all migrants, we are all affected and must fight for our own lives. We must stand like one. United we stand, divided we fall!
This article first appeared in the Summer edition of Freedom Journal