End the wars to halt the refugee crisis
Europe is facing the most significant refugee crisis since the Second World War. All attempts at resolving the issue have failed, mostly because they have ignored the root causes of the problem.
Last week, Italy’s new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, blocked the Aquarius rescue ship, which was carrying 629 refugees and economic migrants, from docking at its ports. A statement by Doctors Without Borders stated that the boat was carrying 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. “From now on, Italy begins to say no to the trafficking of human beings, no to the business of illegal immigration,” tweeted Salvini, who also heads the far-right League party.
The number of refugees was repeated in news broadcasts time and again as a mere statistic. In reality, there were 629 precious lives at stake, each with a compelling reason why they had undertaken the potentially deadly journey. While the cruelty of refusing entry to a boat laden with desperate refugees is obvious, it has to be viewed within a larger narrative pertaining to the rapidly changing political landscape in Europe, and the crises under way in the Middle East and North Africa.
Italy’s new government, a coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the League, seems intent on stopping the flow of refugees into the country, as promised on the campaign trail. However, if politicians continue to ignore the root causes of the problem, the refugee crisis will not go away on its own.
The disturbing truth is this: Europe is accountable for much of the mayhem under way in the Middle East. Right-wing pundits may wish to omit that part of the debate altogether, but facts will not simply disappear when ignored. European politicians should honestly confront the question: What are the reasons that lead millions of people to leave their homes? They should then fashion equally honest and humane solutions.
In 2011, an uprising-turned-civil war in Syria led to the exodus of millions of Syrian refugees. Ahmet is a 55-year old who fled the country with his wife and two children. His reason for leaving was none other than the grinding, deadly war. He told the UN Refugee Agency: “I was born in Homs and I wanted to live there until the end, but this vicious war left us no other choice but to leave all behind. For the sake of my children’s future, we had to take the risk. I had to pay the smuggler $8,000 for each member of my family. I’ve never done anything illegal in my whole life, but there was no other solution.”
Saving his family meant breaking the rules; and millions more would do the same thing if confronted with the same grim dilemma. In fact, millions have.
Europe must take responsibility for its actions in Middle East and Africa, otherwise the flow of refugees will continue.
African immigrants are often blamed for “taking advantage” of the porous Libyan coastline to “sneak” into Europe. Yet many of those refugees had lived peacefully in Libya and were forced to flee following the NATO-led war on that country in March 2011.
“I’m originally from Nigeria and I had been living in Libya for five years when the war broke out,” wrote Hakim Bello in the Guardian. “I had a good life: I was working as a tailor and I earned enough to send money home to loved ones. But, after the fighting started, people like us — black people — became very vulnerable. If you went out for something to eat, a gang would stop you and ask if you supported them. They might be rebels, they might be government, you didn’t know.”
The security mayhem in Libya led not only to the persecution of many Libyans, but also millions of African workers, like Bello. Many of those workers could neither go home nor stay in Libya. They, too, joined the dangerous mass escapes to Europe.
War-torn Afghanistan has served as a tragic model of the same story. Ajmal Sadiqi escaped the country, which has been in a constant state of war for many years and which took a much deadlier turn following the US invasion in 2001. Sadiqi told CNN that the vast majority of those who joined him on his journey from Afghanistan to Turkey, Greece and other EU countries died along the way. But, like many in his situation, he had few alternatives. “Afghanistan has been at war for 50 years and things are never going to change,” he said. “Here, I have nothing, but I feel safe. I can walk on the street without being afraid.”
Alas, that sense of safety is, perhaps, temporary. Many in Europe are refusing to examine their own responsibility in creating or feeding conflicts around the world, while perceiving the refugees as a threat. Despite the obvious correlation between Western-sustained wars and the EU’s refugee crisis, a moral awakening is yet to be realized. Worse still, France and Italy are now exploiting the warring factions in Libya for their own interests.
Syria is not an entirely different story. There, too, the EU is hardly innocent. The Syria war has resulted in a massive influx of refugees, most of whom are hosted by neighboring Middle Eastern countries, but many have sailed the sea to seek safety in Europe.
“All of Europe has a responsibility to stop people from drowning. It’s partly due to their actions in Africa that people have had to leave their homes,” said Bello. “Countries such as Britain, France, Belgium and Germany think they are far away and not responsible, but they all took part in colonizing Africa. NATO took part in the war in Libya. They’re all part of the problem.”
As expected, Italy’s Salvini and other like-minded politicians refuse to frame the crisis that way. They use whichever discourse is needed to guarantee votes, while ignoring the obvious fact that, without military interventions, economic exploitation and political meddling, a refugee crisis — at least one of this magnitude — would not exist.
Until this fact is recognized by EU governments, the flow of refugees will continue, raising political tensions and contributing to the tragic loss of lives of innocent people, whose only hope is merely to survive.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud