|WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE|
Driven by war and poverty, millions of people are on the move, risking their lives to escape desperate circumstances. Unfortunately, the response from elites is to trap them, by putting them in jail or criminalizing traffickers and militarizing sea routes. Each week there is news of migrants stranded at sea, dying in large numbers, or locked up in prisons. Nowhere has the refugee and migration crisis been as dramatic in recent months as in Europe. Since the start of the year, thousands of migrants have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into European nations like Italy. Migrants from Mali, Eritrea, Syria and Libya are packed onto flimsy boats, risking their lives to escape the brutal war in Syria and the violence and chaos of a post-U.S.-NATO invasion in Libya.
The Norwegian Refugee Council and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre released a report in early May revealing that there were 38 million internally displaced people last year alone, nearly 5 million more than the year before. The record-breaking number includes 11 million refugees who were newly displaced and clustered in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Council Secretary-General Jan Egeland said, “These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signaling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians.”
The number of people living outside their home countries is even higher. In 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available, the United Nations found that 232 million people are migrants or refugees, or, in effect, “externally displaced” people.
President Obama lauded Myanmar as a “success story” during his visit there last year, effectively dismissing concerns over Rohingya persecution.According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 25,000 Rohingya from Myanmar attempted to migrate by sea during the first three months of 2015, twice the number from last year. Very little coverage of the persecution of Rohingya people in particular makes it into the U.S. media.
Australia offers a particularly macabre example of how migrants are locked up for trying to find a better life. Earlier this year, imprisoned asylum seekers took drastic steps, sewing their lips shut to draw attention to the physical and sexual abuse they face. According to one news report, the Australian government houses migrants in locked facilities on islands like Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Manus “to remove the financial incentive for people smugglers, in the process saving hundreds of lives that might otherwise have been lost at sea in rickety boats.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s idea of saving people is apparently to lock them up in abusive conditions. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, singled out Australia for its torture and abuse of children asylum seekers in particular, to which Abbott responded that he was “sick of being lectured to.” Binoy Kampmark, a senior lecturer at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said in an interview on “Uprising” that many of the refugees tend to come “from war zones that also had Australian involvement, namely Afghanistan and Iraq.” The response of the government, said Kampmark, “has been very hard-line” in imprisoning refugees in what he calls a “crude gulag archipelago.”
The Obama administration has revived the cruel Bush-era practice of locking women and babies up as a “deterrent” to immigration, as I detailed in a previous column. With millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, hundreds of thousands deported each year, and no prospect of a viable congressional solution to the crisis, people’s lives remain in limbo. A right-wing narrative that exhorts undocumented immigrants to simply “go to the back of the line” to legally immigrate ignores the reality that there is no line at all. Except if you’re extremely wealthy. Foreign investors who pour half a million dollars into a business in the U.S. that they claim creates at least 10 jobs can simply buy their way into the immigration system through a special visa called the EB-5.
Unbelievably, instead of creating orderly and safe pathways for immigration and naturalization, Europe’s bright idea is to militarily target areas in Libya where boatloads of migrants launch. By criminalizing traffickers and militarizing sea routes, leaders are adopting the false narrative that the tens of thousands of Libyans, Syrians and other migrants are forced onto boats at gunpoint and dumped onto European seas and soil against their will. They are, in effect, trapping desperate people. It seems as though if the deaths are out of European sight, they are wiped clean from European consciences. Imagine if, upon discovering the routes of the Underground Railroad during the era of U.S. slavery, people of conscience militarily attacked the escape routes instead of creating a safe haven for escaped slaves.
Poverty, war, violence and repression are all too common for millions of people the world over, thanks in large part to the neo-liberal economic wars and neo-colonial military wars of the U.S. and Europe. If our response to the human yearning for escape is to add to repression and violence, then we are very much part of the problem.
Extracts from this article on the Truthdig website