Behind the Mass Exodus

By BARRY WEISLEDER

 Unprecedented numbers of people are desperate to migrate. Stories fill the media about the many who drown in the Mediterranean or die in desserts in a failed bid to escape horrible conditions. Stunning figures released on June 18 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees quantify the extent of the global exodus.

By the end of 2014, 59.5 million people, half of them children, have been driven from their homes by war and persecution. Nearly 14 million were newly displaced last year, the highest number recorded in the agency’s 50-year history. That included 11 million people who were forced to re-locate within the borders of their own countries.

Why is this happening? The largest source of displacement is the war in Syria. Conflicts in Yemen, Burundi, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Palestine also continue to generate refugees, and keep them in limbo for years.

The toxic ingredient that these situations have in common is imperialist intervention. The global rich and powerful try to impose regimes that are more compliant with the Western corporate agenda. Or they back colonial settler states that police regions where that agenda meets sustained resistance. In short, the world’s ruling rich act to seize and exploit valuable commodities, especially energy and mineral resources in Third World countries.

The Refugee agency hastens to add that the nearly 60 million displaced persons include only those who say they have fled conflict and oppression—not poverty or lack of economic opportunity. But people migrate for a host of reasons, including hunger, gang violence, and the havoc wreaked by climate change. And that brings us back to the system that profits most from the burning of fossil fuels, and the governments that serve that mode of production.

Where are the hordes of refugees going? Not to the European Union, the United States, Canada, or Australia, where conservative politicians complain the loudest. Most of the displaced wind up in the world’s less developed countries. Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan host the largest numbers. Ethiopia and Kenya take many more refugees than do, for example, Britain and France.

But right-wing, anti-immigrant movements in the West lead the hatred parade. Capitalist mainstream parties blame the victims, pass authoritarian laws at home, and pursue militarism abroad—actions that are sure to cause more chaos and forced mass migrations.

The UN, climate scientists, even the Pope in Rome point to the symptoms of the crisis enveloping the world. However, a cure requires nothing less than removing the cause—capitalism.

A good start would be the dismantling of Fortress North America, the hyper-security, militarized apparatus that Canada and the United States have erected against travellers and immigrants. The answer to imperialist intervention everywhere should be “open borders,” no one is illegal, and the provision of genuine aid to the underdeveloped world, with no strings attached.

Photo: Refugees from Syria arrive in Turkey. Getty Images.