By LISA LUINENBURG
A huge number of refugees have been flowing across European borders in the last year, and this great migration crisis has had reverberations in the United States as well, where over 100,000 migrants fleeing violence in Central America arrived in 2015.
As of Dec. 21, more than a million refugees have crossed into Europe; three to four times the number who arrived in Europe during 2014. They come via Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Malta, and Cyprus, the vast majority making their desperate journey over sea in rubber dinghies or other flimsy boats.
Conditions along the journey are extremely dangerous. In April, a boat carrying over 800 migrants capsized in the sea off of Libya. In late December, Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian child, drowned in Turkey, sparking a global outcry. In all, over 3695 people have died this year while trying to cross into Europe.
So where is this flood of desperate humanity coming from? What would cause them to leave their families and their lives behind to risk everything on such a dangerous journey?
The top 10 countries of origin for the refugees arriving in Europe today are: Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Serbia, and Ukraine. They are fleeing war, poverty, and political strife in their countries of origin—conflicts in large part fueled by the greedy reach of capitalism and imperialism.
The number of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country has surged in 2015, fueling the largest wave of refugees to hit Europe since World War II. “I have no choice. Its either here or the hell of there,” said Mohammed, a resident of a refugee camp in a recent interview with the London Independent. “I couldn’t stay in Syria.”
So, where are the refugees going once they arrive in Europe? So far, Germany has received the highest amount of asylum applications—315,000 by October 2015—but their records show that over 1 million people have arrived so far. Hungary is in second place for asylum applications, and Sweden has taken in more refugees per capita than any other European nation. But this is meeting just a small portion of the growing need. So far, only 184,665 asylum applications out of a total of 570,000 have been approved in Europe.
Moreover, all this is starting to change. As the flood of migrants shows no sign of slowing down, European leaders are beginning to crack down on refugees (especially those they deem “illegal”), putting yearly caps in place and increasing border security. EU ministers voted in September 2015 to relocate 120,000 refugees EU wide, which applies for now to 66,000 refugees in Italy and Greece.
Sweden is now deploying more border patrols and slashing benefits for refugees. Dozens of migrants are bedding down in a tent camp in frigid temperatures, while many others are being turned back at the train station as they arrive. Hungary has lined its borders with razor wire, while Macedonia has implemented strict controls to keep out migrants from countries other than Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria—a measure that has left thousands stranded in Greece.
Although Germany and Sweden have the most generous policies, they are currently granting refugees no more than a temporary stay of one to three years, while implementing ID checks on trains and tighter regulations for bringing family members. Authorities say the new regulations are necessary for security and to stem a flow of arrivals that was “unsustainable.” Sound familiar? Similar proposals and policies have been either proposed or put in place to “stem the flow” of illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America to the United States in recent decades.
In the meantime, conditions in refugee camps are often appalling. In Grande-Synthe, a refugee camp that is home to over 2500 occupants, there are only two drinking water stations and one chemical toilet per 100 occupants. This has led to a sanitation crisis that has caused dozens of small children to become ill. Occupants live in thin tents surrounded by mud, in areas that regularly flood.
“Is there any hope the UK will take us? I just want to tell my children there is hope for them,” said Gona Ahmed, a Kurdish woman from Iraq who is living alone in the Grande-Synthe camp with her four children, in a recent interview with the Independent. Her husband was wounded fighting when ISIS invaded their village.
And racism is well and alive in the receiving countries as well. In recent French regional elections, the far-right, anti-immigrant Front National got 43% of the vote in Grande-Synthe.
U.S. to deport immigrants
At the same time, the immigration crisis continues in the United States as well, where authorities have outlined plans to deport numbers of recently arrived Central American families starting this month. According to the Washington Post, the raids began on New Year’s weekend, when ICE apprehended 121 adults and children in a series of raids that took place in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina. This mass deportation could affect over 100,000 families who fled violence in their home countries but were denied asylum in the U.S.
In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Gillian Christensen, press secretary to Immigration Control and Enforcement, said that ICE has prioritized decorations to people who “pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 134,000 migrants from Central America in FY 2015, as the demographics of the migrants arriving are changing.
And yet these policies are nothing new. Following World War II, the United States deported over a million Mexican migrants who were no longer needed as field hands in the Bracero Program when farming techniques became more mechanized.
This illustrates the way that the U.S. government has continued to use fear of imprisonment and mass deportation as a way to control the most oppressed section of the working class (undocumented immigrants) and prevent them from rising up to defend their rights as workers and as human beings. As long as the immigrant population is kept afraid and at odds with the majority of the working class, it is easy to force them to work under the table for substandard wages and in terrible working conditions.
And it seems as if Europe is following suit in the face of the ongoing refugee crisis. Capitalism creates a paradox by encouraging the free flow of money and goods across international borders, while at the same time heavily restricting the flow of people. As borders become increasingly closed, it will only force more people to cross illegally and at more dangerous locations. This same phenomena occurred in the United States, when a longer wall and an increasing Border Patrol presence along the U.S.-Mexico border forced more migrants to cross through the desert, leading to more deaths.
But who will take responsibility for these people as the flood of refugees continues? Who will take them in? As countries close their borders and migrants are pushed from one place to the next, it is important to note that the refugee crisis, whether in Europe or in the Americas, is not about to go away. More people, not less, will continue to flee their countries as the climate crisis creates increasing environmental disasters around the world and the long reach of imperialism and capitalism continue to create unending poverty, war, and political unrest around the globe.
It is here that we must recognize the potential of mass movements to demand change. The immigrant rights movement in the United States has successfully risen up against threats of deportations and abuses of workers in the past, and such a movement has the potential to do so in other parts of the globe as well.
We would all do well to become involved in these grassroots movements and to stand in solidarity with our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters as they struggle for their basic needs, against racism and exploitation, and for human dignity and respect. Any victory for the immigrant rights movement is a victory against capitalism.
Photo: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters