3 September 2015
The drowned body of three year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach near Bodrum, Turkey on Wednesday 2nd. The photograph has concentrated the minds of millions on the catastrophe unfolding on Europe’s Mediterranean shore.
Aylan drowned along with his five year old brother Galip, his mother Rehan and nine other refugees when their boat capsized. His father, Abdullah, survived.
The family were Syrian Kurds who fled Kobane last year when it was besieged by Islamic State forces. An application for asylum in Canada where Abdullah’s sister lives, was rejected. She told reporters “I was trying to sponsor them […] but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat”.
The elementary human response to this tragedy is that of a local fisherman who discovered the bodies: “I came to the sea and I was scared. My heart is broken.”
For refugees lucky enough to survive the smugglers and storms, an uncertain welcome awaits in Europe. Chaotic scenes at the Macedonian border with Greece and in Budapest are the result of a political class unable or unwilling to confront the scale of the crisis.
Nevertheless the instinctive response of ordinary people to offer support and solidarity has been inspiring. In Germany people assembled in train stations to welcome refugees arriving on trains from Budapest.
After 71 people were found dead in an abandoned truck near the Austrian-Hungarian border 20,000 people demonstrated in Vienna on 31 August to demand admission and humane treatment for refugees.
These are displays of solidarity that should be copied across Europe, shaming governments into granting the rights to asylum so solemnly, if hypocritically, enunciated in UN Charters and human rights treaties.
Jeremy Corbyn, front-runner in the Labour leadership contest has stated that;
“Nobody could fail to be moved by this harrowing and heartbreaking image. It should remind us of the situation facing millions of people desperately fleeing a terrible civil war. It is our duty under UN law, but also as human beings, to offer a place of safety, and play a role internationally to share our responsibilities, and to try to end the conflict.”
And what is the response of the Prime Minister? Far from being heartbroken by these scenes, David Cameron’s heart has been hardened:
“We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world. I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees.”
In fact Britain has granted asylum to less than 300 Syrian refugees since the start of 2014 – unlike Germany where it is predicted that 800,000 refugees will be registered this year alone.
Britain has obstructed the European Union’s attempts to mandate equitable distribution of refugees across member states, alleviating the burden falling on Greece and Italy. It has refused to accept any of the 40,000 refugees being resettled under woefully inadequate EU plans, instead offering a mere 2,200 places over two years to future asylum seekers.
The tabloid media shed crocodile tears for Aylan and his family, but the refugees who manage to reach Calais and Britain’s borders are demonised as undeserving scroungers. A sentiment shared by Cameron:
“…you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live. But we need to protect our borders by working hand in glove with our neighbours, the French, and that is exactly what we are doing.”
It is no oversight that the Tories insist on calling refugees and asylum seekers “economic migrants”. Doing so enables them to evade their treaty obligations and imply that refugees are motivated by a desire to ‘exploit’ the UK’s health and welfare system.
In practice the British state does all it can to bar access to refugees from regions it has played a major part in destabilising. Its stance encourages smaller European states to take the same attitude.
So what can be done? Clearly harsh words alone will not “shame” Cameron and the Tories – supported as they are by the most openly racist popular press in western Europe – and competing with UKIP to promote a hard line on immigration.
The answer is for the Labour Party and the trade unions to mobilise on the streets to demand that Britain admits all those refugees seeking asylum here and supports those in Europe making the same demands.
Only then will the exploitation of the vulnerable by people smugglers and harrowing deaths like those of the Kurdi family come to an end.
But Jeremy Corbyn is right; something must be done urgently about the source of the problem in the Middle East – Western imperialism’s “humanitarian” interventions, bombing, ground wars and occupations.
First get all the Nato troops and the naval bases out of the region. This will aid not harm the progressive forces fighting reactionaries like IS or the Assad regime. Progressive forces worldwide should be allowed to help them.
Secondly, the EU and US should stop supporting the Egyptian and Saudi dictatorships, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Thirdly, the devastated war zones must be rebuilt, providing decent homes and jobs for those displaced: the great majority of refugees wish to return to their homelands if security can be guaranteed.
The EU is the wealthiest bloc of states in the world. For more than a century it has exploited the oil wealth of the Middle East – it’s time for payback.
The workers of Europe should mobilise to ensure the ill-gotten riches of Europe’s bankers, billionaires and CEOs go some way to redressing the crimes committed by our ruling classes.
We need to mobilise now around calls to:
Grant asylum to all refugees – allow them to register their claims in the first country of safety they reach, and enable safe travel to their destination of choice
End all immigration controls. End all restrictions on the right of refugees and asylum seekers to work for a living wage
Grant immediate health, welfare, decent housing and citizenship rights for all foreign workers
For Labour Party and trade union solidarity with all arriving refugees or migrant workers, creating centres which provide a comradely and internationalist welcome to the UK labour movement.
Answer the lies and combat the harassment perpetrated by the police and border forces, our racist press and racist parties
Saturday 12 September is a day of action in solidarity with refugees. Local actions will take place all across the country.
In London there will be a national demonstration at Downing Street
In Dover anti-fascists will mobilise to shut down a fascist demonstration