‘You reap what you sow’ is an oft-forgotten adage that barely enters the political sphere these days. As European governments and officials faint at the news that more refugees are seeking a home now than during the Second World War, they, and indeed we, seem to have forgotten that we sowed the very seeds of destruction that are now sprouting up along the walls of Fortress Europe.
In the Northern French city of Calais, immigration officials hunt down and chase refugees like dogs, not totally unlike how various militias and repressive groups chased these people out of their home countries in the first place. Makeshift camps are constantly shifting as French authorities disband them and arrest those who dare to provide shelter for themselves. The some 2,000 asylum seekers and refugees attempting to cross through the Channel Tunnel have risked everything to get to where they are, and they now face the probability of being sent back to the intolerable, fatal conditions they’ve fled from.
Predictably, chauvinistic European governments have sneered at the plight of these desperate people, an inhumane reaction in itself, but worsened by the knowledge that these same sneering politicians had a direct hand in creating the misery that made these people refugees to begin with. It is regrettable enough that our politicians don’t seem to regard Near East and North African migrants as human beings, but it is even more troublesome that they seem to have forgotten that these are the fruits of their crusade-style interventions in the Middle East. As an aside, the numbers of migrants at Calais represent an excruciatingly small number of the total number of refugees in the world, and yet we are so paranoid and panic-stricken about letting them in, despite having no contiguous land border with another nation on mainland Europe.
Anybody who seriously thinks these desperate people have literally crossed continents for Jobseeker’s Allowance ought to be chastised beyond repair, both for their deliberate misunderstanding of civil wars, and for their bloated perception of Britain as some benevolent welfare state. Trust me, Britain isn’t that great, and if I were fleeing my war-torn country it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice. Indeed, for an overwhelming majority of refugees, it is not their first choice, and neither is Europe.
The real reason for this increasing refugee crisis is a simple matter of cause and effect, backed up by that pesky mistress “evidence”, something xenophobic economic theories about the crisis unfortunately cannot claim.
If the Third Reich were pillaging Europe today, how would self-proclaimed Christians like David Cameron respond? Would he and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond refer to them as a “swarm” who threaten the integrity of Western Europe? Or would he and his xenophobic counterparts across Europe be welcoming the refugees and asylum seekers with open arms, due to the intolerable nature of their suffering?
The latter, surely. So why then does this same level of sympathy rarely, if ever, extend to people from the Near East and Northern Africa who are suffering such political turbulence that their only hope for salvation lies in the arms of exploitative people smugglers? While the qualitative difference between the post-Arab Spring civil wars in some Near East countries and the Second World War are many, the underlying similarity between them is that they are producing enormous amounts of desperate people who have lost everything and need a safe place to live.
Therefore the only logical conclusion is that non-white lives matter less than European lives, as evident in the foolhardy and illegal interventions that took place to begin with. A sizeable bulk of the refugees entering Europe come from countries that the West has plundered and eviscerated in recent years. Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and by extension Syria, have all been lab rats for NATO, EU and U.S.-led “liberation” and “democracy building” missions, convenient codewords for securing access to oil supplies and quelling the threat of socialist secular nationalism. The West cared nothing for how their interventions would affect the victim country’s population, so it’s no wonder they don’t care now.
In the earlier days of post-colonial Western adventurism in the Near East, the U.S. and Europe managed to build the vice-like grip of dystopian states by propping up brutal dictators like Saddam and Gaddafi, but when the tide turned against them for various reasons in the 1990’s, the West inflicted further misery on the populations through war crimes, carpet bombing campaigns, and assassinations of government figures, all under the guise of liberating these people from the dictators they protected to begin with. Once the dictators we no longer supported died by our own hands, we installed an inefficient sectarian puppet regime, pulled our forces out, and congratulated each other for a job well done. Now, a few years later, the crises we caused and then exacerbated have come back to bite us as the people whose countries we destroyed knock at our door pleading for help.
Any reader of Orwell should be familiar with why arguments against letting these migrants in are so profoundly stupid: Government props up heinous regime for financial gain, government changes its mind and destroys regime, government leaves in place either bloodthirsty power struggle or inefficient weak puppet, then government refuses to accept responsibility for casualties it created. If dear, sweet, politically illiterate racists are not in favour of letting the migrants in, perhaps they should also not be in favour of the illegal interventions that create these crises in the first place. It is a simple matter of taking responsibility for your part in a humanitarian disaster.
Britain has taken in a measly 500 refugees from the Syrian civil war, which has displaced at least 4,000,000 people. That means the oh-so benevolent Cameron government, which is currently worsening the civil war through illegal covert operations, has taken in 0.01% of the displaced casualties he and his predecessors helped to create. France has taken a moderately less inhumane approach (to the ire of white supremacist poster-child Marine Le Pen) by allowing migrants to occupy abandoned and decommissioned buildings in Paris. Even fellow imperialist nations like Germany have at least had the decency to offer 30,000 places for the displaced, far more than most of their neighbours combined. While the U.S. – a fellow partner in the Near East death and destruction campaign – has mostly refrained from commenting on the European migrant crisis, it too is abusing refugees of its own.
By contrast, Syrian neighbour Lebanon has taken in over 1 million of the displaced, while fellow neighbour Turkey has taken in 2 million, despite levels of economic hardship being much higher than those of France or the UK. To the additional shame of the West, Lebanon is also home to fourth-generation Palestinians whose great-grandparents were ethnically cleansed by Jewish forces in the late 40’s, a cleansing campaign again made possible by British troops and their commanders. In all, Britain is one of the most involved powers in the Middle East, and has accepted refugees the least.
Why the reluctance on the parts of Western governments to clean up the messes they made? One, it would be tantamount to an admission of guilt and could risk exposing the long history of failed outcomes of illegal “humanitarian” interventions, and two, it is harder to sell the neoliberal austerity myth currently being peddled if you’re extending a helping hand to the most vulnerable. Domestic economic policy cannot be divorced from the migrant crisis because they both involve slapping away the drowning hand of the poor and the disenfranchised.
Indeed, this is one of the crucial arguments voiced by people like Farage and Le Pen: Why help struggling migrants when there are so many people already in Britain and France struggling to make ends meet? Simple critical thought can do away with this false dichotomy, but here’s a short explanation: Pitting migrants against low-paid or impoverished British or French people is deceitful because there is room for both. If governments spent more on welfare than they do on warfare, did not create these humanitarian disasters in the first place, and actually bothered to tackle wealth inequality, the citizen and the refugee could both have a decent standard of living.
Anti-refugee arguments that do not use this basic line are pretty much racism in disguise and should be discarded immediately. When Philip Hammond says that African migrants are a threat to the integrity of Europe, it’s euphemistic for a reason. More widely, if Britain and its European cohorts refrained from indiscriminately carpet bombing under the pretence of liberation, this wouldn’t even be happening in the first place, and Hammond’s arguments against acting in a decent way towards the vulnerable would have even less weight than they do now.
It is not our duty to save refugees because they are inferior people from an inferior region, it is our duty to save refugees because we helped to exacerbate their suffering in the first place. All else aside, serious moral questions must be raised about a person who, witnessing a mother and her baby living in a tent in Calais, does anything but immediately welcome them with open arms.