The EU Has Migrant Blood on its Hands

1 Mar

Perhaps the most ludicrous claim made in defence of the European Union is that it is a bastion of cosmopolitanism and anti-racism, while all those opposed to the EU – like Brexit voters – are xenophobes and racists. The EU’s bloody borders give the lie to this cherished myth.

The EU’s cosmopolitanism rests on its supposed provision of “open borders”. But, like the classic national welfare state, this perk is selective: its existence rests on the exclusion of “outsiders”. Notwithstanding temporary “brakes”, EU citizens can move and work freely in EU countries. But EU “cosmopolitanism” is strictly for European citizens, not for people from Africa or Asia. Non-EU citizens face a wall of steel in trying to migrate into Europe.

This “Fortress Europe” approach is nothing new. Before the Arab Spring, the EU had cozied up to numerous North African dictators under its “neighbourhood” programme, bolstering their states’ capacities to interdict Arab and sub-Saharan African migrants headed through their territories for Europe. Libya’s Gadhafi regime was a leading EU partner. Italy pledged to pay the regime €5bn in 2008 to deal with “asylum seekers”, and in 2010 the European Commission gave Gadhafi €50m. In exchange, Libya organised joint naval patrols with Italy, accepted thousands of migrants intercepted by Italy, outlawed irregular migration, suppressed smuggling networks, and built a massive carceral system to intercept and deport migrants. The system was regularly denounced by Amnesty International and others, who noted that ‘rape, violence and torture were common’ in Libyan detention centres.

This was part of the gradual rescaling of European governance beyond the nation-state and even beyond the European region. Like other xenophobic Western polities – such as Australia and the United States – the EU essentially shifted its border management functions offshore. In Europe’s case, it has outsourced enforcement to vicious regimes that had not even ratified the United Nations Convention on Refugees.

This system was plunged into chaos following the Arab Spring, and this – coupled with disastrous Western intervention in Libya, the Middle East and Afghanistan – has led to what Europeans now call the “migrant crisis”.

Since then, however, EU officials have been painstakingly rebuilding this cordon sanitaire. In March 2016, the EU struck a deal with the increasingly despotic Turkish government whereby irregular migrants in or en route to Greece would be deported to Turkey for “processing” – in exchange, of course, for various economic concessions. This deal is explicitly aimed at ensuring zero new arrivals in the EU – a policy goal that Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders could have set. Unsurprisingly, just 8 percent of EU commitments for the resettlement of refugees have been met. EU officials have also been quietly rebuilding ties with North African governments and building their capacity to interdict migrants. Members of the European Parliament have noted the diversion of funds in the EU’s €2.5bn Africa Trust fund towards anti-migration projects.

This has been coupled with the deployment of hard military force. Barbed wire fences, abusive border guards and right-wing vigilantes have been deployed along the EU’s eastern land borders. In the Mediterranean, the EU has launched Operation Sophia, a naval force that tries to suppress irregular migration networks (“people traffickers”), as well as training Libyan forces in controlling migration. Perversely, for an operation designed to deter migrants from even trying to reach Europe, Sophia is named for a baby born to Somalian migrants rescued at sea in 2015, reflecting the thin humanitarian cloak draped over this naked use of force. The mask slipped this week as the EU’s borders chief openly attacked NGOs for rescuing migrants at sea and failing to cooperate with EU security forces.

Unsurprisingly, the atrocious conditions found in Libyan and other prisons before 2011 are now recurring across North Africa. In Sudan, which was allocated €100m in migration-related EU aid in April 2016, dozens of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees have been lashed, fined and deported. In Libya, government- and militia-run detention centres for migrants have been described by UNICEF as “living hellholes” where women and children are “beaten, raped and starved”, while border forces routinely abuse and extort migrants. Abuse is also reportedly widespread in Europe’s own migrant camps in Germany, Italy, Greece and elsewhere.

And what is the “cosmopolitan” EU’s response to such reports? The president of the European parliament, and Austria’s foreign minister, called for mass camps to be established in North Africa to intern migrants. Germany’s foreign minister rejected the proposal – but only because the (NATO-induced) chaos in Libya makes it “unrealistic”.

United Nations experts state that inhuman conditions in Libya are driving more migrants to attempt the risky sea crossing to Europe. The International Organisation for Migration states that migrant deaths on the Libya-Italy crossing from January to February this year are up 300 percent on 2016, to 326. At least 5,082 died crossing the Mediterranean last year.

Nonetheless, the EU’s brutal policies seem to be bearing fruit. Irregular migrant arrivals in the EU have fallen from 1.05m in 2015, to 387,739 in 2016, and arrivals in early 2017 are also dramatically lower than for the same period last year: 13,924 versus 105,427. These are the sort of figures the “cosmopolitan” EU touts as a “success”.

Inhuman attitudes towards refugees and economic migrants did not begin with, and were not caused by, Britain’s EU referendum. They are rife across Europe, following decades of economic decline and mainstream politicians of every stripe pandering to racist and anti-immigration sentiment, instead of confronting it. These attitudes are now at the heart of the EU’s migration policy. The human cost should shock the conscience of any cosmopolitan.

Restoring representative democracy at the national level, as TCM advocates, will not solve these problems overnight, but it will create an opportunity to do so. Making national political elites accountable to their own electorates again would make it far harder for them to outsource control over migration policy to remote supranational agencies, which then subcontract vicious regimes outside Europe. Moreover, this outsourcing of migration control has led people in Europe to see immigration as something “done to them” by the EU, as if it were an external, supranational force, not simply the consequence of their own political elites’ retreat from democratic engagement. If immigration controls are restored to national parliaments, we can have honest national debates about the appropriate policy to pursue, and we would then own those policies and their consequences – we would have no one else to blame. None of that guarantees a progressive or humane policy; but, crucially, nor does remaining within the EU, whose record is dire. The case for an internationalist migration policy must be made, and won. It is only by winning popular consent that we can ever hope to begin relating to migrants as what they are – our fellow human beings.

Lee Jones

Future posts on TCM will take up this theme and explore how a restoration of national sovereignty can be combined with a progressive and internationalist agenda.

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6 Responses to “The EU Has Migrant Blood on its Hands”

  1. migration is beautiful March 1, 2017 at 9:55 pm #

    “Perhaps the most ludicrous claim made in defence of the European Union is that it is a bastion of cosmopolitanism and anti-racism, while all those opposed to the EU – like Brexit voters – are xenophobes and racists”.

    Who actually makes this claim?

    Like all the arguments of this ilk, this article relies on construction of a strawman. Most of the people and organisations who are scared for the fate of EU migrants are also very aware of the terrible situation of non EU migrants across Europe. I think you’ll find that every migrant rights group is now trying to cope with both the creation of new borders by Brexit Britain and the brutality of the policing of existing borders by the EU.

    If you had ever been involved in migrant solidarity you would know this.

    There’s no chance of a more humane attitude towards migrants and refugees in Brexit Britain, especially when grassroots networks of solidarity established across Europe to try to help migrants are gravely threatened by Brexit.

    Like bloody Socialist Worker. In fact it is exactly the same argument as is found in Socialist Worker.

    • James Aber March 1, 2017 at 10:14 pm #

      ‘There’s no chance of a more humane attitude towards migrants and refugees in Brexit Britain…’

      You don’t sound very optimistic about your ability to win people over to your views…

      Voters aren’t blind deaf xenophobes.

      Brexit, in the long run, gives control of Britain’s borders to the British government. The British government is vulnerable to democracy – unlike the distant, anti-democratic EU.

      So let’s at least have a go at fighting the democratic fight for a more humane border policy.

      • migration is beautiful March 2, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

        I hope I am wrong about the reactionary direction this country is going in, and of course I will join others to try to resist it and fight for less brutal border controls and ultimately no borders.

        And before another straw man is constructed, no, 17 million people who voted Brexit are not racists and xenophobes. Most people didn’t vote for what they are getting. This was the problem with this referendum. Theresa May and Boris Johnson have little in common with working class Brexit voters except ‘Britishness’. Whatever diverse meanings people people gave to their Brexit vote, the xenophobes and racists are on the rise, and getting some encouragement from the Tory party who are destroying UKIP by stealing their policies.

        ‘In the long run’….I don’t know about that. What damage is being done right now? Do think you can recreate national borders without recreating ugly nationalism? So far it doesn’t look like it.

  2. Sam Hill March 8, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    The answer would be clear if we lived in a society with knowledge of the bible not a constantly revamped church that has been prophesied in revelations. In fact revelations describes the whole issue, Babylon rides the communist beast (or if you like the EU does) with its historical reference to Europa riding the beast and its symbols.So In her was found the blood of saints and all those killed on the earth the worlds finest traders in fact all…here is the analogy Babylon repressents all while exploiting all nations, having led them astray with her luxury.Here is sit as queen I will not know mourning is our disaffectation with this true knowledge, so in 1 hour her doom will come as the communists global beast she rides turns on her to pay her back double as we can see happening now. Look it up from the book of Jude to revelations it’s very clear… those who destroy the earth will be destroyed it says..

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