Throughout the summer of 2015 politicians and media across the continent have pushed a narrative of Europe being threatened by ‘swarms ‘ of ‘marauding’ migrants – people who at all costs must be kept out lest they ‘overwhelm’ our meagre resources.
The result has been horror from thousands drowning in the Mediterranean, to dreadful scenes of suffering and repression in Kos, Calais and Macedonia.
Whether applied to Europe or Ireland this narrative is a tissue of distortion, propaganda and bigotry from beginning to end.
First, we are not actually talking about ‘migrants’ at all but refugees. These are people fleeing from the most extreme inhuman conditions of war and famine. Look at the countries they are coming from Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan etc. That is what makes people desperate enough to set out across the Mediterranean crammed on a totally unsafe inflatable.
But calling refugees refugees implies an obligation to help them. Calling them ‘migrants’ has associations, cultivated over decades, with ‘illegal immigrants’ who should be kept out.
Second the governments mobilising to defend their borders and repel ‘the invasion’ have all been up to their necks in directly inflicting, or collaborating in, the invasions, occupations and wars that have so devastated these countries. This includes most obviously Britain and France but also Ireland with its allowing the US military to use Shannon.
Even as this is written, Saudi Arabia with US and EU collaboration and weapons, is inflicting horrendous suffering on the Yemen and creating famine conditions. And its all about maintaining Western power and controlling oil supplies in a complex game of inter- imperialist rivalry that ruthlessly sacrifices the lives of ordinary people.
Third it is a myth that ‘all these migrants’ are coming ‘over here’ whether ‘here’ is Ireland, Britain or Europe. On the contrary by far the largest numbers of refugees are being located in the countries adjacent to the war zones.
Thus the European country that has received the highest inflow across the Mediterranean is Italy with 174,000 arrivals. But the war creating most refugees at present is that in Syria which has displaced half the country’s population. Of these 1.8 million are in Turkey , 1.2 million in Lebanon, 625,000 in Jordan, 250,000 in Iraq, and 135,000 in Egypt. (Think how desperate you would have to be to flee to Iraq not from it) In the light of these figures the offer of Ireland, a much richer country than any of these, to take 600 speaks for itself.
Of course from the standpoint of humanity and solidarity Ireland and all the EU countries should be doing much more to help these poor people, not just by saving them from drowning but by extending the hand of friendship and allowing them to settle. But there is an even more fundamental point involved here: neither refugees nor migrants are actually a threat at all. On the contrary if they were allowed to come to Ireland, or Britain or France and were allowed to work they would actually contribute to our societies and help to improve them.
Irish people are in a strong position to understand this because – driven by famine, poverty and unemployment – they have provided ‘migrants’ all over the world and without exception made huge positive contributions to the societies they have joined. This has been at every level: through building roads, railways and houses, through literature, music and sport and, very importantly, by participating in the labour movement like James Connolly in America or many trade unionists in Britain
In fact the whole of human history from its origins in Africa has been a history of migration, of people moving round the world – just think of the entire population of the United States and South America for example – and without this human development would have been impossible.
But how can you talk like this, some people will say, when there’s an acute housing crisis and we can’t even house our own people? This is an understandable and in the present circumstances inevitable objection but it is also profoundly mistaken.
Homelessness and the housing crisis are not being caused by ‘migrants’, ‘foreigners’ or ‘refugees’ of any description. They are caused by the lack of social housing, high rents and bank repossessions. And refugees could easily be drawn into being part of the solution to this problem by taking part in the construction industry.
If, on the other hand, entirely justified anger about homelessness is diverted into attacks on ‘foreigners’ and refugees it lets the government, the bankers and the rest of the 1% off the hook. And this is precisely why the establishment politicians right across Europe and their capitalist media friends always stoke up fears about ‘floods’ of immigrants. They have been doing it for decades now and it is particularly a trademark of the racist and fascist right from Enoch Powell to Marine Le Pen and the Front National. Their aim is always the same: divide and conquer.
In contrast the left, socialists and the working class movement should stand for unity and solidarity and say ‘Refugees are welcome here’.