Open Letter to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land

Socialist Worker

Despite being under no illusion, it is very disappointing to read that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visiting Lesbos said “It is imperative that we reach an agreement with Turkey to stop the flows by targeting the smugglers“.

NOT to help the refugees, not to come up with agreements to create humanitarian, safe procedures to enable people to use their human right of seeking refuge but  TO STOP THE FLOWS

The root-cause for so many people fleeing their countries and embarking on deadly journeys across the Aegean/Mediterranean is not the smugglers. Refugees are not coming to Europe as part of a grand scheme organised by smugglers and if only the EU and its neighbours could stop them, all would just be fine and we would not have the current humanitarian and political crisis.

As we remember the days of Syriza’s rise to power and the hope it gave to Greek and European people we also remember the history of this ongoing refugee crisis.

Turkey is in the process of negotiating with the EU a scheme of ‘refugee-trading’. As part of this ‘trading’ the EU demands Turkey to prevent the refugees from crossing into Europe and establish re-admission (aka deportation) centres. In return the EU offers visa free travel scheme for Turkey’s citizens, to be available in some unknown – distant future, some financial support for keeping refugees and the carrot of speeding up of Turkish accession process to the EU that has been on the table since 1970s. The EU and Turkey had already signed the Readmission Agreement that will enable the EU to deport back asylum seekers who came to Europe via Turkey.

Since the beginning of the current refugee crisis in 2011, the EU came up with numerous schemes, plans and task lists to deal with – not the humanitarian needs of refugees but – the flow of them into Europe.

The sharp rise of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, the popular anger by ordinary people of Europe had initially cornered and forced the EU leaders to at least pretend to act. The pictures of Alan Kurdî (initially reported as Aylan Kurdi), three-year-old Syrian-Kurdish had made global headlines and the EU leaders had rushed to make statements on how terrible this was and shed a few drops of crocodile tears. But, months and many more child-deaths later, all is forgotten; it is now back to business of keeping the refugees out.

You see, when ordinary decent people refer to refugee crisis, they mean the suffering of people fleeing from war, death, torture and destruction of their countries. But the same words in the mouths of EU leaders mean the crisis of refugees coming to Europe and European ministers having to be distracted from their important – business as usual – tasks of austerity programs, arms sales, right-wing neoliberal policies etc…

It is also a crisis for the EU leaders because of the thoughts this current refugee crisis triggers in the minds of ordinary people: Why, from where and since when are these refugees coming from… And the answers are as scary for the EU leaders as the refugee children:

Because of wars, initiated, sponsored and supported by the EU… From countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Mali and Syria where in one way or the other EU/US policies played a major and direct role in creating the horrors… And since at least 2011when Afghani women were NOT liberated by Ms Clinton’s war but forced to flee followed by 2003 when Iraqi people did not get a new democratic regime but extreme poverty, more deaths in horrible sectarian civil war, and reactionary-brutal forces that are now also partners in the killings in Syria.

It is in this context we need to understand the response of the EU to the refugee crisis as, firstly, an imperialist response, denying all historic responsibility and presenting the refugee crisis as a conspiracy of human traffickers, opportunist ‘swarm’ of migrants etc. Almost, as if it is a random disaster and the EU is also a victim of it. Secondly, as a racist response to enable them to divert/deflect the attention of masses from what they want to continue to do, their neo-liberal, austerity programs, housing crisis, unemployment, shafting millions of workers while making sure the rich of Europe are looked after.

What Alexis Tsipras is calling for is indeed a summary of this two-fold European response to the refugee crisis.

Mr. Tsipras may need to remember some of the undeniable facts in this refugee crisis:

His own people, the Greek workers who lost so much because of the economic crisis and EU austerity program were called by his EU partners “lazy people who just wanted to party and not work hard”.

His European partners had threatened the people of Greece, and indeed Tsipras’s initially anti-austerity government with allowing the Greek capitalists to seek refuge in other countries. Capital flight is in fact a glorified word for the rich seeking refugee from paying taxes and sharing the burden. He must remember how he wasn’t asked to stop these rich refugees from going somewhere else in Europe.

By the way, how that Greek-Egyptian agreement signed this year with the oppressive dictator Sisi going ? The two leaders had said:

We agree to mobilize all efforts at our disposal to prevent further loss of life at sea and to tackle the root causes of the human tragedy that we are facing.

We are encouraged by the recent gains of the Iraqi forces in Iraq with the support of the anti-ISIL international coalition” (referring to the US led military operations)

But there are more things to remember:

No one, no mother, no father, no child should be labelled as ‘illegal’ or a ‘problem because they are running away from war, death, oppression, hunger or poverty. It is far too easy to feel sad while watching on TV a 5 year old kid crossing the desert alone to reach a refugee camp… Or watching the mourning women for the death of their children… But the real test is about what we say and what we do when these people get up and run for their lives and for the lives and safety of their children.

The real test begins when these people arrive at our borders….

Imagine yourself in Syria, Libya, Iraq or Gaza. Don’t go too far, go back in time and imagine yourself in Bosnia. What would you do if you had no chance left to survive and if your children died in front of your eyes? What border, what law, what visa and immigration controls would matter to you? Like everyone else you and your loved ones have one shot, one chance to live on this earth. What would you do if that chance was to be taken away from you?

The logical conclusion of sentences starting with “I understand their suffering BUT,…” is to say “refugees should not run away, they should not come to our country”. This, in turn means that “they should stay in their own countries or wherever, except ours, and die”.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14/1 states, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. Ask any European government and you will get the same answer, that “they are fully supporting this fundamental human right“.

The question remains. Why do migrants cross the sea and why do many they die?

Five – or 15 years on, they now cross the seas because there are more than 10 million refugees in the Middle-East and 60 million world-wide… Cramped in refugee camps, they are sleeping rough on the streets, living in poverty and hunger. Their hopes to return home is gone. In many places they have no safety, no education for their children and no hope for future.

The richest continent Europe is not a place that shares any significant ‘burden’ of the global refugee crisis. Poor African countries, Middle-Eastern and Far-Eastern counties share the most of the refugees. Europe, as a whole isn’t even in the top 10 regions in the list of refugee hosting places.

They die at seas because the rich countries deny the victims of war, poverty, disasters or oppression the universal human right of “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

Because there are no other ways and no other options available for people to reach Europe safely, seek refuge and protection…

Because the only option available to refugees is to become ‘illegal migrants’ and trust their lives into the hands of profiteering traffickers!

Some things are not right on this earth.

This system has lost the plot altogether. On the news we see extreme wealth of a small minority alongside the extreme poverty of millions. Somebody’s ‘national’, ‘commercial’ interest becomes somebody’s famine, war, poverty, oppression or death.

These are the reasons why refugees must cross the seas Mr. Tsipras and these are the reasons why they die…

You want to stop the flow of refugees by asking your NATO partner Turkey to arm, barb-wire its borders? You want to sponsor this and let the refugees suffer in refugees camps, so long they are far away it doesn’t matter to you?

Well they are happy to do that; so long you can help the ‘refugee-EU membership’ trading… So long you and your EU partners can use this ‘horse trading’ as a means to break the refugees and give false hope to other poor people: Then EU carrot…

Shame on Mr. Tsipras, shame on you and your partners, in NATO and the EU…

As poet Warsan Shire wrote, “No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark…  You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”, Mr. Tsipras

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