The latest shocking pictures of hundreds of people drowned off the Libyan coast trying to make their way to a better life in Europe, or suffocating to death crammed together in the back of a lorry on an Austrian motorway, are galvanising EU leaders.
But only to discuss “burden-sharing”. Or how to separate the wheat — refugees from the wars in the Middle East — from the chaff — economic migrants.
It is good that Germany has said Syrians can claim asylum in Germany regardless of where they first register within the EU. As many as 800,000 Syrians end up making their home in Germany.
But what is to be the fate of those who are not from Syria, but from Afghanistan or Somalia? The EU leaders are not doing enough!
The UN estimates that at the end of 2014 a record 59.5 million — 1 in every 122 — people in the world are displaced. 86% of those forced from their countries are living in economically less developed countries. Turkey hosts 1.6 million refugees, most from Syria, more than any other country. The next biggest host nation is Pakistan, with 1.5 million from Afghanistan. Lebanon hosts the most in relation to its population: 232 per 1,000 inhabitants.
The numbers of displaced people have risen 13% since 2013; by 59% since 2004.
The four-year war in Syria accounts for much of the recent figure: 3.9 million Syrians live as refugees in the Middle East and farther afield; 7.6 million are displaced within Syria. At least 220,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict.
This is, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put it it, an “age of unprecedented mass displacement”.
UNHCR has responsibility for, among others, 3.9 million Syrians, 2.6 million Afghanis, and 1.1 million Somalis, all coming from countries ravaged by war. In Iraq in 2013 there were 1 million internally displaced people fleeing Islamic State, by the end of 2014 the number had risen to 3.6 million.
Worldwide, only 126,800 displaced persons were able to return to their home countries in 2014.
The number of displaced persons living in Europe rose from 4.4 million in 2013 to 7.6 million in 2014. It is a large number of people, but as a proportion they make up not much more than 1% of the European population — and they are people in great need, as the lengths to which they will go to get into the EU show.
More than 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2014; three times the previous high of 70,000, at the time of the “Arab spring” in 2011. UNHCR had reports of 3,500 people dead or missing in the Mediterranean in 2014.
Estimated figures for 2015 are 300,000 so far attempting the crossing, with 2,700 people drowning when their overloaded vessels sank. Those who want to cross pay traffickers around £250 for a place.
Alternatively, people pay thousands of pounds to a succession of smugglers to take them across the Middle East, then by boat from Turkey to Greece, and then via Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary to the richer countries of the EU, such as Austria and Germany and some onward to the UK.
Several thousand are currently living in squalid camps in Calais looking for a chance to get into the UK. They run the risk of injury and death climbing aboard lorries and trains.
All along this chain of desperation, the displaced are exploited and at risk.
But the trafficking, the suffering and the misery, all of the indignity, could stop -— if the EU would only open its borders!
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is acting generously in relation to the Syrian refugees but partly because it suits the needs of German capital. Germany’s ageing population needs new workers to boost its economy, and to fund the services that older people will need when they can no longer work — problems shared by most European countries.
But this approach is much better than that of prime minister Cameron, running so scared of the anti-EU, anti-migrant UKIP that he even ignores pro-Tory business leaders who argue for the economic benefits of freer immigration.
Cameron is making tougher controls on immigration a central demand in his negotiations with the EU.
The migration crisis presents a challenge to trade unionists and socialists: will we fight for a better world and human equality, or will we argue to keep the borders, or strengthen them?
Will we argue that migration must be controlled, because new arrivals need school places for their children, treatment on the NHS, in- and out-of-work benefits, houses and jobs, and there isn’t enough to go round?
We should not: there is enough to go around if we fight for more resources for public services to meet need, and for new homes to be built; if we argue for hours of work to be cut without loss of pay, in order to create more jobs.
Who will pay for all of this? The rich can pay! We need a massive redistribution of wealth, from the rich to the working class, and from richer nations to poorer.
Will we argue that the UK should leave the EU, because the EU is too neoliberal or because it allows workers to move between countries, undercutting wages? We should not: the EU is no more neoliberal than the UK. We can only defeat neoliberalism by fighting the ruling class of every nation and internationally. There is little evidence that labour migration undercuts wages. In any case we need a fight to level up wages and conditions across Europe and wider. We need international working-class solidarity.
The Corbyn campaign and possible Labour leadership offers a unique opportunity to push these policies.
The way the current migration crisis is presented in the media and by most politicians fuels anxiety and suspicion, racism even. We must resist these and insist on the right of all people to live in safety and dignity, to enjoy life, to care for their families, for each other.
Open the borders! Workers, unite and fight!