Refugee flows into Europe from the Middle East and Africa were expected to decline as autumn sets in and sea crossings become more dangerous, but the numbers of people fleeing poverty and war, particularly in Syria, remain very high and are even growing.
UN figures show 218,000 crossed the Mediterranean in October; at least 700,000 have arrived in Europe this year. At least 3,000 have drowned trying to sail to Europe this year; the most recent victims were 11 people who drowned on 1 November when their boat overturned in heavy seas, just 20 metres from the Greek island of Samos. The dead included four babies and two children. longer
Once the refugees arrive in Europe, it is taking longer for them to reach a country that might give them asylum, such as Germany, as more countries close their borders even if, sometimes, only temporarily. Hungary’s paranoid, right-wing government has effectively sealed the country off from its Schengen partners behind a fence intended, explicitly, to keep out “Muslims”.
As winter arrives, conditions for refugees newly arrived in Europe are becoming desperate, and endanger the lives of the young, the old and the ill. Governments are responding wholly inadequately to this emergency. EU and Balkan leaders met in Brussels at the end of October to draw up plans to keep migrants in Greece and the Balkan states for longer, for example, registering refugees there, thus slowing the rush toward the richer Northern European states that offer refugees better prospects. In mid October the EU offered Turkey a huge aid package of up to £2.2 billion plus the lure of faster accessions talks and relaxed visa restrictions for Turkish citizens travelling to Europe, in return for the country taking measures to stem — or at least manage — refugee flows from its territory.
Turkey has been host to 2.5 million refugees from Syria; tens of thousands of these
Syrians are now making their way to Europe. Turkey’s authoritarian regime, under President Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), strengthened by its recent parliamentary election win, will benefit from the EU states’ failure to respond adequately to the refugee crisis. This is at the same time as Turkey is likely to add to the anguish in the region by renewing its campaign against the Kurds.
What we say
Socialists and the labour movement should campaign for open borders and for a massive response by the European governments to this humanitarian disaster.
The resources exist to safely settle our brothers and sisters, the refugees, from war and dire poverty. We must persuade working-class people to demand our governments organise an adequate response. We need more demonstrations such as that held simultaneously in Dover in the UK and Calais in France on 17 October.
The left-wing MP John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, sent an encouraging message to the Dover protest: “The gathering in Dover is to be welcomed by all those who believe ‘another world is possible’ — a world where refugees don’t have to camp on our borders, but are taken in and offered the help they need. This is a crucial issue for our movement and we must remember our old message: ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’.” It is in this spirit of solidarity that the labour movement must go forward on this issue.