Look around the world. Look at EU migrants who have made the UK their home now wondering how long they can stay and on what terms, all under the threat of Brexit. If they want to stay, they will have to apply for “settled status”. 1.2 million UK citizens living in other EU member states face similar anxieties.
There are 3.7 million non-UK EU citizens in the UK; about 6% of the population and 7% of the working population. Look just across the Channel — at Calais, which has long been a focus for migrants trying to reach the UK. Now that the French authorities have cleared out the migrant camps, the 1,000 migrants still at Calais live a life worse than that of a stray dog.
They are harassed by the police, and struggle to meet their basic needs of shelter, sanitation, warm clothing, safe food and drinking water, and healthcare. The situation is similar for around 500 people in Brussels; and 1,500 people in Paris, according to the charity Care4Calais.
Look at Syria. A seven-year ongoing war that began as a popular uprising against the dictator Assad, part of the Arab Spring, has created six million internal displaced persons, and more than five million external refugees. Over half of the 22 million pre-war population have been forced from their homes and now live in camps in Syria or neighbouring countries, or have migrated to Europe. Germany has taken 600,000 of them; the UK fewer than 10,000.
On the dangerous journey to safety and a better life that many Syrians embark on, they meet many more desperate people fleeing unstable political situations, wars and poverty in countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Bangladesh, Gambia, Algeria, Eritrea and Mali. Many of these people are fleeing areas controlled by ISIS and similar groups.
These refugees make hazardous overland journeys or, worse, risk their lives on unsafe boats crossing the Mediterranean. Along the route they are preyed on by criminals, people traffickers or even, in Libya now, people who want to sell them into slavery. While the number of people trying to cross the Mediterranean has fallen dramatically since its peak of one million in 2015, already in 2018 7,865 have made this journey. Estimated numbers of people drowned or missing in the attempt this year alone are 368 [UNHCR figures].
Look further afield. In the US, President Trump advocates drastic measures to reduce migration from Mexico and countries to the south. He wants to move ahead with his plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico and has asked the US Treasury (not Mexico) for $25 billion to build it. He wants to deport undocumented foreign-born working-class people but not only them — he also wants to deport their children who were born in the US, the so-called “Dreamers”. This is a spiteful, politically motivated measure, designed to shore up support for Trump among his base, but is unpopular with most US voters.
Around the world, there are other peoples suffering forced mass migration. This includes Rohingya Muslims, 700,000 of whom have fled their homes in Burma following genocidal violence assisted by the Burmese state itself. Most of them are now living in squalid camps in Bangladesh, itself one of the poorest countries in the world. Now Bangladesh has negotiated with the Burmese authorities to return the Rohingya.
These examples show a wide spread of migrant situations and experiences. But such movements have always happened across territories during the aeons of human existence where national boundaries did not exist. The recent discovery that Cheddar Man, one of the earliest inhabitants in the UK, from whom 10% of Britons of “white” ancestry are descended, had black skin drives that point home. Such movements of people are nothing to fear. They are part of the human condition.
In the era of nation states people have moved, with their movements monitored and regulated by states. In recent times, migrants have come from other EU countries to the UK to plug gaps in the workforce; they make up 5.6% of NHS staff, for example. There is no evidence that this migratory wave has driven down the wages of the “native” workers, and it has helped boost the UK economy. Brexit puts this at risk, disrupting the lives of the workers affected, harming the economy, and destroying the opportunity for British and other European workers to understand each other better and build stronger links.
What is the answer to all of this? For countries to raise borders, to keep people out? For people to stay put and put up with what they are given? For mistrust to reign between fellow humans, particularly between workers from different countries?
No! The alternative is to fight for these principles: • the right of all humans to travel where they want or need to, freedom of movement; • human equality; • solidarity between all people; • the development of society and the economy everywhere. The alternative is to fight for socialism!