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Refugee crisis of imperialism

The widely circulated photo of a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was found on a beach in Turkey and whose family was making a final, desperate attempt to flee to relatives in Canada even though their asylum application had been rejected” by the Canadian Government, has caused widespread outrage and forced Western leaders to acknowledge that there is a “refugee crisis”.

The real tragedy is the refusal of Western leaders to acknowledge the cause of the refugee crisis: Western imperialism’s genocidal and never ending wars on the people of the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.  There are now more refugees than at any time since World War 2 and the number of refugees has increased markedly since the start of the Global War on Terror. Wherever the US and its imperialist allies have intervened, whether through direct military action or indirect proxy wars, economic sabotage, and coups, in the name of “democracy”, the “war on terror”, or the “responsibility to protect”, death and despair have been forced upon millions of innocent people who have been left no other choice than to abandon their native lands to embark on a dangerous future of desperate struggle. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Sudan, Ukraine, and elsewhere the livelihoods of millions have been destroyed by the forces of US and Western imperialism.

In the 1980s, Afghanistan had a “genuinely popular government”, according to Professor John Ryan, that was implementing widespread reforms. Labour unions were legalised, a minimum wage was established, hundreds of thousands of Afghans were enrolled in educational facilities, and women were freed from age-old tribal bondage and able to earn an independent income. US and Western imperialism, fearful of that kind of equitable distribution of wealth, supported the feudal landlords and fundamentalist mullahs to sow chaos across the country, bringing rise to elements that later formed al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Afghan people were once more dealt a severe punishment by the forces of Western imperialism following 9/11, despite a lack of conclusive evidence linking either the Taliban or al-Qaeda to the attacks.  Years of US intervention in Afghanistan have left the people of Afghanistan impoverished, traumatised, and desperate. The conflicts in Libya and Syria are eerily similar to the Western destabilisation of Afghanistan. In 2011, when the Arab Spring protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa, Western imperialism hijacked legitimate grievances of the masses as a pretext for intervention in the name of the “responsibility to protect” and “democracy promotion”.

Prior to the 2011 US/NATO intervention, Libya was among the wealthiest and most stable countries in Africa, with the continent’s highest standard of living.  Education and healthcare services were free for all citizens, and the country was pushing to establish an African currency linked to gold to help end the endless cycle of debt and impoverishment of the African masses by Western imperialism. Under the cloak of the United Nations, Western imperialism, using the pretext of protecting the people of Libya from Gaddafi’s alleged

murderous rule, launched airstrikes on Libya. NATO airstrikes killed hundreds of civilians and forced Libya back into the Stone Age; Thousands have been killed as rival tribal and extremist factions, some now allied with ISIS, battling for control of the country. The war in Syria has frequently been referred to as “Libya 2.0”. US imperialism with the support of Israel, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf States, trained and financed rebels to overthrow the secular and popularly supported government of Bashar al-Assad. These Free Syrian Army fighters have morphed into the ranks of ISIS en masse, itself a product of the illegal US occupation of Iraq that killed one million Iraqis. Hundreds of thousands have died in the West’s proxy war against the Syrian government.

From Libya to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Somalia, US and Western imperialist interventions, coups, and sanctions have displaced and killed millions of people. Physicians for Social Responsibility estimate that in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan alone Western imperialist intervention has caused the death of 1.3 million people. It is no wonder then that hundreds of thousands seek asylum elsewhere; however, after travelling huge distances overland and on water, refugees find themselves abused, discriminated against, held in detention, or rejected from Europe, Canada, the US, and Australia.  Professor Warner  mentions that more than 2,500 have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, while the International Organisation for Migration estimates that  30,000 could die by the end of 2015.

Refugees attempting to enter Europe, even if they are granted asylum in a mainland European country such as Germany, have been met with police violence in Greece, Italy, and other countries on the Mediterranean that are the first landing points for boats sailing from North Africa and Turkey. Greek police have beaten refugees protesting the failure of local governments to process their applications. Conditions are so poor for refugees that while waiting for processing newborn babies have died in Greece.

Italian police forcibly removed African refugees camping out at the French border after France refused to grant them asylum. The thousands of refugees that seek asylum in Australia are detained in Australia’s detention facilities in Papua New Guinea and the small island nation of Nauru, dubbed by political critics as the Guantanamo Bay of the Pacific. Refugees can be detained for several years in these facilities, where social workers have observed “ profound damage” to those detained through prolonged deprivation of freedom, abuse of power, confinement in an extremely harsh environment, uncertainty of future, disempowerment, loss of privacy and autonomy and inadequate health and protection services. 

*Solly Rakgomo is an International

Relations graduate student

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