Guest post by Jon S. Rodríguez Forrest.
Last year more than 2,200 people died at sea while they were trying to reach the European Union. These deaths are not an unfortunate accident. These are murders, the direct consequence of political decisions taken by the coalition of Conservatives, Social Democrats, and Liberals that rules the EU.
In the context of a rising far right throughout the continent and further, the establishment has decided to not challenge the far right ideologically, but to assume its positions as their own and compete with them electorally. In this race to the bottom, ideas that five years ago – at the beginning of the present European Parliamentary mandate – were considered to be extremist are today being voiced by mainstream parties.
A perfect example of this is what is known as the ‘Australian model’. This system is based on the externalisation of borders, outsourcing asylum applications to third countries and creating detention centres abroad – far away from public scrutiny and in countries with extremely dubious human rights records.
Five years ago, this was an idea only voiced by Marine Le Pen and the like. Today it’s the EU’s common practice. The EU has armed and funded Libyan militias that routinely torture and sell migrants, it is funding the police forces of dictatorships like those of Sudan, Egypt and Morocco in the name of ‘border control’, and it has signed deals with countries like Turkey and Afghanistan to deport as many people as possible back to the violence they had originally fled from.
How did we get here?
But how have we arrived here? It is through the false rhetoric of a “refugee crisis” or a “migration crisis”, promoted directly from the European institutions and which has served a double purpose. On the one hand, it has allowed mainstream parties to show themselves as having a tough stance on migration and therefore being able to compete with the far right.
On the other hand, it has created the perception of an EU with extremely limited resources that cannot take in the numbers of people arriving. This is a lie. The EU is one of the wealthiest territories on the planet; there is objectively no lack of resources, but rather a problem with their distribution. And it must be noted that the countries hosting the highest numbers of refugees globally are not rich countries, but Middle Eastern and African ones. This is not an issue of resources but of political will.
To create the perception of an emergency, the EU has consciously closed its borders and created situations of humanitarian emergency which could easily be solved just by treating people equally. Today, if a boat is sinking in the Mediterranean it is treated in completely different ways depending on the skin colour of the people on it. If you’re white, you’ll be taken to safe port in Europe – if you’re not, you’ll be left to drown or, at best, taken to a port in North Africa where militias or corrupt police will detain you in inhumane conditions.
To serve this interest, they have even criminalised NGOs and activists doing search and rescue and other solidarity initiatives. These people are only covering up the responsibilities that EU member states are ignoring – but the governments actually don’t want this to happen and effectively ban any initiative to save lives.
EU breaking international law
All this has been accompanied by legislative measures being passed in European institutions that have reached the point of violating international law. They have created a new agency – the European Border and Coast Guard – a kind of police body accountable to no-one that can intervene directly in third countries and has been involved in illegal pushbacks in the Balkans.
The right to asylum has been restricted to cases originating from armed conflict recognised as such by the EU. Even if we know that 80 per cent of women arriving at our coasts are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and as such should be granted asylum, they are systematically denied access.
EU money earmarked for development is being used to promote border control within the African continent to avoid migration to Europe, and the budget for returns alone was already over €950 million last year. Sovereign countries are being blackmailed by the EU in a completely colonial way to accept as many deportations as possible and adapt their policies to the EU’s interests.
In the same way that EU institutions imposed austerity policies and cuts in public spending, they are creating a narrative on migration based on the principle of there is no alternative. That is why they are reaching deportation and externalisation agreements with third countries that are completely opaque. It is why, in the new reform of the mandate of the European Border and Coast Guards, the European Commission intended to make it possible for this body to operate in a third country – for example, organising a deportation flight – without the consent of the Member State where this would happen.
Fortress Europe is a threat to democracy outside the EU because of its colonial nature that imposes unequal relations with countries of origin of migrants. But it also a threat to democracy within the EU, criminalising the activities of social movements and imposing policy on member states. A clear example of this is how, during the negotiations between Greek and EU authorities during the bailout, the closure of the borders was one of the issues on the negotiation table.
Redefining the concept of citizenship
But it is not all bad news. The xenophobic measures of the EU and the different governments have been in stark contrast with a number of solidarity initiatives. Social movements have organised on a European scale as we have not seen before, giving a valuable lesson to the political left. We have seen massive demonstrations from Barcelona to Brussels full of people asking for their governments to welcome migrants and open the borders.
Now it’s time for the left to be bold and put this issue at the centre of its policies. We must urgently abolish all our racist laws, and effectively end the detention and deportation of people. We must create safe and legal ways to reach the EU so people don’t have to put their lives at risk or die trying. We must implement effective resettlement and a system of humanitarian visas. We must radically change our foreign and trade policies, stop participating in and promoting conflicts in third countries, and stop the plunder of the resources of former colonies.
Apart from this, the left must take this opportunity to redefine our societies away from the constraints of the homogeneous nation state. It is an opportunity to redefine the concept of citizenship, and ensure equal rights to everybody independently from their origin.
The left cannot buy into the divide and rule tactics that are being imposed by the far right and accepted by mainstream parties. The same institutions that promote racist policies are those responsible for cuts in wages and public services.
We cannot consider ourselves as part of the same community who is implementing these measures at the same time as we see our black or brown neighbours as being different. It is time to unite as a class to create a system that is fair for everybody.
Jon S. Rodríguez Forrest is a political advisor for the Izquierda Unida delegation at the European Parliament. Follow him on Twitter @JonSForrest.