Prime Minister David Cameron has been widely condemned for his government’s approach to the refugee crisis that has engulfed Europe. One former senior politician referred to what he called an “appalling and totally immoral policy”. The refugee crisis is itself a direct consequence of the military intervention in Africa and western Asia in which British governments and their allies in NATO and the EU have played the leading role. It is also a consequence of neo-liberal globalisation, the capital-centred system, the unequal relationship that exists between Britain and its EU allies and large parts of the world, which is the cause of so much poverty and misery.
This week, at the EU Summit on the refugee crisis, the Prime Minister announced that the Royal Navy will participate in the NATO force which also includes ships from Germany, Canada, Greece and Turkey, that has been sent to the Aegean Sea to prevent refugees making the journey from Turkey to Greece. Already this year nearly 120,000 have made that hazardous journey, nearly ten times as many refugees made the crossing in the first six weeks of 2016 compared with the same period last year. Already this year more than 400 people have died trying to cross the Aegean Sea to Europe.
It is not accidental that the government refers to those seeking refuge as “migrants” and even “illegal migrants”, in order to divert attention away from the nature of their plight and the reasons why so many will even risk death to reach Europe. The government’s position is that this latest naval mission is to prevent “people smuggling” and destroy “criminal gangs”, while the Prime Minister boasted of the fact that his government was acting to “secure” Europe’s borders and would urge its EU partners to return refugees. As the Prime Minister put it: “That’s why this NATO mission is so important. It’s an opportunity to stop the smugglers and send out a clear message to migrants contemplating journeys to Europe that they will be turned back. That’s why the UK is providing vital military assets to work with our European partners and support this mission.”
The Prime Minister’s comments were made as EU leaders meeting in Brussels announced a provisional plan to deport those they consider are not refugees from Greece back to Turkey. In return the Turkish government demanded additional finance from the EU totaling some â‚¬6 billion, as well as other inducements including restarting stalled talks on Turkey’s entry to the EU. Already 2.7 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey. The provisional plan will allow one Syrian refugee in Turkey to be admitted to Europe for each refugee sent back to Turkey from Greece. Turkey will also be expected to prevent “irregular” refugees departing its shores for Greece. According to David Cameron this proposal was a “breakthrough” which heralded the “possibility that in future all migrants who arrive in Greece will be returned to Turkey”. The Prime Minister added that the proposal “would, if implemented, break the business model of the people smugglers and end the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe”. However, even the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has criticised the legality as well as the morality of such a proposal.
Filippo Grandi told the European Parliament, “I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.” Some human rights organisations pointed out that such a proposal was an attack on the fundamental right to seek asylum.
In a related development Home Secretary, Theresa May, regained the legal right to deport failed asylum seekers in Britain back to Afghanistan when the Court of Appeal recently ruled that deportations could be resumed. A ban on deportations was temporarily imposed last year when a group of Afghan asylum seekers appealed against their deportations on the grounds that Afghanistan was unsafe. According to press reports even the government of Afghanistan advised the government not to restart deportations, and last year was the most hazardous yet for civilians with over 11,000 casualties, including over 3,500 deaths. The Afghan government wrote that it “expects the authorities and the general public in our friends’ country the UK to show tolerance concerning the return of Afghan citizens, in particular in cases where returnees are vulnerable individuals”.
These recent developments show once again that neither the EU nor the British government has any concern for the lives and well-being of the millions of refugees that are being forced to flee to Europe as a consequence of military, political and economic intervention of Britain and the other big powers in the EU and NATO. There is now a global refugee and migrant crisis, further evidence that the capital-centred system creates not only poverty, instability and war, but also the displacement of millions, a crisis which cannot be solved within the existing conditions. The inhuman approach taken by Britain and the EU to this crisis speaks volumes. It demonstrates that the EU remains the organisation of the big monopolies in Europe and operates in their interests and against the interests of the people of Europe and other parts of the world. The times cry out for an alternative, for a people-centred Europe and for a people-centred, anti-war government in Britain.