Riot police, razor wire and refugees

Europe takes in only a small proportion of the world's refugees yet when you consider the dog whistle politics and lack of human decency towards the men, women and children desperately trying to reach its shores, you'd think it was being wiped out by an alien species.  

According to the late French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, there is nothing more unsettling than the continued movement of something that seems fixed.

Fast forward to the largest movement of people since WWII and his point is made in a troubling fashion. Europe is reeling, utterly incapable of devising a real solution to the hundreds of thousands escaping their wretched and dangerous fixed abodes in the hope of an address on the Continent.

How desperate, traumatized, and powerless would you have to be to even consider, let alone actually embark on the perilous land and sea journeys so many are making - thousands dying in the attempt? 

Fleeing four years of war in Syria, massacres in South Sudan, wars in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, tyranny in Eritrea, these anguished people risk all they have left - their lives and often those of their children, for the hope of a life worth living.

All they want is to be free of despots and barrel bombs, of rape and murder, torture and starvation. Police truncheons in Calais are bearable when everything is relative.

For the vast majority their displacement is not one of choice. Their circumstances are way beyond their control.

Faced with an option of dying at home or hoping for life elsewhere, you too would try.

From the perspective of the countries reached by those who survive, the migrant ‘movement’ is understandably unsettling.

Greece is suffocating under the oppression of its financial calamity and political meltdown, yet it and its Island of Kos are trying to deal with the thousands of people who have made it to their shores.

Italy has been overwhelmed with sea rescues and a criminal number of drownings. The humanity of those at the coal face of rescues, medical attention and donations of food and clothing has been extraordinary.

Macedonia - a country refugees are trying to pass through rather than stay - failed dismally in the humanitarian test when it fired stun grenades and tear gas into the crowds of wretched children, women and men attempting to cross into Greece and beyond.

The footage of people who have made it that far from war only to be faced with state sanctioned violence in ‘civilized’ Europe is harrowing.

The attitude of the political elite to this displacement of people has exposed the ugly reality of doublespeak - talk about the required principles of humanitarian action, yet act so as to enforce a world order that keeps the ‘other’ outside.

As Human Rights Watch warns there is real concern that “the EU is trying to implement abusive policies cloaked in humanitarian garb”. They are referring to the likes of a proposal to give financial aid to countries including Tunisia and Egypt and thereby outsource the job of preventing migrants from braving the Mediterranean in order to “save the greatest possible number of lives”. 

Britain’s David Cameron with his reference to ‘swarms’ of migrants; his Foreign Minister Philip Hammond describing ‘marauding migrants’ endangering Europe’s living standards are excellent examples of ‘othering’ in order to diminish a problem.

Those in power are free to categorize or classify those who are on the lowest rungs of the power geometry, and once the powerless are categorized they can be separated from the ‘insiders’.

They are seen to have brought about a ‘crisis’ for European sovereignty through their own actions.

It is why refugees are invariably lumped as a ‘problem’ - a crisis that must be ‘solved’. As exceptions they are by definition unacceptable and in the neo-fascist speak emerging from continental Europe, they are to be kept out.

As Laurie Penny wrote in her exceptional article in NewStatesman, ‘The behaviour of the British and wider European elite towards migrants is not simple inhumanity. It is strategic inhumanity. It is weaponized inhumanity designed to convince populations fracturing under hammer-blows of austerity and economic chaos that the enemy is out there, that there is an ‘us’ that must be protected from ‘them”. 

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the issue of asylum could become a greater challenge for the European Union than the Greek debt crisis.

If only the politicians across all of Europe were as consistently engaged in the plight of refugees as they have been with the fate of the Euro had Greece exited their continental club.

To date they have managed an unseemly squabble over migrant quotas, cut back the sea patrols and played the low politics game by pledging more military and more razor wire. 

These policies, if you can call them such, are panicky and futile because those they are trying to keep out have nowhere else to go. They will just shift to another potential border.

In his book ‘Reflections on the Revolution in Europe’, Christopher Caldwell notes that political asylum is really the modern, bureaucratized version of the ancient duty of hospitality.

From Odysseus to today, people have migrated - sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily (there will be such a thing as a post conflict Syria).

In more recent memory an extraordinary variety of people fled political tyranny - Poles and Cubans ran from communism, Jews from anti-Semitism, Greeks from the ‘colonels’, Kurds from the Turks. There were Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in the 1970s, African ‘boat people’ post 2006, and the 2015 boat people arrive like their predecessors, packed into unseaworthy vessels.

Those who reach shore are overwhelmed at their fortune to simply make it alive.

The rest of the world, having already failed these people in their homelands through the likes of environmental change, non-intervention in the case of Syria and the wrong intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, has at the very least a moral duty to rescue them now.

The 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol, signed by all the countries of Europe, defines refugees as human beings with certain inalienable rights. It is humanity that is its organizing principle, not nationality.