From the Mediterranean to the Channel: immigration controls kill

mediterranean crisis
Thousands of people continue to cross the Mediterranean on unsafe, overcrowded botas.

So far this year, more than 2,150 people have been confirmed dead while trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe – one in 40 of those trying to cross and three times as many as in late 2015, when EU rescue efforts began to be reduced. Meanwhile, in Britain, as the government prepares for withdrawal from the EU, restrictions and attacks on migrants continue. Tom Vickers reports.

Fortress Europe

The European Commission (EC) recently backed an Italian proposal that anybody rescuing migrants at sea should be forced to operate under the authority of the Italian and Libyan coastguards, who NGOs have said are deliberately allowing people to drown or are returning them to the violence and abuse of detention camps in Libya. The International Organisation for Migration and the UNHCR have criticised the proposed restrictions on NGOs, reflecting splits in the ruling classes. The head of UNHCR’s Europe office, Vincent Cochetel, suggested regulations would be more appropriate for NATO and commercial ships operating in the Mediterranean, which he said have been switching off their GPS systems in order to avoid having to rescue people. Far-right groups have raised tens of thousands of pounds for a plan to intercept NGO boats and prevent them rescuing people from the sea; on 24 July ‘Defend Europe’ announced its first ship had entered the Mediterranean.

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Fortress Europe

Fortress Europe

Thousands of migrants and refugees are still arriving at the borders of the EU and, in response, Europe’s major imperialist powers continue to increase repression. Racist opposition to immigrants has given Prime Minister Theresa May licence to make freedom of movement a non-negotiable part of Britain’s exit from the European Union, and, at the start of January, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated that he was ‘not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle’. Tom Vickers reports.

There is no fundamental contradiction between the ‘Fortress Europe’ policy of the EU and the ‘Little England’ policy of pro-Brexit sections of the British ruling class: both are determined to exclude from Europe those forced to flee the wars, poverty, environmental destruction and repression that imperialism has fostered and to outsource the repression necessary for this to Europe’s periphery.

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Fortress Europe – the death toll rises

fortress europe

The EU is reorganising its border controls, in an effort to maintain the divide between workers of oppressed and imperialist countries and to contain the consequences of its overt and covert wars in the Middle East and North Africa. Britain and other European imperialist powers rely on super-profits extracted from oppressed countries, with rates of return from UK Foreign Direct Investment of 9% in Africa and 13% in Asia in 2014, compared to 5% returns on FDI in the UK, and a net transfer of £45bn each year out of Africa. To protect this super-exploitation European imperialist states do whatever is necessary to prevent people from oppressed countries from moving where better wages and conditions are available, and to limit their rights if they manage to get there. But people on the move continue to resist these restrictions, leading to a constant struggle at Europe’s borders.

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Calais resists

In February a French court authorised the demolition of the 70,000 square metre southern section of the ‘jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. Prior to the ruling, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve claimed that ‘it was never a question of evacuating the south zone in a brutal fashion’ but he has a poor memory, because as recently as January bulldozers were brought in to demolish an estimated 20% of the camp, housing approximately 1,500 people (see FRFI 249). Following the ruling, a brutal and violent eviction of the camp began, with the CRS (French ‘anti-riot’ police) using tear gas, and burning down shelters.

The migrant residents of the camp have continued to resist. Twelve Iranian asylum seekers began a hunger strike on 2 March, with demands including an end to forced eviction and an end to the use of tear gas.

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Migration crisis- Europe’s violence unmasked

The death toll at Europe’s borders continues to rise, with at least 525 people reported dead or missing between 1 January and 20 March 2016. This is a direct result of the EU’s restrictive border controls, which disproportionately affect refugees and migrants from oppressed countries. There is no let-up in the wars, poverty and repression that force people to move, and so the repressive measures of European states do not stop people attempting to enter Europe, but only add to the death and misery, as well as removing rights from a section of workers who then become subject to super-exploitation. Tom Vickers reports

The main countries of origin for refugees and migrants seeking to enter Europe via the Mediterranean are Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – all of which have been subject to murderous and destructive imperialist interventions in recent years. Research recently published by the MEDMIG project has confirmed earlier findings that many migrants have little information about immigration policies in their countries of destination and often make ad hoc decisions en route about which country to move to, showing that more restrictive immigration policies do not stop people trying to reach Europe. The research also confirms that increased restrictions have ‘led to protracted and fragmented journeys and make it increasingly difficult for people to safely and legally access protection and employment’.

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