Racism on the rise across Europe

On 12 September two thirds of the European Parliament voted to pursue unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary on the grounds it had breached ‘EU core values’. Clearly, the racist, anti-working class and patently reactionary policies of Hungary must be powerfully opposed; however, Hungarian President Viktor Orban was not being figurative when he said sanctions against Hungary would be the EU condemning ‘its own border guards’. Orban’s brutal, militarised and inhumane approach to immigration is far from unique to Hungary, with the EU itself and its member states showing nothing but racist contempt for the lives of migrants. Ruby Most reports.

The Mediterranean

So far in 2018 the borders of ‘Fortress Europe’ have claimed the lives of 1,095 people trying to cross the Mediterranean. Despite the fact that the number making the crossing has decreased since last year, the percentage of deaths has risen, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. This is primarily because legal routes for migration have been increasingly cut off, and migrants are forced to take deadly illegal routes. Human trafficking has developed into a business worth an estimated $150bn a year.

The EU has directly funded the Libyan coastguard to build its ability to prevent crossings into Europe by sea, establishing a ‘Libyan search and rescue region’ this year. In reality this means the Libyan coastguard now patrols the coast and returns increasing numbers of people ‘in need of international protection’ (victims of war, slavery, sexual violence) to Libya, where they are put in overcrowded detention centres and often go missing – many are then sold into slavery. In 2017 patrols in this region were mainly carried out by NGOs on search and rescue missions, which meant over 39,000 migrants and refugees were rescued, but this work is being constantly restricted. Southern border EU member nations including Spain, Greece, and Italy are stepping up isolation and criminalisation of NGOs, activist groups and individuals attempting to give humanitarian aid or rescue those who are stranded on the sea. In Greece, 30 members of Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), a non-profit organisation in Lesbos which coordinates search and rescue missions in the Aegean Sea, have recently been charged with trafficking refugees, which comes with extremely long prison sentences. One member of ERCI is Sara Mardini, an Olympic swimmer who became internationally revered as a figure of heroic compassion when in 2015 she and her sister Yusra saved 18 refugees from drowning by diving into the sea and dragging their deflating dinghy to safety. She is currently locked up in a high security facility in Athens.

The operations of the Aquarius, the last private rescue ship operating between Libya and Europe, which is run by the NGOs Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée (SOSM), have increasingly been targeted. In June both Italy and Malta refused the ship access to their ports to disembark the 360 rescued refugees it was carrying – including seven pregnant women and 104 children and teenagers. Italy’s far right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, pledged never to allow the Aquarius access to Italian ports, accusing it of offering a ‘taxi service’ to refugees. In August, Gibraltar revoked its flag from the ship, consigning it to port for 19 days until Panama agreed to grant the Aquarius its flag. However, this was revoked on 24 September, with MSF and SOSM claiming this was due to ‘blatant economic and political pressure from the Italian government’. Unless another state grants the Aquarius a flag it will not be able to return to much-needed search and rescue operations next time it docks. Every attack on rescue missions will increase the proportion of deaths in the Mediterranean.

Hungary

Hungary lies on one of the major land routes for migrants into the EU and plays the role of a buffer state for the imperialist core of the EU. Orban and his far-right national-conservative Fidesz party militarised Hungary’s border with Serbia, erected a wired fence and detained refugees in detention camps at the height of the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ in 2015. In March 2017 amendments to border management legislation came into force which meant Hungarian police were given the right to ‘push back’ to the border migrants who are deemed ‘illegal’ from anywhere in the country, without any legal procedures and with no option of appeal. The legislation also means any applications made by people seeking asylum will have to be done from ‘transit zones’ at the border, where they will be detained with no legal assistance for the entirety of the asylum claim procedure. Children, vulnerable people and those with ongoing asylum cases are all also automatically detained in the same way.

In June 2018, the Hungarian parliament passed the ‘Stop Soros’ law, which allows individuals to be imprisoned and NGOs shut down for assisting ‘alien’ populations or migrants. The party voted overwhelmingly in favour of the brutal bill in a parliament where 117 out of 199 seats are filled by Fidesz since it was re-elected in April with 49% of the vote. Hungary’s finance ministry also announced a 25% tax to be paid by NGOs who bring aid to migrants, using familiar rhetoric to blame migrants living in poverty for the country’s economic crisis. In May, thousands of Hungarians took to the streets against Orban’s re-election, accusing him of corruption, stealing EU funds, and rigging the electoral system in Fidesz’s favour. Although these protests showed mass dissatisfaction with Orban’s government, they were comprised of opposing class forces – some were pro-EU activists, some anti-racists and some far-right nationalists – and so could do little to counter the power of Orban’s reactionary capitalist party.

EU members have correctly criticised the injustice, racism, human rights abuses and censorship that are the basis of Orban’s government, and it is of course true that it is making a mockery of the European Unions’ self-proclaimed values: ‘upholding human dignity’, ‘freedom of movement, thought, religion and expression’, ‘equality’ and ‘democracy’ (Europa.eu). But for governments in other EU member states such as France to claim they, in contrast to Hungary, are practising them is a revolting joke when the actions and policies of the EU as a whole are indeed in direct opposition to its supposed ‘values’.

France

On 1 August, the French government, led by Emmanuel Macron’s ‘centrist’ pro-EU party La République En Marche! (REM) passed into law a repressive bill which clamps down on immigration. The bill had been rejected by the senate and one member of REM, former Socialist Party MP Jean-Michel Clement, left the party after being the only member to vote against the proposal on its first reading in April. Amnesty International France is amongst the numerous human rights organisations which slated the bill as dangerous for refugees and asylum seekers, and workers at Ofpra, France’s refugee protection office, went on strike to protest against the bill. Despite exposing rifts in his party between left and right leaning factions, the bill was subsequently passed with 100 votes for, 25 against and 11 abstentions by the lower house as Macron’s REM has a large majority in Parliament.

The new law:

  • cuts the maximum time for filing asylum applications from 120 to 90 days after entering France
  • gives a time limit of two weeks for those wishing to appeal a rejected claim
  • cuts from 11 months to 6 the time limit to make an asylum claim
  • doubles the maximum detention period from 45 to 90 days
  • does not end the detention of children.

French immigration policies last year resulted in 275 children being held in detention centres, and this practice will continue. The French state has reportedly been using the police in Calais to systematically intimidate and threaten volunteers bringing food and water to those living in migrant camps, as well as, to a more extreme degree the displaced people themselves. In August The Guardian published a report from four organisations distributing aid on the northern French coast which states that ‘between November 2017 and July 2018 there were more than 600 incidents of intimidation against volunteers’ which included tear gassing, excessive identity checks, physically pushing aid workers to the ground and enforcing physical searches of aid workers, specifically targeting women.

Germany

As we reported in FRFI 265, thefissured coalition government of the conservative centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic party (SPD) led by Angela Merkel has been held together by an agreement to implement repressive policies on migration. These include increased powers of deportation and the setting up of more migrant prisons, as well as supporting the aim of setting up similar internment camps in Africa. The coalition has also agreed to double its defence budget to €70bn, making it ‘the largest military budget since World War II’.

The right wing anti-immigrant Alternative for Deutschland party (AfD) has criticised Merkel for being weak on immigration, and used propaganda about immigrant street crime and harassment of women to capitalise on fear and racism and call for even harsher detention and deportation policies. The AfD is strong in east Germany, formerly the German Democratic Republic, and is in part an expression of the social and economic crisis generated by the imperialist recolonisation of the country. In August, protests in Chemnitz reportedly drew 8,000 far-right extremists and AfD voters, who took to the streets with German flags, made Nazi salutes and physically chased down and threatened with knives dark- skinned people they suspected could be refugees. This was organised by far-right organisations like anti-Islam group PEGIDA and attended by some AfD leaders and many of its membership, following the murder of a German man, allegedly carried out by asylum seekers. In September a similar march in Koethen attracted more than 1,000 far right supporters against Merkel’s immigration policies and in response to the death of a German man who allegedly died of a heart attack after intervening in a fight between two Afghan migrants where he was punched in the face. Only half as many counter-protesters were mobilised. 1,000 police officers were sent to protect the right-wing protesters and AfD.

Fight rising racism!

While migration to Europe and movement of migrants within the borders of ‘Fortress Europe’ has in fact decreased since last year, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker announced at the annual state of the union address in September that the EU will deploy 10,000 more armed border guards as part of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, by 2020. The plan will also increase the power of Frontex to stop ‘secondary movements’ of displaced people once they are inside the borders of the EU, which has been decried as potentially threatening to the Schengen area of free movement. The attitude of  EU governments towards the people fleeing imperialist war, poverty, natural disasters or persecution is one of indifference, disgust or blame.

57% of registered refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. What these countries have in common is that they have been ravaged by imperialist wars and occupations. Europe’s policies on immigration are clearly not aimed at tackling the real roots of the so-called ‘crisis’ in migration, but hiding its material causes and violently punishing the victims. The only way to counter this attack on one of the most oppressed sections of the working class is to build solidarity with anti-racist, anti-imperialist movements in Britain and directly oppose the racist border controls of imperialism. 

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 266 October/November 2018

 

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