ON THE REFUGEE DEBATE
By Marco Wenzel
[This article published on 11/30/2018 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.nachdenkseiten.de. The author lives in Thailand and was a union secretary who often reflects on political and economic connections.]
A specter goes about again in Europe. This time it is the refugee debate. No other question is discussed so ardently and passionately. No other question divides European states, society and unfortunately also the left as much as the refugee theme. It is a real cacophony that presses to us in Thailand from distant Europe.
In fact, this is a complicated theme forced on the left by neoliberal late capitalism. The left wants to go to the core and not repeat simple explanations. The problem is multi-layered; the terrain is mined. Whoever denies the complexity quickly runs the risk of coming under fire – from political opponents and from one’s own ranks. Therefore, gaining consensus and clarity in the debate is very important.
The rulers want to divert from the real causes of the refugee wave and from their own misdeeds. The cause of the misery is an exploitation crisis of capital and the greed of mammoth world corporations for more dominance on “free markets.” The rulers describe the migration wave as a phenomenon of the 21st century that suddenly appears from nowhere and splits the working class by demanding solidarity of those exploited at home who are materially weak with the exploited of distant countries, solidarity with the migrating brothers and sisters. International solidarity is one of the original desires of the working class, the worldwide solidarity of proletarians. The 1838 Communist Manifesto proclaimed: Workers or proletarians of all lands, unite! Solidarity in the struggle against the bourgeoisie is meant here, solidarity of workers of all countries against the worldwide exploitation.
The rulers caused immigration, this new “refugee wave” through wars, overthrowing governments and destruction of the foundations of life. Against the negative consequences, they now demand the solidarity of the indigenous with the expellees. With that, they can continue their policy of worldwide exploitation and cushion others from its negative consequences – without contributing anything to damage control, without abandoning their policy of neoliberal exploitation and conquest and without spending money to redress the inflicted harm. Workers in Germany and Europe should now take the rap. They should accept all expellees without ifs or buts and share with them the little the rulers allow them. Whoever criticizes the policy of open borders is stylized as an egoist, racist and hater of foreigners, hardhearted, without sympathy for the misery of the world and determined to safeguard his assets.
Causes of Migration and Flight
Wars, Civil Wars, and Overthrowing Governments
Since the Second World War, there were never so many wars and armed conflicts as today. Most of these conflicts were wars of the US and its allies in the general war against terror. So Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were victims of surprise attacks. All these illegal wars were instigated by the US. In Syria, a civil war was engineered and the country was bombarded with missiles. A war rages in Yemen. Civil wars rage in the Ukraine, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan and the Sudan. The whole Middle East is in flames. In addition, many other conflicts are waged as in Darfur and Burma often with brutal force of arms.
Wars, civil wars and terrorist retaliatory strikes as reactions, mercenaries, private armies, moderate and less moderate rebels, Al Qaida, Isis and Boko Haram – nearly always armed and paid by the US and its allies – creating tumult and overthrowing disagreeable governments. The causes of flight often have a military nature: bombed cities, bombed houses, dilapidated infrastructure, no water, no electricity, bombs, murder, terror and rape, unemployment, futureless-ness, hopelessness and despair among the impacted.
Unjust Economic Agreements
Exploitation of the countries of the “global South” by means of unjust trade agreements is another important cause of flight. The economic partnership agreements with countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the South Pacific are central. The goal of these agreements is opening new markets for European products. The European Union uses its strong negotiating position to force countries to sign the agreements. By refusing to sign, high import tariffs threaten in the EU so developing countries sit on their goods until forced to sign.
The EU is supported by the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the IMF that demand liberalization of markets, reducing tariffs, privatizations and dismantling public services. Part of the substance of these trade agreements is always revoking protective tariffs so European goods have unhindered access to the markets, particularly to Africa’s markets. Public employment must be advertised internationally and can no longer be resolved nationally.
As a result, Africa’s indigenous markets are flooded with cheap European products. The deep-frozen chicken parts from the EU that rival the local chicken-breeders on all African markets and ruin them is the best-known example. Pork from all parts of the EU, tulips and tomatoes from Holland and Italy as well as milk powder manufactured from the excess milk of cows in the EU are very cheap and rival local small farmers.
Old clothes are collected in Europe and resold cheaply in Africa where they have already ruined the indigenous textile industry. Rubbish and scrap metal are exported to Africa so they can be cheaply discarded there. People sort out the European filth all day under the scorching sun for a pittance.
The waters before Africa’s coasts are fished dry by international fishing fleets and local fishers return empty with their little boats. They rent out their fishing boats out of necessity as tugboats for the passage of refugees to Italy and Spain.
Usually, European agricultural products are subsidized; the fishing trawlers and the fishing licenses are subsidized; the fuel and the transport are subsidized. But the African farmers and fishers do not receive any subsidies from their governments and have no money. Freeborn citizens and fair trade look different.
Add to this, the land robbery by mammoth foreign corporations and states like Dubai and Saudi Arabia and so-called investors who buy whole regions cheaply in poor countries or lease them for a long time. So these corporations secure their access to raw materials. The families who often lived there for generations without any title deeds are expelled. The land and property are fenced in and raw materials are mined. Groundwater is pumped out, bottles filled and sold as mineral water all over the world or gigantic plantations, mostly monocultures, are established for export or for production of fuel for European cars. The indigenous will hardly be employed there.
These economic agreements immediately destroy all development assistance. They destroy the foundations of life of the indigenous population. Many leave the country toward Europe in the hope of a better future. Then they are called “economic refugees” – driven from their land, ruined by cheap products from abroad, fishers of over-fished oceans, without work and without perspectives.
According to the definition of the Geneva Convention, refugees are persons who are persecuted in their country on grounds of religion, race, nationality and so forth. They have a right to asylum.
At the same time, there are refugees on account of natural disasters. Their number could increase significant5ly in the next decades because of climate change.
Drawing lines between these categories of refugees and migrants is dubious. Who would deny that war or civil war is a reason or flight or that hunger and poverty in one’s country are not sufficient reasons for leaving.
According to official statistics, there are now 260 million migrants, people who have left their homeland. Of them, 68 million were expelled from their home, an unparalleled number. The developing countries are the first impacted by this development.
War, poverty and hunger caused these people to leave their home without papers and without baggage, not lust for adventure. As a rule, people are settled and only unwillingly abandon their family, their friends and their homes for a long time and for an uncertain future. The hope of finding work and a better life abroad motivates migration. Migration then occurs when people are robbed of the foundations of life or their lives cannot be secure anymore. The left must recognize this.
Borders are a thorn in the eye to capital. Freedom of investment means finding enough workers and amassing profits everywhere in the world. A new immigration bill is now prepared in Germany under the fairytale of a skilled workers shortage. The UN Migration pact provides another pretext for that. The UN Migration pact weeks to control migration. There is no word about combating the causes of migrations and counteracting migration. That is not the goal of the UN Migration pact or of Germany’s immigration law.
The economy needs new cheap, trained workers. The reserve army becomes greater; the pressure on wages will increase again. Competition on the housing market will intensify.
Instead of investing in education and training, employees from abroad are preferred whose education was already paid for by other lands and who were urgently needed at home. Young persons from other states are trained and then employed in Germany. Most of these young persons did not have an occupational future in their countries of origin since the economy there hit the bottom. But, these skilled workers who immigrate legally will hardly find an appropriate job and must work at low pay below their training.
Seeing migration positively as a chance means accepting migration and also implicitly the conditions in the countries of origin, seeing them as an expression of a higher power that cannot be assailed. Opening borders alone without conditions cannot be a leftist demand. These conditions must aim at undercutting migration by effectively combating the human distress in the countries of origin leading to flight. This must happen through practical measures and not through declarations of intent on paper. This also means making demands on capital and helping capital.
Only the prospect for a future in their country can stop refugees, not borders or Frontex. Just trade could be a first step.
The most important demands of the left in this context must be:
• Preventing wars by observing international law. Withdrawal from and dissolution of NATO, closing military bases in Europe and closing Ramstein in Germany. Prohibition on the manufacture and sale of military weapons.
• Those who instigated wars against international law, those who dropped bombs on foreign countries without any UN mandate must be called to account. They must be arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court in the Haag – even if they include the president of the US or another country.
• Revocation of unjust trade agreements with third countries. Economic aid to increase the prosperity in the countries of origin of refugees. Adjustment of social standards and wages in all countries. Prevention of tax fraud and tax evasion.
• Unlimited damage liability for the causal agents – whether it ruins them or not. They must rebuild what they smashed.
• Solidarity and cooperation with left parties and unions all over the world.
The beautiful world is world-open, colorful, diverse and tolerant and can only exist when people are equal. This is also a world without refugees.
Colorfulness and diversity exist nowadays in a society where the exotically “colorful” are also the oppressed. Often the indigenous are only welcomed as a colorful variety when they are their servants. Tolerance is over as soon as the “colorful” demand equal treatment. The “colorful” were never welcome as competitors.