Algeria’s migrants march across the Sahara

Reports of Algeria’s expulsion of migrants into the Sahara desert have received widespread condemnation from officials around the world. Human rights groups have accused Algerian authorities of arbitrarily arresting and expelling migrants from Sub-Saharan African countries. The expulsions came as pressure mounted from the European Union for North African governments to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean and reaching the shores of Europe.

According to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), since May 2017 more than 13,000 people, including women and children, have been rounded up and driven to the desert and pointed towards Niger or Mali.

Survivors who were interviewed by the Human Rights Watch gave accounts of being rounded up on the streets or at their places of work, before being crammed into trucks and driven to the desert. Some also accused the police of beatings and stealing their belongings.

In a report published by the Associated Press, it was found that Algeria forced migrants, by the hundreds every week to traverse the scorching and unforgiving desert where temperatures reached up to 48°C. They were given no food and no water, walking dozens of kilometers before being picked up by UN rescue teams. Survivors told the Associated Press of how their companions vanished in the desert. Migrants used their phones to film their ordeals, documenting their journey as they were being transported en masse in trucks and being marched across the blistering desert.

Algeria has denied all allegations of rights abuses. Journalists were invited to tour their detention centres, or perhaps more accurately described as overcrowded jails, citing it was proof of their humane treatment of migrants. However, journalists were not permitted to travel beyond the detention centers where migrants are held prior to being forcibly expelled, and therefore were unable to see what was transpiring after being ‘deported.’

Since the report by the Associated Press, expulsions seemed to have all but stopped – with the number of expelled migrants dropping significantly. But a recent report suggests that Algeria’s government has again resumed expelling migrants into the Sahara desert, leaving another 391 people to stumble their way through the harsh terrain.

The European refugee crisis admittedly marked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, which saw the largest influx of migrants into Europe since the Second World War. Yet, figures show that the largest refugee movements happen within Africa itself; with the region of Sub-Saharan Africa being home to 4.4 million refugees and a staggering further 19.5 million “people of concern”. One can hope that the coverage of Algeria’s expulsion of Sub-Saharan Africans highlights the plight of other migrants from not only North Africa but across the entire continent.

International Holocaust Day: #neveragain?

Today we remember the Holocaust, a genocide under the Nazi’s which killed an estimated six million Jewish people, two million Romani people, a quarter of a million mentally and physically disabled people and nine thousand homosexual men. Today we honour the memory of these individuals; their personalities, their stories, their hopes, passions and talents, all of which were robbed from them, and replaced with just a number. These individuals were crushed in the name of an ideology, a vision of a pure race and control of a nation.

When the Nazi’s came to power in Germany in 1933, there were large Jewish populations living in Eastern and Western Europe. In the East, Jewish communities were a minority, and kept to their own language, Yiddish, and culture, although younger Jews were beginning to adopt more modern ways to dress. In the West, Jewish communities made up a much smaller percentage of the population and tended to adopt the culture of their non-Jewish neighbours, in dress, language and culture. Jews were found in all walks of European life; some rich, although many poor. They were farmers, tailors, accountants and doctors. And then they were victims.

The Holocaust has significant contemporary relevance and learning from the mistakes made in history should prevent us from making these same mistakes again.

But we haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. Before the Holocaust, countries had the chance to welcome Jewish refugees into their countries, instead, many tightened immigration restrictions. Today, we continue to shut our borders on those who are seeking freedom from persecution, war and terror. Millions of refugees are currently stuck in transit in Europe. Refugees suffer at the hands of political inaction and a discourse controlled by policy makers which separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. As President Trump begins his time in power, he intends to build a physical wall to prevent migrants crossing the border from Mexico.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. The recent closure of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais left unaccompanied minors with a broken promise. A promise made by the UK to protect them from the cold, the people smugglers, and the many other risks that come with living exposed without the protection of family. The UK took 10,000 Jewish refugees from the Kindertransport before the outbreak of World War Two. That is compared to the 187 Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK since the outbreak of the war Syria.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. We said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust. We said ‘never again’ after the Bangladesh Genocide in 1971, the Rwandan Genocide of 1972 and 1994. We said ‘never again’ after the Bosnian Genocide of 1992. And we think we can say ‘never again’ after the loss of so many civilian lives in Aleppo, this year?

We must stop history repeating itself and we must take lessons away from these horrific events. International Holocaust Day give us this opportunity. We must remember the value and the memory of every individual that died in the Holocaust. We must learn to stand up and for what is right, we must defend the rights of minority and persecuted groups. We must have more sympathy towards refugees and not turn away from their cries for help.

The EU-Turkey Deal: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Turkey Camp
Syrian Refugee Camp on the Turkish Border

In 2015 1.2 million people entered Europe from countries as disparate as Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. With further displacement and migration forecast for the coming years, an existential crisis is now threatening the very foundations of the European Project. In a mood of desperation and political expediency negotiations to curb migrant numbers have been accelerated with Turkey, culminating in a deal that now faces severe legal, ethical and practical difficulties.

In a nutshell, the agreement attempts to mitigate refugee flows that may otherwise overwhelm frontier European states, relocating the exigencies of asylum processing back to the Middle East and providing space to devise a more tolerable, long term solution. In principle, it also aims to undercut and degrade the mechanics of an extensive trafficking economy now proliferating across the Mediterranean. The commercialisation of people smuggling has exacerbated the number of refugees travelling, and sometimes even perishing, along sea routes. By adopting a hardline stance on ‘boat-people’ and diminishing the pull factor of assumed European altruism, people trafficking will, in theory, devolve into a high-risk low-reward enterprise that depresses demand and channels refugees towards more easily regulated outlets.

Under the auspices of a ‘one in one out’ system, any ‘new irregular migrants’ arriving in Greece after March would be deported to Turkey and relegated to the back of the queue of those seeking asylum. In return, EU member states are obligated to resettle properly processed Syrian refugees from Turkey and expedite visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals wishing to visit Europe.

There are obvious benefits to this approach. On a human level, the sharp fall in individuals traveling to Greece in the aftermath of the deal will hopefully translate into lower mortality rates for those refugees seeking entry into Europe. It also relieves pressure on Frontex, the underfunded European border management agency, and allocates new resources for efficient processing schemes. In the face of perpetually gridlocked EU institutions, the political intransigence of Eastern European governments, rising right wing populism and the resurrection of internal border controls, it provides a palatable alternative for European publics that may be able to preserve the cosmopolitan values of Schengen while also delivering immediate results. Perhaps most importantly, the agreement alleviates the burden on Ankara. Supplemented by an aid package of €3 billion earmarked for improving ‘the lives of refugees’ in the region, and a series of concessions with regard to Turkey’s prospective membership in the EU, it is hoped the agreement will deliver desperately needed investment to fund accommodation, education initiatives and welfare services for the two million refugees in Turkey itself.

However, despite the humanitarian rhetoric espoused by its proponents, the broader implications of the deal remain a cause for concern. Any claims suggesting the authoritarian tendencies of the Erdogan regime may be ameliorated by visa-liberalisation and closer political cooperation between Turkey and the EU are spurious to say the least. As negotiations concluded, the government has shown no sign of slowing its crackdown on independent journalism, seizing control of the national newspaper Zaman in March and tightening its grip over civil society. The fact these excesses hardly elicited any reaction from the West, and that German authorities are now considering the prosecution of a local comedian for ‘insulting’ Erdogan, allude to the leverage Turkey currently enjoys. As such, by colluding with autocrats the EU may paradoxically be compromising its liberal values on another front, namely free speech and free expression.

Crucially, there are also significant legal and practical issues that need to be considered. Human rights organisations have cited grave problems with the agreement. They argue it not only contravenes international law and its underlying humanitarian norms but also fails to exert pressure on Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees. Amnesty International (AI) in particular maintains “the EU is…incentivising the opposite’, referencing a concerted effort by local Turkish authorities to expel asylum seekers back into Syria and close the Southern border to stop any further influx. While the ‘one in one out’ system explicitly circumvents controversy over blanket returns by certifying a right for refugees to make individual asylum claims, there is no doubt that the testimonies collected by AI deliver a damning indictment of Turkish migratory policy. It also undermines the fallacy that any claimants deemed irregular by the EU are being deported to a ‘safe third country’. To assume Turkey is safe is to ignore the Kurdish insurgency waging in its Eastern periphery and the horrendous conditions refugees are currently living under. Non-Syrians face the threat of further extradition back to dangerous home nations under the conditions of independent bilateral agreements between Ankara and, for example, the Afghan government. For those remaining in Turkey, many lack work permits and are forced into unregulated black market jobs for little to no salary. Perhaps more worryingly, 400,000 of 700,000 school age Syrian children aren’t receiving any formal education. There is simply no opportunity for integration, leading to societal tensions that will exponentially grow as the crisis gets worse. Unless this trend is radically altered, the EU’s refugee policy as it stands today is giving rise to a disenfranchised, socio-economically marginalised and uneducated ‘lost generation’ completely at odds with the humanitarian virtues the organisation claims to champion. On a practical and moral level this is untenable.

Europe is therefore between a rock and a hard place. Its migratory infrastructure cannot manage a crisis of this magnitude and it does not have the institutional or democratic flexibility to deliver an equitable scheme for effectively distributing shares of refugees across its membership. But as Kenan Malik, a London based lecturer and broadcaster, argues, by ratifying this deal with Turkey the EU seems to be regressing back to its antiquated mentality of the 1990s; ‘criminalising’ migrants, militarising its external borders and paying peripheral states to ‘operate as immigration police’. Outsourcing the problem and pretending it isn’t there is not a viable option. There needs to be a substantive, systemic transformation in how Europe both conceptualises and engages with the refugee problem. Anything short of this is simply not sustainable and the EU risks having its moral authority irreversibly damaged.

The Immolation of the West?

There are persistent claims in the media that amount to a picture of a possible combined ‘Sunni’ intervention in the Syrian conflict. It is said that Saudi Arabia is considering an armed incursion. Turkey is frequently tipped to engage and then nothing happens. Lord Howell of Guildford asked a most interesting question in the House of Lords which concluded:

Could she [the Minister responsible] just comment on reports that the British Army is now sending 1,600 troops to Jordan as part of some exercise, while the Egyptian troops are moving to Saudi Arabia to ally with them in preparation for possible moves to Jordan? The Jordan authorities have been urging for a long time that this is where we should open a new front, develop a buffer zone in the north and strike into the heart of ISIL territory. Is the war entering an entirely new phase? Could she just bear that in mind? She may not be able to answer that question at the moment, but we need to be kept up to date if things are changing as rapidly as it seems they really are.

The Minister gave no clear reply. We may note a related question on British engagement in the region in the House of Commons which received the following answer from Penny Mordaunt Minister of State, Minister for the Armed Forces:

We have deployed a small number of military personnel serving as liaison officers in Saudi headquarters to provide insight into Saudi operations. They remain under UK command and control. These liaison officers are not involved in the targeting process – whether it be the selection, decision making or directing. British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.”

Something is up and Parliament seems unclear precisely what. But British military personnel are already involved in one or more regional conflicts without a very clear mandate. Is mission creep already in danger of setting in? Meanwhile, it is becoming more and more clear that the US is disinclined to intervene directly despite fairly aggressive lobbying from the Syrian Opposition in Washington (which also has strong links to the High Tory element in Parliament and Government).

We can speculate and speculate but anything we say may well result in egg on our faces when the facts are known, Nevertheless, what seems to be happening is two-fold. First, an appreciation that the Russian intervention is not going to result in the fall of Assad at the hands of the rebels and, second, that the drive outwards from Damascus could, if unchecked, destroy the ‘moderate’ Opposition and send waves of refugees into Turkey and thence to Europe and south into Jordan. Jordan is the forgotten nation here and its stability is a major concern of certainly the British.

The solution may be to use armed force to hold enclaves that stop border movements (and retain some bargaining position for the opposition) and also act as barriers to ISIS – but to secure these enclaves may require sovereign nations to invade another sovereign country which may then turn the business into a war of national liberation and pull in the countervailing regional powers, trigger opportunistic revolts amongst minorities within the primary invading powers and lead the superpowers into a confrontation that neither wants. The problem of Ukraine and the Baltic States lies behind this in a world where everything is connected.

It is, of course, an utter mess. The secrecy of the British Executive in relation to its own Parliament under conditions where many Britons have deeply negative feelings towards the two Sunni regional powers is a sign of its political weakness. The Government does not have the historic consensus on foreign policy to rely on – quite the contrary, although divided the Labour Opposition is led by a man who is suspicious of NATO, prefers dialogue to armed intervention under almost all conceivable conditions and is a known critic of the human rights record of just about everyone.

There are a number of things to consider here other than the obvious fact that, despite Kerry’s sterling work, Russia and, more indirectly, Iran hold all the cards in Syria. The ultimate fear in the White House is that the Sunni states intervene, ‘blow it’ and, in responding, Russia triggers a proto-global conflict by ‘accident’ that results in domestic protests in the West that would make Vietnam look like a picnic. Bear in mind that the New Hampshire Primary has now badly frightened the Washington Establishment – we have two lead candidates who oppose the consensus and many of whose supporters would rather vote for the other than for an Establishment alternative within their own Party.

This utter mess could even be presented as the fifteen year history of a reversal – the blundering attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East has resulted in conditions that threaten liberal democracy at home, initially from a security state mentality and now from reactive revolutionary populisms.

Given the hysteria about terrorism and refugees and the rise of the new left-wing and national populist movements, a major destabilising crisis involving overseas armed engagement would actually destabilise Europe and even perhaps (though less certainly) the US and split the Alliance – what a prize for Mr. Putin! Note the reluctance of the UK Government actually to do anything publicly that would be effective in Syria (using its air power) despite winning a vote. The contentious vote that almost split the Opposition now looks as if it was designed only to cause some political mayhem domestically and to re-establish the principle that the Government could do what it willed.

The truth is that the Western public is deeply divided. It is unlikely to go to war willingly to defend Muslim obscurantism no matter how moderate the Islamists (and it will turn on its own Governments if it is pushed too far). Worse for the old elite, the psychological operation to demonise Russia and give NATO the latitude for action are falling rather flat except amongst the High Tory and Atlanticist Labour converted. Social media scrutiny is creating a substantial minority ready to take a resistance view of the matter and the mass of the population simply do not care but know they are not going to die for a bit of East European black earth or Middle Eastern desert. Short of an instant nuclear exchange, Putin holds a lot of the propaganda cards which he can then turn to his benefit in Europe and especially in destabilising both France (where he has been courting the NF) and Germany (where Russia has always had friends in high places).

In terms of the consequences of a civilised settlement in Syria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia may actually be part of the problem for the West, more than Iran and Russia (neither of which actually wants to go to the brink). That is, I believe, understood by policymakers and is a situation that will continue until Obama is replaced (over a year away) but only if his successor is not an outlier like Sanders or Trump, both of whom express some radical new views about America’s interests.

As for Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s attitude to Al-Assad is partly a matter of calculated interest and partly a matter of ‘honour’ that goes back to the assassination of Hariri, their primary agent in the Levant. Killing their regional man requires a remorseless vengeance that cannot end – this is politics but politics that is also personal in a world where the clientage systems of tradition matter. The personal is the political. Honour (no longer an issue in Western rational minds) remains live in Saudi minds.

This is not fully understood by many outside analysts. They dismiss it as ‘irrational’ or something that can be negotiated away but it cannot be so because it has its own inner logic. Saudi networks of allegiance are based on a feudal commitment to service in return for protection. The Saudis failed to protect their man because of ‘treachery’. They must avenge him to show that they will do so in other such cases and that their service providers need not go elsewhere if things get wobbly.

We have also detected a rising Saudi nationalism in the Saudi middle classes – analogous to being British and relating that Britishness to allegiance to the Crown (rather than to the People au Corbyn). A certain degree of militarism and swaggering goes with the territory as it did at the equivalent stage of development in European proto-nationalism. But it is sincere and growing stronger. The primitive view that Saudis are primitives is worse than insulting. It is wrong. It is a highly sophisticated political culture with close links to the British Royal Family and an intimate understanding of power and of how it is held and maintained.

Saudi nationalism rather than simpler reliance on feudal relations is a natural development that is culturally transformative if risky. Many Saudis respond to it.  It has also become a political necessity that binds the old tribal interests with the rising middle classes in a common destiny and it helps to explain a strategy of assertive and disruptive intervention across the region. One’s eyes should turn not north but south to Yemen where this is expressing itself most forcibly and where Western claims about ‘right conduct’ are dismissed when necessary.

For example, the Saudis (and Emiratis) need access to Assab Port to maintain their war in Yemen yet Assab Port is held by a pariah government (Eritrea) as far as the West is concerned. Given the criticality of Ethiopia to the anti-Islamist struggle, the West’s instinct is to retain Eritrea as a pariah (while seeking to bring it into the fold on its terms like Burma or Cuba) yet the Saudis have had the Eritrean President to Riyadh twice late last year and have integrated into their anti-terrorist alliance. The riots and killings in Oromia last week cannot be disconnected from Ethiopian fears of Muslim revolt and the Horn of Africa adds another line to the ever-expanding zone of conflict that now stretches to the Arctic.

The West clearly supports Yemen’s Government against the Houthis (as the Minister for Armed Services’ answer testifies) but no one seriously considers this a serious part of the ‘war on terrorism’ as opposed to a regional strategic play between the Saudi and Iranian networks where the Saudis clearly resent the fact that the West, in the person of Obama but also institutionally in Europe, has shifted towards an obvious and collaborative respect for Iranian aspirations.

Saudi concerns about the Iranians are thus so great that they are quite prepared to destabilise Western anti-Sunni Islamist strategies – not only in Syria but in the Horn of Africa. It is as if the Saudis have said to themselves that they will make themselves troublesome so that the West will have to mollify them by agreeing to their demands, perhaps without realising that the big picture does not allow that. But what is this fearsome big picture? It is one in which the Middle East is only one part of a great whole.

The potential danger of all these instabilities is horrendous. Saudi Arabia is a potentially unstable feudal polity moving towards a modernisation strategy that reminds one of the age of Stolypin under the Tsars. It is countering not merely the strategic interests of the West by default but it may be taking on more than it can administratively handle. And yet it feels it has no alternative. The model may not be Russia and revolution (as so many anti-Saudi liberals assume) but the United Kingdom in the Age of Castlereagh.

Even worse, it has perhaps not understood that the depth of resentment against the Kingdom within the West that was mollified in association with Western Governments after 9/11 has recurred with a vengeance under extremely unstable political conditions – the quite weird situation in the US political cycle with Trump and Sanders, deep concerns in Europe about Saudi involvement in mosque-building, human rights and Islamic migration and, above all, growing perception that, if not backing ISIS, the Kingdom may be backing some dark forces of its own in Greater Syria.

So, Saudi actions in this context are critical. If it enters into the Syrian morasse, with or without Turkey, Egyptian and ‘secret’ British support, and things go wrong, these things that go wrong can go wrong all the way down that fissure that leads to the Arctic, through a basket case of a Ukraine to the Balts who treat Russians as second class citizens. For the first time since the era of Nixon, Western peoples will be faced with the possibility of a nuclear exchange (and not just on the terms of the BBC’s ridiculous war games) and may not take it lying down. Senator Kerry, if he was reported correctly in his outburst to a Syrian NGO activist (“‘What do you want me to do? Go to war with Russia? Is that what you want?”) on Saturday subconsciously revealed the truth of the matter – getting this wrong is an existential question now. The end game could be the immolation of the West if we have many more blunders.

[Tim Pendry is Chairman of TPPR – www.tppr.co.uk and http://blog.tppr.co.uk – but only writes on the Next Century Foundation blog in a personal capacity. He welcomes criticism.]

 

 

The Refugee Crisis: Containment and solution

This speech was give by William Morris, at last night’s Refugee Crisis event held by Initiatives of Change.

To tackle the refugee problem, the British government must commit to confronting it “at source”. That means not merely confronting illicit migration and dealing with the people smuggling rings but also finding a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria and diminishing ISIS’ capacity to continue its operations. And that means serious collaboration with on-the-ground political and humanitarian organisations.

British aid has played a significant role in alleviating the plight of refugees. Britain’s £1 billion in humanitarian funding means that it tops the donors’ league table and plays a vital role in ensuring refugees have access to basic services, food, shelter and medical care.

So much for the good news.

Not all of that vast sum of money provided by the UK is for humanitarian use. Far from it. Some is used for the vaguest of purposes like “capacity building for the Syrian opposition” and there is absolutely no transparency as to the UK’s dispersal of money in the region.

But whatever the use that is being made of UK taxpayers’ money – humanitarian or otherwise – The problem is that money can only do so much. This is part of the containment of the problem, not its solution. These refugee camps are not a solution in and of themselves. They cannot, in the long-term, accommodate the millions that they cater for and many camps are over-stretched and poorly serviced.

The subsistence money from the UN going to those within refugee camps has now been cut to $13 a month (according to Scott Darby of initiatives of Change who has just come back from Lebanon). This pathetic income leaves refugees with two options: either fight for Daesh (the group we in the West call ISIS) or flee to the West. So, if we are to keep refugees in the region more must be done.

And unless Syria stabilises and returns to some form of normality, it is only through resettlement that Syria’s refugees can achieve some form of viable future, particularly since they are also treated inhumanely and as second-class citizens in places like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.  But then what else can these countries do? Official UNHCR figures for September of this year indicate that there are 1,938,999 refugees in Turkey and 1,078,338 in Lebanon. The real figures are much higher of course. These countries cannot cope. Furthermore Syria itself has seven million refugees within its borders (people the UN terms in anodyne bureaucratic fashion mere IDPs or internally displaced persons).

But it is possible for refugees to be given alternatives to the dangerous and costly prospect of fleeing to Europe.

  • Syrian Kurdistan could act as a safe haven. It is the most stable part of Syria. The 1990s Iraqi Kurdish experience proves that an autonomous region that has a decent political process and a stable security environment can function as a safe-haven. That, however, is an ambitious proposal. It requires convincing the Turks that this would not jeopardize their territorial integrity; it requires investing resources in Syrian Kurdistan so that it can build the infrastructure and institutions necessary for housing refugees. Getting the international commitment for this might be difficult. The Assad government, Russia and Iran would however come on board, given that Syrian Kurdistan has effectively constituted a de-facto ally in the war against ISIS and Syria’s opposition rebels.

But to solve this crisis, which of course isn’t just the UK’s crisis but the international community’s crisis, some serious shortcomings have to be addressed in terms of the way that the debate has unfolded, which itself is a reflection of the failures of leadership. The toxic nature of the discourse surrounding the refugee crisis has marginalised constructive debate, which, in turn, has prevented effective and sustainable policies from being implemented.

You are all well aware of the difference between a refugee and a migrant. A refugee is someone forced to flee home. A migrant is anyone who moves to another country, whether a refugee or not. Most of those who flee their homes in Northern Iraq or Syria have little hope of becoming migrants to the West. They cannot afford to pay the air ticket to Istanbul and the subsequent fee to the people smuggler. Baghdad is being stripped of its educated young men from prosperous families as they seize this opportunity for a new start in Europe. The queues of young men to the Turkish Airways office in Baghdad today go round the block.

So let’s look at containment.

What we need is the kind of refuge that has been set up in St George’s Baghdad by Cannon Andrew White. This acts as a place Christians as well as those from other confessional groups can come and meet and get support from one another.

  • The Next Century Foundation proposes that the community centre on the approach road to the Christian town of Al Khosh in Northern Iraq be converted into a similar refuge offering free dental care, basic health care, primary education, a meeting room for worship and a soup kitchen to care for the displaced of any heritage.
  • We propose that something similar be done in the Yezidi town of Basheika in the Ninevah Plane.
  • We also propose the construction of a similar community centre in the Kurdish town of Qamishli in North Eastern Syria
  • And in the Christian town of Qatana on the outskirts of Damascus on the airport road. All of the above to support those who have not yet been displaced in those regions as well as the many displaced families that cling to life in those areas.

We then need havens within the region.

  • We need additional housing in the Ninevah Plane.
  • We need a new town in the Kurdish Region of Iraq to accommodate refugees.
  • We need additional housing in Qamishli in Northern Syria, and we need corridors for the free movement of aid to Qamishli. Six ambulances donated to the people of Qamishli by a German charity have been held up in Arbil airport for months because the Turks object to their movement. The Turks have nothing to do with it. Just because of the extraordinary hatred of the Syrian Kurds by the Turks, it should not mean that they can then constrain the movement of aid across the territory of a neighbouring state over which they have no hegemony. There is one more issue that needs attention.
  • We also need Western support for new housing in Kirkuk to accommodate the huge numbers of Internally Displaced Refugees migrating to that city.

However there is also some need for refugee resettlement. At the moment much of the burden for this falls on Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdish Region of Iraq, as well as, oddly, the failed state of Libya.

  • We need Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Israel, most particularly Israel, to start to take significant numbers of refugees and to be supported so that they can do so. I find it extremely distasteful that on the 6th September of this year,Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls from opposition politicians for Israel to accept refugees from Syria, saying that Israel was “a very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth.”

As for those that do need to be accommodated in Europe:

  • One practical step would be for Western nations that offer asylum, like the UK, to give preferential treatment to those that claim asylum at embassies in the region and whose claims can be processed there, thus discouraging dangerous life threatening migration by boat.

We must be very careful, however, as to how we deal with the resettlement of refugees in Europe. I am a believer in the Khalil Gilbran dictum of a world without frontiers. I am completely convinced that we must work towards the free movement of peoples. I am a believer in the sixties doctrine as expressed in the Blue Mink popsong: “What we need is a great big melting pot. Big enough to take the world and all it’s got. Keep it stirring for a hundred years or more. And turn out coffee coloured people by the score”.

However, whether or not we are to have a melting pot, what we do not need is sectarianism. Most of us at both Initiatives of Change, our hosts this evening, and at the Next Century Foundation, believe in the importance of building a future world in which the absolute selfishness of materialism is replaced by an ethos of absolute selflessness. This is an ethos consistent with the teachings of the three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

We must therefore campaign to undermine as thoroughly as possible the sinister program of groups like the Barnabas Fund that, out of a misguided sense of love, are working to cleanse the Middle East of its Christians by giving preferential treatment to Christian refugees.

There are actually petitions that are being signed by misguided Christians in churches up and down the country suggesting that the British government should give preferential treatment to Christian refugees. This goes against the basic tenets of Christianity. The Barnabas Fund seems to have forgotten the underlying meaning behind the story of the Good Samaritan whereby Christ advocates help for the stranger. But this is a sickness that is gripping the world.

The Polish government selects refugees from the region based on religious criteria – they demand that the refugees should all be Christian. There is currently a strong anti-Muslim campaign in Poland (including posters in major cities from nationalist groups attempting to convince the population that accepting Muslim refugees is tantamount to accepting terrorists).

The Next Century Foundation would contend that groups like the Barnabas Fund and the Government of Poland may be making the situation in the Middle East worse with their sectarian attitude.

If we do talk of “Safe Havens” within the region, we must distinguish them from the safe havens which the Barnabas Fund espouses. Their notion of Safe Havens for Christians represents a “sectarian” approach, which is abhorrent.

The Slovakian President has refused to take in Muslim refugees as he claims it would be unfair for Muslim populations to have to reside in a country with no mosque. Slovakia has therefore rejected the EU quota. A pretty horrible attitude but in practice it is at least less disruptive than the sectarian policy promoted by the Barnabas Fund and the Government of Poland respectively.

Bishop Angaelos of the Religious Affairs Advisory Council, a Bishop General of the Coptic Church went on record to tell me “We are not only supposed to tolerate, but love our enemies. To tolerate is merely to put up with. To love is to say truly Father forgive… with the right amount of grace and an understanding of the value of humanity, and why people need to be valued equally, we can love them.” He went on to say, “As Christians we are taught that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, which is our core identity… We must respect and accept that of the other.”

Similarly Dr Ahmed Al-Tayyib, the Grand Sheikh al Azhar, has denounced the forced displacement of non-Muslims in Iraq and called on them to remain in their homes.

Ayatollah Safavi of Iran also echoes these views. Indeed there is no major religious leader, Christian or otherwise, that supports this selective sectarian migration to the West that amounts to a form of ethnic cleansing that will ultimately result in the end of Christianity in the Middle East.

There are actually some members of the Jewish community who have set up a Safe Havens project whereby they see the Saturday people as helping the Sunday people in return for what the Allies did for the Jews at the time of the holocaust. It would be commendable if the prime focus of the project was resettling refugees of any heritage in the Middle East, just as the immediate recourse of those helping the Jews resettle under persecution was to move them to other countries in Europe. But no, the focus of this effort is to take Arab Christians, and Arab Christians only, direct to their promised land, which ironically turns out to be Germany. This is not helpful.

Much of the above is about containment. What of solutions? By which I mean solutions to the cause of this human tide of misery. We need more political action. For example:

  1. We need the return of the Embassies to Tripoli, Libya to foster a peace process. The mandate of the internationally recognized rump government in Tobruk runs out in a few days on October 20th at which point the embassies could return to the capital and promote a new power sharing agreement or caretaker government.
  2. We need the total removal of the US imposed de-Baathification laws that continue to cause such resentment in Sunni Iraq and have been a prime generator of support for ISIS amongst the young men of Sunni Iraq.
  3. We need the reformation of the Awakening or Sawah Movement in Iraq, most of the leaders of which were murdered by Malaki loyalists. Certainly an independent Sunni force loyal to the centre but regionally recruited and also loyal to an autonomous Sunni region.
  4. The constraint of Turkey’s disruption of the region and end to their practice of bombing the Kurds, supporting all anti-Kurdish insurgents, and facilitating the transit of volunteers to ISIS. Turkey’s decision to claim to be supporting the fight against ISIS came after the Kurdish Protection Unit (YPG’s) had made rapid territorial gains within Syria. Erdogan stated that: Turkey ““will never allow the establishment of a new state on our southern frontier in the north of Syria”. Such statements are indicative of Turkey’s tactics in the region.
  5. We need a swift settlement in Syria predicated on new elections in which all in the diaspora are fully enfranchised and enabled to vote at UN polling stations.

There is much that can be done but the Western practice of terrorizing the region with drones, American F16s, British Typhoons, and Russian SU30s does little or nothing to contain the Hydra that is ISIS and actually increases not decreases the flow of refugees to the West.  We are the problem. We are not the solution. We made this mess and we continue and continue, and continue to poor petrol on the fire we ourselves ignited.

The Refugee issue: Deontologists Inadvertently Kill

This article comes in from Tim Pendry of the TPPR public affairs group. Tim (see video link below for more information on the man and his views) is a longstanding member of the NCF.

It has been suggested that migrants are to be treated as a ‘gift’ to Europe and that the current crisis can be resolved with a change of ‘attitude’. Unfortunately, matters are not so simple if only because most people’s ‘attitudes’ cannot be transformed when they feel anxious about their situation and they no longer trust those who claim to rule them. The scale of current and future refugee migration may mean political and economic disruption that Western welfare states with sophisticated benefits systems simply cannot cope with in an age of austerity.

Anti-austerity Leftists will want to deal with this by dismantling the warfare element in the welfare-warfare states initiated by the likes of Bismarck and Lloyd George, legally expropriating middle class wealth through inflation and taxes, while petit-bourgeois national-populists will respond with aggressive appeals to the protection of cultural identity under conditions where welfare is being reduced for indigenous populations because of existing German neo-liberal policies.

It is not widely known that the original National Socialist Workers’ Party was founded before Hitler arrived on its scene because German workers were being out-competed on jobs by Slavs. Cheap labour has its political costs in the long run.

Further destabilisation of Europe serves no one because we are in danger of importing the factionalism, cultural conflict and class conflict that partly underpins the recent waves of violence in the Middle East – all it requires is a trigger. In the case of the Middle East, it was blundering Western intervention. In the case of Europe, it may be mass migration caused by blundering liberal Western intervention. Liberal internationalists triggered the first crisis and the sentimentality of their domestic counterparts is in danger of compounding the second with further blunders.

There are two central problems, once you sweep away the sentiment and emotion. The first is that refugee status and economic migration are not clearly demarcated: being persecuted and displaced and being poor and ambitious for a better life overlap. The second is that the Syrian War is only part of a complex of small wars that are triggering ‘just cause’ for population movements that confuse escape from violence with aspirations for a better life.

This dynamic has not been seen with this intensity in Europe since the end of the Second World War and possibly (if it continues through 2016 and into 2017 and beyond) since the fifth century. Of course, the whole problem may peter out but my correspondents on the Greek Islands tell of something very different – a situation where Western ‘open arms’ are piling up further movements of people that may not come to a conclusion for many months. This may be succeeded by a new crisis coming up through the South from Africa. People have not stopped trying to cross from Libya just because our attention is on Syria. Human traffickers are now accumulating capital down there.

The first problem emerges from the failure by the West to fund the refugee camps properly or work to ensure a settlement of the Syrian Crisis alongside Russia (a matter ably reviewed by the Ambassador earlier this week). This has created an ‘economic’ incentive for a push to the West where conditions offer (on paper) economic opportunities no longer available elsewhere. It is not just the case that the refugees want to get inside Europe and feel safe – they want to get to Germany or London or the North where there is opportunity and greater potential state care.

Other economic migrants – mostly young males but also women and children pushed forward to create a wedge by trafficking gangs or by their families – follow on the tails of those most desperate. And who can blame them? They are rational actors – they are poor, someone is offering a better life so seize it. The question is not whether they are right to come to Europe (they would be fools not to) but whether Europe is right to try to manage this in such a sentimental and unplanned way.

Categories become confused. German sympathetic observers have noted that the women and children are followed and accompanied by jubilant young males. They are no less refugees or migrants than the vulnerable. Sentiment may begin to falter when these able-bodied refugees start competing for houses and jobs and refuse to abandon value systems that are problematic to dour right-wing northerners. Personally, I want these people cared for but I am pragmatically aware that others do not and that, when it comes to democratic choices, nice Mr. Tim is not superior to them in his opinion. I don’t get ten extra votes for being nice or a ‘holy fool’.

The second problem is linked to the first in that the Middle East may be the current problem but the bigger one is Africa where the small wars are certainly present (especially in Eritrea) but where UN figures for population growth also show massive disparities between the scale of local population growth and the ability of local economies to absorb the work-force over the next two decades.

We have a precedent for what is about to happen. British and Irish and then European unemployed simply flooded out of Europe in massive waves of ‘colonisation’ across the world as healthcare and industrialisation created more babies and opportunities but not enough opportunities to absorb every baby (after all UK net migration only became positive inwards for the first time in history as late as 1994).

In that case, the ‘colonists’ faced far less developed and less numerous cultures and simply exterminated them or drove them off the land. Imagine if the Sioux Indians had had our hardware and level of political organisation. In this case, the migrants are coming into extremely complex highly developed societies where the culture of the villages with its Islamic or Pentecostalist mores clashes with a post-Enlightenment world which feels simultaneously great sympathy with the human beings involved and deep anxiety about the eventual voting power of new traditionalist blocs, cultural difference and job competition. This is what Marxists call an ‘internal contradiction’ within Western liberalism.

These African populations will be on the move to the best nearest economic zone of opportunity – not, in this case, the relatively unsettled agricultural lands and new cities of the empires but the old cities of Europe. Any block to migration will now be classed as ‘racist’ as a thesis (in a Hegelian model) to which the antithesis will be that Europe cannot cope with such numbers. The campaigning of the NGOs has not helped – NGO’s are skilled at positioning women and children first to engage with sentiment but so are traffickers and gangs.

The perfect storm arises from the facts. There has been no structural preparation for these movements under the incompetent neo-liberal capitalist governments of the centre – no political education of the masses except in terms of rhetoric and sentiment, no investment in housing and infrastructure (housing competition will be more politically dangerous than job competition and it is interesting to see Jeremy Corbyn major on this issue as a critical potential urban vote-winner), no strategy for raising the status and prospects of the depressed native white working class, no realisation that liberal humanitarian intervention and armed destabilisation of ‘regimes’ would create its own nemesis, and no economic policy in which the migrant could be positioned as an added value element to the Western economy alongside the struggling ‘man in the white van’ rather than as potential traditionalist voting blocs for the centre-left and a potential feared security threat in urban areas for those who read tabloids.

Liberal sentimentalism on this issue has failed both the working classes and the lower middle classes of Europe on the one hand and the victims of war in the Middle East on the other. It wills the ends but not the means. It will not take responsibility for the consequences of its actions. It is classically anti-consequentialist and deontological and so criminally unaware of the effects and harms on others of its position. It ‘busks’ its way through crises much as it has done since Blair’s Chicago Speech and Kosovo – and so we reap what we sow.

The point is that nice religio-sentimentalists – with all the talk of ‘taking in a refugee’ – already presuppose in the offer that they make that they are bourgeois – that is, that they have the space in their house to take in a refugee (yet who have not dreamt of taking in an indigenous homeless person at any time in the last two decades). It is worse than posturing for social media. They do not consider how this sounds to the larger number of unsentimental people who have not only no space in their houses because they are poor or who are struggling to get homes that are big enough for their growing families. The young cannot even get houses – Wilhelm Reich identified the desire to have their own private space as a primary driver for young working class people in Berlin in the 1920s and house-building was central to European socialism until the 1980s. Modern liberals have become brutally class-blind.

And all this because (behind the niceness of it all), free labour movement was actually designed to lower the price of labour to ensure a certain model of economic growth that has enabled increasingly fewer people to get richer and so have enough comfort to be ‘kind’, leaving millions behind with a decaying common infrastructure, working harder than ever just to stand still in increasingly insecure conditions.

Worse, that same system required a radical expansion of markets which led to the armed responses that have destabilised the total system as borders have been opened. Centrists should be ashamed of themselves. After Kosovo, they got into bed with and provided rhetorical cover for the neo-conservative Right and they still persist in not calling out the international system that is undermining the most advanced cultural system of all, our own.

I re-joined the Labour Party this week after twelve years or so because at least the neo-socialists are prepared to open up this debate and face off the national-populists. A pragmatic approach to helping the refugees that does not destabilise the homeland is what is required, not wittering on about refugees being a ‘gift’. They are not – they are poor sods like us screwed over by a dysfunctional post-Soviet international system. It will take a generation to undo the damage both to them and to us and that is what we should be working together to correct.

Attitude is not everything. Reason is everything. Rhetoric is nothing.

The Refugees are a Gift – Not a Threat

Protesters in London calling on the UK Government to let more refugees into the country.
Protesters in London calling on the UK Government to let more refugees into the country.

The following article (which has just been submitted to us) expresses a view which accords with the principles the NCF Board has now adopted – the four freedoms espoused by President Roosevelt. Freedom from Want, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion, and of course Freedom from Fear. We have therefore decided to share it with you:

Refugees a gift not a threat by Edward Peters

“Attitude is everything” is a well-known maxim. Our chances of overcoming a problem, according to this philosophy, depend largely on our attitude to it.

With refugees pouring into Europe by the tens of thousands, our attitude to this ‘crisis’ may not be everything. But if we don’t unmuddle the thinking in our heads, the consequences could be catastrophic – for them and for us.

So much of the current debate is centred on our ourselves – whether we can cope, how we will be affected. Of course these issues are important, but there is more at stake here.

As Europeans we need to reboot our brains, shedding the notion that these people are a threat, and coming to see them as a gift instead.

A gift? How can that be when many European countries are already struggling with economic inequalities, unemployment, ethnic tension?

We may find that these fleeing people, poor in possessions, but rich in experience and values, may help us in ways we have not imagined.

Their humanity could rekindle our humanity. As we become more aware of the smallness of our often-self-preoccupied lives, we might begin to find a new and deeper motivation. Already we see the crisis bringing out the best in people, as the latent generosity in so many Europeans is unleashed. It could lead to a renewed sense of purpose – amid the drifting aimlessness gripping our continent – to help shape societies which provide justice for all.

Another gift could be an opportunity to atone for the wrongs of the past. As everyone knows, whether we admit it or not, Europe bears a heavy responsibility for the breakdown of nations and communities in many of the countries from which the refugees are fleeing. For centuries we have acted largely out of self-interest without thought of the consequences. Here is a chance to help redress the balance.

A new humility and integrity in the West might give us more credibility, too, in playing a role in helping Syria to stop bleeding. We cannot ignore our responsibility to help in stabilising the region and bringing a settlement to the Syrian conflict.

And then perhaps another gift is on offer here. The true happiness that comes from sharing, from caring for those in need. Much of our Western society is based on the notion that happiness comes from getting what you want, but in our heart of hearts we know that isn’t true. Here is a chance to experience the real thing.

Yes, seeing these people as a gift to us, instead of as a threat to our comfortable isolation, could be the change of mindset which would release new ideas and fresh teamwork across the continent. What this might mean in terms of hard government policies is another matter. But attitude, if not everything, is fundamental to find a way forward.

Edward Peters is a member of the International Council of Initiatives of Change International (www.iofc.org). He is writing in his personal capacity. He lives in Sweden.

Contact: + 46 762 842 319

edward.peters@iofc.org

Britain has a Minister for Refugees and Not Much Else

On the 14th September, while on his first official visit to Lebanon, David Cameron appointed MP for Watford Richard Harrington as a new Minister for Refugees. Harrington’s remit is to ensure the 20,000 Syrian refugees which Britain has committed to accepting over the next five years are  given a ‘warm welcome’. Harrington will Chair the ministerial group on Syrian refugees and report to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. While the announcement has been greeted favourably, if a little warily, on social media, much remains to be seen regarding whether Harrington will be able to deliver the cornerstone of Cameron’s policy.

Harrington’s appointment from the backbenches is not due to any expertise on refugees or the Middle East. Despite an apparent interest in the region, he does not seem to have written or spoken publicly on the subject of the refugee crisis at all. Indeed, until a week ago his sole interaction with foreign policy regarding the Middle East in the past year was to vote for airstrikes against ISIL. More worryingly, last week he voted against taking in any more refugees than already mandated. In so doing, he towed the party line, which he has done for every vote of the current parliament. More than 24 hours after the appointment, he has made no official recognition of his new role.

He will not, then, bring specialist knowledge to the refugee crisis. Nor, it seems, will he challenge the UK to develop a more developed, multi-faceted and robust policy.

The appointment is a step in the right direction, but Britain’s current policy is inadequate and incomplete. Cameron’s pledge to accommodate 20,000 over the course of the current parliament – just 4,000 a year – pales in comparison to Lebanon’s refugee crisis, where approximately a quarter of the population is now a refugee. David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, has called for ‘far greater political and diplomatic muscle’ in order to alleviate the suffering of thousands of individuals and aid organisations have called on Cameron to accommodate more refugees. Similarly, a more robust policy must be developed that would take into account Caroline Lucas’ prescient argument that the profitable British arms trade facilitates conflict in the first place. The refugee crisis and the Syrian war are interlinked, and Britain desperately needs a policy for them both.

The failure of European leaders to reach a unanimous commitment to resettlement on the 14th September reveals the the complexities of resettling refugees. Britain, however, had already ‘opted out’ of any agreement. Opting out of working together to find a solution does not constitute a policy. Cameron’s call for other European countries to donate more money to refugee camps in Jordan will fall on deaf ears as long as Britain continues to isolate itself from both Europe and the Middle East.