Refugees

By Owei Lakemfa

I WAS a bit taken aback. Not so much by responses to my Friday, November 12, 2021 column titled ‘Migrants about to freeze to death, salute Europe,’ but by the forcefulness with which some made their points. I seemed to have touched some raw nerves.

My main point was to draw attention to the plight of about 4,000 refugees, mainly Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan who may starve or freeze to death having been caught in the inhospitable forests on the Polish-Belarusian borders after both countries had shut their borders on them.

One of the respondents, Immanuel James wrote: “As someone invested in migration journalism, I was drawn and then deeply concerned about the views in the above/mentioned article: You’re blaming Europe for the crisis in the Middle East and expecting them to perpetually open their doors to the refugees.

 “That is a misleading, if scandalous position coming from someone like you. Europe had been taking in the refugees for years now. Even as a Nigerian immigrant in the US, at a point I began to worry when EU countries would snap and shut their doors; endlessly open borders would simply draw in more refugees and clearly refugee reception cannot be an open-ended policy by any right-thinking nation.

“Europe has been trying other measures to rein in the influx. What exactly would you have them do, be guilt-trapped to leave their borders permanently open?”

Tadas Tadas Ulinsku argued that: “The article unfortunately is misleading. First, these people aren’t refugees, many were sent home when their background was checked. Secondly, they were lied into coming to Belarus with Belarusian government helping and giving them tourist visas; they were led to the border by officials, they were pushed across by officers in some cases or threatened with shots in the air when they tried to turn back.

“They are freezing at the Belarusian side; so friendly, loving Belarus is supposed to take care of them; but they are reluctant to do that. Poor people were used as a weapon of revenge.”

Max Spllit  retorted: “So what do we do ? We let them in then tomorrow there would be twice that much who also want in. The pool of people who would like to come to Europe, given the possibility, far exceeds the number of people living there. It is endless…”

Arjan Boonman told me: “Don’t get me wrong: I prefer Europe to have many foreign born citizens, makes it more interesting. Yet, articles like this insinuate that Europeans are racist for not opening their doors when elsewhere people totally screw up their states.”

My response to these and many more like them, is that they are essentially not different from the reaction of the European states which unfortunately, do not address the immediate matter. The primary issue is that there are some 4,000 human beings out there in freezing cold; what do we do?

Force open the borders of Poland, Belarus, Lithuania or Latvia? Leave them out there to die? Evacuate them to a third country like was done in the 2015/2016  Refugee crises when refugees were seconded from Greece to Turkey? Repatriate them back to the countries they had fled?

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Then, we can analyse the next issue: what is the cause of the refugee crises in the main countries they have come from and how can they be resolved? I hold that the crises in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen are essentially political unlike those in most of Africa that are more existential and economic.

Permit me to make a point about the contrived Syrian war. It is illusory to assume that the United States has no hand in it. All we need do is go back to the forces that created, funded and trained ISIS in Jordan, and the 2014 speeches of President Barack Obama on the need to create a no-fly-zone which is an euphemism to bomb the Syrian government out of existence as was done to the Libyan government under Mouamar Ghadaffi. This would have enabled  the Islamic fundamentalists like the al-Nusra Front and ISIS take over Syria as was done to Libya.

The Syrian war is binary. First, it is a post-Cold War conflict featuring Russia and its Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies on one hand, and America/NATO and their conservative  Gulf  States allies like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE on the other.

 The other level is the Shiite-Sunni intra-Muslim conflict. Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and most of the Iraqi leadership are Shiite while the Gulf States, Al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) and ISIS are mainly Sunni.

There are also two parasitic states involved in the Syrian conflict. Israel wants unrelenting Syria destroyed so it would be rid of a perceived enemy and a committed ally of Palestinian freedom. Also, it wants to keep the Syrian Golan Heights as part of its territories.

The second parasitic state is Turkey that wants to annex northern Syria primarily as a way of weakening and eventually getting rid of the Kurd opposition like the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, in Turkey and elsewhere.

So, essentially, Syria is a sacrificial lamb. But it is refusing to be submissive and go quietly to the slaughter. This is perhaps why the war is so vicious and some million and half Syrians are refugees flowing into Turkey, Lebanon and Europe.

Contrary to some of the  claims, I do not insinuate that Europe is being racist in its handling of the refugee crises festering on the Belarusian-Polish borders. I merely state that a life is a life, and none should be lost if avoidable as in this case.

Also, I am not anti-European. Indeed, I am a follower of  the German Philosopher, Karl Marx and German merchant, Friedrich Engels. I am also a faithful disciple of German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht who I rate as one of the greatest writers humanity has ever produced.

As for racism, I have argued elsewhere that no Black person who is familiar with the Christ-like sacrifices of the American, John Brown and his sons – outstanding humanists who laid down their lives for the emancipation of Black slaves – can be, or remain a racist. For no higher love can men have to consciously, willingly and selflessly lay down their lives for others.

I appreciate the concerns about European life and the need to preserve it.  However, on the Polish-Belorussian borders today, that is not  the  immediate issue; we have lives to save.   As a trade unionist, I always keep in mind the International Labour Organisation, ILO, May 10, 1944, Declaration of Philadelphia which warned that: “Poverty anywhere is a danger to prosperity everywhere.” Humanity is one body; if a part bleeds, the rest will be unwell.

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