The Tragedy of 21st Century Refugees

By Mercedes Petit


The terrible images of the refugees show that this is a humanitarian catastrophe that was covered up by capitalist governments. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of refugees and displaced comes to 60 million people. This group of persecuted would be the 24th country in the world. There is a single explanation: the growth of poverty and wars caused by the capitalist-imperialist system.

This is the largest number of refugees since World War II. The numbers are growing every year from 2007-2008, when the capitalist economic crisis entered a new acute phase with millions of unemployed and new plans of adjustment and looting worldwide.

The military and economic actions of imperialism and the multinationals have exacerbated the suffering of the people. Social inequality keeps growing. Already 1.2 billion people are recordedin poverty, living on US$ 1.25 perday, according to the annual reportof the UN Development Programme(UNDP). Meanwhile the number of billionaires increased. Between 2009 and 2013 it went from 10 to 13.7 million (Clarin, Argentina, 23 November 2014). Africa has 60 percent of arable land on the planet but millions suffer from hunger and only 10 percent is in production and in the hands of multinationals and local elites. The refugees are fleeing from hunger and poverty in Africa, Central Asia (Pakistan), Central America or from the destruction of imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also they are fleeing the bombing of al-Assad in Syria.

In 2015 there is a leap in the number of refugees who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The numbers are compelling. Throughout 2014, 260,000 people were recorded crossing the Mediterranean. By August 2015 the figure was already 550,000 people and with a tendency to grow until the end of the year. In 2014, 3,279 drowned and in September 2015 the number reaches about 2,980, while the risk continues for many more crossing in precarious boats and rubber dinghies.

Thousands risk their lives paying people smugglers between € 2000- 3000 per person; when a legal plane ticket from Istanbul to Athens costs € 250-300. Why does this happen? Simply because of the criminal policy of European and imperialist governments who refuse to give legal asylum to those who request it. This is what happened to the family of child Aylan who went to the Canadian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to seek asylum and they were demanded a certificate of “residence”; when it is known that the reactionary government of Erdogan denies the Syrians this “certificate”. Thus the Kurdish family of Aylan, originally from Kobane, had no choice but to risk the desperate action of crossing illegally in the worst conditions; with the known sad end result.

Where do the refugees come from? According to UNHCR 43 percent are Syrian, 12 percent Afghan, 10 percent Eritreans, 5 percent Nigerians, and Somalis 3 percent. The remaining 27 percent are distributed among Iraqis, Libyans, Pakistanis and, surprisingly, Kosovars (37,500) were also recorded. Kosovo (which was part of the former Yugoslavia) is in Europe and has about 35 percent unemployment.

Thousands come to the Greek islands from the Turkish coast. Initially, and under the pressure of their peoples, the governments of Germany, Austria and France had to open their borders faced with the dramatic and tragic images of refugees. And also due to the widespread repudiation to the repression by the Hungarian police on the refugees and to their right-wing government policy of erecting four metre high barbed wire fences at its borders. European peoples showed a high degree of solidarity. But this opening of borders was short-lived. Seventy-two hours later, Merkel and Hollande resolved to again close their borders and the EU. After long debates, they ended by agreeing to an asylum to 120,000 over two years, when Merkel had spoken of giving asylum to 800,000 refugees this year. An openly hypocritical attitude. To top it off, they agreed to a distribution in quotas where Germany leads with only 17,037 refugees, followed by France with 12,062 (data from EU Council, in El País, Madrid, 23 September). In addition, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark are outside these agreements of the EU and refuse to receive refugees.

Given this drama, the mobilisation of the peoples of Europe and the world should continue supporting the refugees and the rebellious Syrian people to finish with al-Assad. By way of the liberation of Syria it will be possible to stop the tragedy of death or exodus for hundreds of thousands that this war causes. Meanwhile the struggle of the peoples in defence of the refugees must continue, demanding the capitalist governments to open their borders and provide protection, food, shelter and work.


Originally published in International Correspondence N°37, 2015