We publish here an article by Emanuel Tomaselli of the Austrian Marxists Der Funke, who looks at the imperialist forces behind the refugee crisis, as thousands of victims of war and poverty flee their homes. Despite the reactionary racist rhetoric of the right-wing parties and press, workers and youth across Europe are protesting against attempts to ban these refugees.
We publish here an article by Emanuel Tomaselli of the Austrian Marxists Der Funke, who looks at the imperialist forces behind the growing numbers of refugees worldwide, as thousands of victims of war and poverty flee their homes. Despite the reactionary racist rhetoric of the right-wing parties and press, workers and youth across Europe are protesting against attempts to ban these refugees.
There will be a solidarity protest – “Refugees Welcome Here” – in London on Saturday 12th September as part of national day of action in defence of refugees and their rights. Assemble at Marble Arch at midday, for a march to Downing Street, with a rally at 2pm.
The discovery of a chicken meat truck containing the bodies of 71 suffocated Syrian refugees on August 27 has shocked the entire country. The lorry, found at the side of the motorway connecting Vienna with Budapest represents the biggest mass killing in Austria since the atrocities of the Nazis during the Second World War. These deaths are directly caused by the border regime of the European Union.
The European Union is based on the free movement of capital and goods within its borders. The free movement of people was always secondary but is now completely collapsing. The EU’s border controls, organised by Frontex, are being intensified in order to hold back refugees and migrants as they try to reach EU soil. An estimated 5,000 people died in 2015 alone on attempting to cross the borders of the European Union.
As the situation in the Middle East goes from bad to worse, hundreds of thousands of war victims from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are fleeing in order to find a safe haven for themselves and their families. Nearly half of the Syrian population, 4 million men, women and children, have been displaced by the ongoing civil war. In total the UNHCR has estimated that there are 55 million people displaced by war on a world scale. 20 million of these refugees are living in countries surrounding the European Union. It is worth noting that the main bulk of these people are victims of imperialist wars conducted over the last 15 years: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have been bombed into barbarism in the name of “democracy”. As the situation in Syria and in the huge and completely underfinanced refugees camps in the bordering countries of Turkey and Lebanon worsens, more and more people are drawing the conclusion that for the foreseeable future no meaningful life is possible in the region and are looking for opportunities to start a new life elsewhere.
The principle of the free movement of peoples within the European Union, which was always restricted in any case, was always based on the protection of its external borders. Migrants are expected to register and wait for their legal status to be decided in the first country of the EU that they arrive at. This is regulated by the so-called “Dublin Treaties”. EU border countries are expected to do their best in order to secure their borders against migrants. In order to achieve this aim the EU has created the agency Frontex. Frontex promotes, coordinates and develops European border measures in intelligence, joint operations, rapid response capability, deportation, etc..
But in reality this system has collapsed. The flow of refugees into Greece and Italy has pushed its operations over the limit. These countries are de facto breaking the Dublin Treaties and opening the way for the migrants into the north of Europe. This is aggravated by the deep, ongoing economic crisis in Greece itself: thousands of migrant workers that made their living in some way or other in Greece are now forced to migrate northwards in order to secure their living. On their way these poor people are forced to leave and re-enter the EU. Given the harsh and prospectless situation in the EU-protectorate of Kosovo, thousands of Kosovars are regularly joining the stream of uprooted people. The route from Turkey to Greece, then to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria has become the focal point of Europe’s humanitarian disaster.
In order to attempt to stop this flow, Hungary is currently in the process of building a new iron curtain along its borders constructed of barbed wire. This is combined with a shrill campaign of xenophobia by the government. This move has not had the effect of stopping the flow of thousands of people, but rather has forced people fleeing northward to speed up their attempts to cross the border into the EU before the wall is built.
Along all the borders and transit lines there are now multinational police patrols trying to keep the refugees out. For example; Austrian police are working jointly with Serbian authorities, in coordination with Hungarian police, in order to monitor the Serbian-Hungarian frontier with advanced electronic equipment that makes the old iron curtain look like a tea-party. German police together with their Austrian and Hungarian counterparts jointly control the trains running from Budapest to Vienna and beyond. The slogan of a “borderless” Europe has been transformed in reality into a nightmare of extensive racial profiling everywhere, up to the Metro lines themselves. It is this ongoing stop and search operation that pushes refugees into the hands of human traffickers. Given the huge demand for secure transfer with less chance of detention and deportation, the business of human trafficking is surging as a direct result of Europe’s border policies.
Within this disgusting business ever more risky and careless practices are being used resulting from the huge demand and enormous profit to be made from this “service”. The 71 deaths at Nickelsdorf are the direct result of the completely inhumane and irrational policies of the border regime, which forced these human beings into this death-trap.
A mood of solidarity
This criminal incident unleashed a huge wave of indignation within Austrian society. The basis for this outburst of anger had been prepared in the weeks prior. Up until now 46,000 refugees have taken shelter in Austria. This is far less than during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s. Nevertheless the Austrian authorities have reacted in a cynically, bureaucratic attitude and could not care less. Thousands of refugees are without shelter, medical care and even food. This led to a wave of practical solidarity by ordinary people: organising aid, visiting the camps, organising welcome parties, resistance against detention of friends, neighbours and school mates, etc.
On the other hand, the far right wing party FPÖ attempted to push public opinion into a racist campaign of hatred and envy. The FPÖ found its main ally in the Conservative-Social Democratic coalition government which behaved as if the whole country had been razed by a hurricane, when the issue is one of 2-300 people a day applying for asylum and looking for shelter and a meal.
The main discourse coming forward has been one of a fight against human traffickers, as if this business was the actual reason for the displacement of millions of people. In reality this “fight” has been a success. So far this year alone, 500 human traffickers were jailed. As was to be expected, this did not stop the refugees looking for a safe place but rather forced them into the hands of even more callous people smugglers using ever more dangerous methods.
This became clear to the public the day the shocking news of the mass killing of 71 refugees came to light. Within hours the first protest of several hundred people took place in the city center of Vienna. A spike in the movement came with the demonstration on Monday 31st August. Called by a private individual, the demonstration turned into the biggest protest Vienna has experienced for years. Police estimated that 20,000 protesters attended, but the real figure is more likely to be twice that number.
On the same day Hungarian police opened the borders, leading to an influx of 3,700 refugees that had been trapped in Budapest. Most of these refugees made their way straight to Germany, but not without first being welcomed and fed by hundreds of people in the train stations of Vienna, St. Pölten, Linz and Salzburg. In Munich as well, local travellers welcomed the arriving refugees with open arms. The following day however, Hungarian officials closed all train stations to refugees following a protest by the Austrian Interior Minister.
In this atmosphere the mass media, police and railway administrations had no choice but to give in to the widespread mood of moral indignation. Even the head of the FPÖ, Strache, had to water down his racist speeches by embracing those migrants “willing to integrate, willing to work and respectful of Austrian traditions” – although not without being booed by a section of the hopeless lumpens that have become a constant feature of his public appearance. At the moment there is a clear pro-refugee mood within society that can not be ignored by the institutions and parties. However, we have to point out that at the moment this is mainly based on moral feelings of solidarity and empathy. The movement does not have any political demands. As one teacher told a seller of our paper at the demonstration on Monday: “there is a huge need to debate this issue amongst my students, but I have no idea what the solution to this crisis could be.”
Meanwhile, whilst still struggling to organise basic support for those refugees that want to or have to remain in the country, the government has cast the blame for the crisis onto other EU member states. Social democratic chancellor Faymann has called for a “strong defence of EU frontiers” and a distribution of refugees within Europe. His demands have been framed in an unusually hostile tone, pointing out Austria’s role as a net contributor to EU funds, which in his eyes translates into the right to dictate policy to other member states. In a laughable move the Foreign Minister and the Agriculture Minister have raised the idea of forming a “coalition of the willing” tasked with establishing a secure zone within Syria. This military coalition should be made up of the EU, the US, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran etc. What might be considered a joke by any serious bourgeois government is being raised in an official capacity by those responsible for foreign policy in this frivolous government.
What is clear is that beneath the shedding of crocodile tears by government personnel, led under the auspices of the Archbishop of Vienna, a new vicious round of inhuman policies is being prepared. So called “safe zones” and camps outside of the EU are clearly at the top of the priority list for the German administration too. The argument is that this will help to secure a safe route into the EU for those who fulfill refugee criteria.
The movement in solidarity with refugees in countries like Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Austria, Germany and others is an inspiration. It shows that despite the disgusting racist propaganda of the mass media and governments, which want to use refugees and migrants as convenient scapegoats for the capitalist crisis, there is a strong undercurrent of basic human solidarity that remains and has come to the surface.
Capitalism’s cold calculations
Under pressure from public opinion, the mass media and the authorities might take, temporarily, a more humane approach to the refugees. This will remain only a very temporary concession. The crucial question from the point of view of the ruling class is a question of money. There is an indecent scramble between the different EU capitalist nations to decide how many refugees each is going to take, and at the same time the stepping up of border controls in a military fashion. Any “solution” advanced by them will not be based on the interests of the refugees but on the cold calculation of resources and political profit to be made from the issue.
We need to explain two basic ideas: firstly, the refugees are fleeing wars created by the same imperialist countries which are now refusing to given them refuge. The same is the case for economic migrants: they are fleeing poverty and deprivation caused by imperialist exploitation. Secondly, there are sufficient resources available in society to provide good quality housing, education and health care for all; be they native, migrant or refugees.
The problem is the capitalist system, which is in crisis, and the attempt on the part of the ruling class to make workers pay for this crisis. The solution therefore calls for the unity of the working class, native and migrant, to fight for the expropriation of the capitalist blood suckers who are responsible for this situation, so that the resources of society can be used to democratically fulfill the needs of the many, rather than the private profit and interests of the privileged and unelected few.