The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported shortly before Christmas that more than one million migrants had made their way into the European Union, Germany in particular, in 2015.
The overwhelming majority of these migrants made risky sea crossings, mainly from Turkey to Greece. Nearly 4,000 drowned.
The EU’s statistical office Eurostat reported that 942,400 people have claimed asylum. The number of migrants in 2014 was a quarter of this figure.
The figures sound high - from a certain vantage point, that of UKIP perhaps, who don’t want any more migrants; or from the point of view of a bourgeois politician anxious about public opinion turned hostile to the migrants by the right-wing media. But from the viewpoint of the refugees themselves the statistics are irrelevant: these are individuals and families fleeing war, hunger, and political persecution, in countries across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. They are right to seek refuge and asylum. And for the labour movement and socialists in the EU the statistics should be irrelevant too, except inasmuch as they must inspire us to respond more urgently to the needs of our fellow humans.
The population of the EU is 503 million, and its member states together can easily cope with this influx of people - if they have the will. The EU is a large enough area to take many times more than the number arriving: there is not a problem of Europe being overcrowded. The EU is rich enough to settle the incomers: depending on the measure used, it is the largest or second largest economy in the world, with a GDP in 2014 of around £9.5 trillion, or £20,500 per person. The rich should pay to rebuild our public services so that everyone, settled or migrant, can have a decent life. Moreover, migrants, who are generally younger than the settled population, contribute to the economy. The Tories won’t readily admit it, but they were able to announce a slightly less austere spending review than feared in November 2015 because of the boost to the economy from... increased immigration.
We should argue that EU governments have a duty to provide the resources to cope with this crisis. Yet an EU summit in Brussels in December hardened their hearts to the human need on their doorstep and could only agree to “regain control over their external frontier through stricter checks and other border management actions next year” (Independent). After making some humane gestures throughout the summer and autumn, their emphasis now is on keeping people out. For example, on 11 January Sweden reintroduced border checks for people arriving from Denmark, sandwiched between Germany and Sweden. Denmark is responding by starting to check people entering Denmark from Germany. The response of the EU governments to the refugee crisis now threatens freedom of movement.
The weather has been unusually mild so far this winter across much of Europe, but the snows are falling now in the Balkans which most of the refugees pass through on their way to Northern and Western Europe.
Conditions at the Calais migrant camp dubbed the Jungle are dire. The numbers there have swelled, and now 6,000 people, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, are living in tents in insanitary conditions. Relations with the French police have deteriorated and the refugees face increasing repression as their attempts to stow aboard lorries across the Channel become more frenzied and desperate. Migrants regularly die attempting this journey: just before the New Year, 15-year-old Masud from Afghanistan died in a lorry — he was trying to reach his sister in the UK, where he would have been able to make an asylum claim. Far-right gangs are attacking the camp. The days of the Jungle may be numbered, as the French authorities want to reduce it to a setlement for 2000, and disperse the remainder of the migrants, but they are not offering them the decent life they need instead.
Calais Migrant Solidarity reported on 11 January 2016:
“In Dunkerque, MSF (Medicins Sans Frontieres) had planned to make a better camp. They were stopped by the French government who required the camp to be closed; MSF refused to build a closed camp. Negotiations are pending but the message is clear.” Labour’s Shadow human rights minister Andy Slaughter visited the Jungle at the start of January. He said:
“This is not in truth a refugee camp, so much does it lack the basics of life.
“It is a stain on the French state, but it is not a problem of which we can wash our hands.
“Our Government has contributed nothing but the money to build a razor-wire fence between the camp and the Eurotunnel entrance. That is to their shame.”
Socialists have a duty to demand: open the borders! House, clothe and feed the refugees, and offer them a decent and safe future.
• Quote taken from libcom.org