Refugee crisis: From solidarity to political response

The responses to what is being dubbed as Europe’s ‘worst refugee crisis’ since World War II, have been both overwhelming and perplexing, ironic and at times contradictory. As millions of refugees pour out of Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, to mention but three so-called ‘sending countries’, towards the fences, walls and shores of the Fortress Europe ghetto, Europeans have mobilised in their hundreds of thousands. The outpouring of empathy and solidarity by ordinary people throughout Europe, citizens and non-citizens alike, has been a turning point in the bottom-up response to the plight of so many people fleeing western-sponsored wars, state oppression and deprivation. At the same time the politics of fear and Islamophobia is also rearing its ugly head, as people shout against Europe letting in Muslim people who, they are saying, will damage the precious nature of so-called ‘European civilisation’.

While the Hungarian authorities, aided by Israeli anti-refugee technologies, are erecting fences, ordinary Europeans – including Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, Greeks, Czechs and many foreign volunteers, are assisting refugees not only with food, clothes and blankets, but also with train tickets to the Austrian borders and to freedom. Ordinary Germans are responding to their government’s announcement it will take in 800,000 refugees, even though, as Angela Merkel said, this would change forever the nature of German society, by offering homes to refugees, some of whom, ironically, have been housed in former concentration camps. Continue reading “Refugee crisis: From solidarity to political response”

Europe’s ‘refugee crisis’: Still not letting them in…

Louis Lentin’s documentary ‘No More Blooms’ was broadcast on RTE on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 1997. Based on scrupulous archival research, the film documented Ireland’s consistent refusal to give refuge to more than 60 Jewish people fleeing Nazism between 1933 and 1946. Prior to the screening, Lentin told The Irish Times, ‘If you had been told in 1939 that when the war started, the policy of genocide would be implemented, would you have believed it?’ However, and although neutral Ireland was not unique in closing its borders, as the war progressed, and despite the Irish population being shielded by strict state censorship from knowledge about the excesses of the Nazi extermination programme, it became apparent that Jewish (and Roma) people were being systematically annihilated. Yet, even after the war, when the Irish Jewish community applied to allow 100 Jewish orphans into Ireland, permission was given only providing the Jewish community look after the children, and providing they left the country after one year stay in Clonyn Castle in County Westmeath.

‘No More Blooms’ and the history of Ireland’s miserable treatment of refugees since World War II (‘Europe’s darkest hour’) is hugely pertinent today as we watch the march of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere in the Global South towards the southern and eastern edges of Fortress Europe. The tide, it seems, cannot be stemmed, as resilient and strong willed refugees crawl under barbed wire fences, and wash off onto the southern shores of the Mediterranean having taken rickety boats to freedom.

For the time being the refugees’ march to freedom is big news. The European media and social media are full of the viral photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned three year old Kurdish toddler lying face down on the shores of Turkey, and of endless YouTube videos of refugees arriving on makeshift boats in Italy and Greece, and breaking through makeshift fences along the Hungarian and Bulgarian borders. News stories tell of heart felt responses by Europeans demonstrating and collecting goods for refugees trapped in Calais. Others report on some European leaders calling on EU states to share the burden and on Europe’s southern citizens giving assistance, and even homes to the refugees. However, the key motif is ‘Europe’s refugee crisis’ and the key discussion point is whether the fortress can cope with what is seen as the onslaught. Solutions such as the mayor of Barcelona calling to establish ‘refuge cities’ or the provision of accommodation places for fleeing refugees, while welcome, are all inadequate partial responses that does not recognise that the days of Fortress Europe are numbered.

Like during the Nazi era, when Germans and other Europeans chose not to know about the Nazi extermination plans, today most Europeans prefer to defend Europe’s white, Christian identity and keep the fortress intact. Responses range from asking Israel about the high-technology anti-refugee fence on its border with Egypt, to talking about quotas, as Europe is intent on maintaining its white supremacy illusion and speaking about ‘these people’ as a problem to be solved at best, and as a threat at worst. In view of Ireland’s laughable offer to admit 600 Syrians, RTE should re-broadcast ‘No More Blooms’ as a reminder of our moral responsibility to the millions fleeing refugees. It would remind the Irish and their government of the futility of pretending that Fortress Europe can remain intact.