The intensity and dangers of the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee from their homelands in desperation every month.
European television and YouTube show who is fleeing: infants; toddlers; children; pre-teens; women, some in the last stages of pregnancy; people with disabilities who are in wheelchairs or on crutches; and men of all ages, from the young and fit to the elderly and frail. They are coming off the boats on the Greek islands or are piled up in Athens ferry terminals, public parks or are under tents in the rain and mud at Idomeni on the Macedonian-Greek border.
According to figures released by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 38 percent of the arrivals since Jan. 1 are children, 21 percent are adult women and 41 percent are adult men. These percentages didn’t change much from 2015.
They are not people who would spend a lot of money — sometimes all they have — to take the risk of suffering a serious accident or dying to travel long distances under harsh and nasty conditions, if there were any safe, realistic alternatives.
The number of migrants who entered Europe in 2015 through the Aegean Sea’s Greek islands — many of which are extremely close to Turkey — is slightly over 1 million; 92 percent came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly 450,000 migrants landed on the Greek island of Lesbos last year.
As of March 23, some 149,208 migrants have entered Greece this year. The European Union’s decision to send all refugees who land in Greece back to Turkey if they came after March 20 has created chaos.
Oxfam denounced this development as “an offense” to Europe’s values. Other nongovernmental organizations said that the mass expulsions that they foresee happening violate international law. The NGOs have to get permission from the police to enter the new detention centers that Greece has set up for the migrants.
The UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders (Medicins sans Frontieres), Save the Children, Oxfam and other well-known NGOs have withdrawn their operations in Greece and the Aegean Islands, or they plan to do so soon.
Adding to the complexities and confusion around the migrant issue, Turkey’s government indicated it would cancel the deal if its citizens do not get the right to travel to the EU without visas by the end of 2016, an arrangement which was part of its deal with the EU.
The Greek Communist Party (KKE) issued a statement on March 8 that pointed to the causes of this crisis: “the wars and interventions unleashed by the USA, NATO and the EU in the wider region of the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa.” The KKE says “The victims of wars, interventions and reactionary regimes have the right to seek a safer life in other countries.” (inter.kke.gr) The anti-imperialist statement says that the only permanent solution to these crises is the overthrow of the exploitative system that creates them.
The KKE sees NATO’s intervention in the Aegean Sea as “using the refugee issue as a pretext” to prepare for other interventions in the area, in Syria and in other countries, which “will sharpen the problem of the refugee flows.” It could also, says the KKE, open up the possibility of abolishing Greece’s sea borders.
As long as the misery and suffering that U.S. and European interventions create throughout the world intensify, the flow of refugees to what they see as “safe havens” will continue. Mass expulsions and the closure of borders will direct human migration into different directions — but besieged people will continue to seek safety, as is their human right.