Brexit and the migration/refugee humanitarian crisis

1 in 113 forced to leave home worldwide

Teresa GutierrezWW photo: Brenda Ryan

Teresa Gutierrez
WW photo: Brenda Ryan

The recent Brexit vote in Europe was closely tied to the issue of migrants and refugees.  Mirrored by the racist, demagogic campaign of Donald Trump here in the U.S., the campaign to “Leave” the European Union was carried out within an anti-immigrant context. With capitalism at a dead end, racist scapegoating has become a priority for the capitalists in order to divert attention from the economic crisis.

This is shameful and merits an immediate, worldwide, working-class response. Why? Because the crisis of the forced migration of workers is of epic proportions.

It is a massive humanitarian crisis.  It is genocidal, a crisis that was created by the bloody hands of U.S. and British imperialism. This is not just an issue of migrants but of refugees and workers and should be treated accordingly.

This massive displacement, this gigantic wave of forced migration primarily from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to Europe and elsewhere, has resulted in the largest dislocation of humanity since World War II.  That is a stunning fact.

This amounts to World War III. That the working-class and progressive movement in Britain could not stay the hand of this war is one thing; to be sucked into the ideology of the right wing is another.

This bodes ill for the working-class movement, not only in Europe but in the U.S. as well.

“Leave the EU” and “Build the Wall” are two sides of the same coin: divide and conquer the multinational working class with the issue of immigration.

War, sanctions and austerity caused the refugee crisis

How repulsive of our enemies to use the issue of forced migration as an answer to the ravishing effects of the austerity measures sweeping Europe.  The very forces that are laying off workers in London, Detroit, Khartoum, Mexico City or Dhaka are the very forces that are driving workers to leave their homelands.

It is U.S. and British and NATO imperialist wars of regime change in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan and so on that are forcing workers to leave in the first place.

Those wars include starvation sanctions and planned destabilizations.

Take Libya. This country had once been a state where its resources, the very oil the corporations go to war for, had been nationalized and helped give Libya the highest standard of living in Africa.

It was months of bombing as well as the assassination of its leadership — Gaddafi in 2011 — that devastated Libya.  Imperialism destroyed the entire infrastructure of this country in one fell swoop.

And now the European elite turns its back on the very people it bombed, after creating the very conditions that forced those people to leave.

We have all seen the pictures published by the capitalist media, the painful pictures of waves of migrants at sea, of drowned children, of boats capsized with people who never make it, whose families back home will never know what happened to them.

Rarely are these pictures accompanied by admissions of what caused this migration.

In reality, the vast majority of the people in the pictures are not migrants at all.  They are refugees and should be accorded the rights of refugees, including, according to the United Nations, the number one right of safe asylum.

A few months ago, the world witnessed the horror of mass dislocation. Refugees’ dire conditions worsened when the U.N. Food Program exhausted its funds and cut aid to hundreds of thousands that were living in miserable refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

The U.N. agency needed $236 million to keep the program funded through November 2015. Yet, the U.S. has spent much more than that on wars in Syria and Afghanistan. According to, U.S. taxpayers have paid, every hour since 2001, a whopping $8.36 million for its wars!

That is why Syria today has the highest number of people displaced by war.

Syrians have been forced to leave in record numbers because the Pentagon and NATO targeted civilian infrastructure, irrigation, hospitals, schools, water purification and local industries.

U.S. and NATO sanctions have been imposed on Syria since of 2010.  And this was followed by the arming and financing of mercenary forces. This war has destroyed a formerly prosperous country where the population had modern infrastructure, free, quality health care, and free education.

Now, almost half of Syria’s 23 million people have been displaced.

Furthermore, people from Western Africa are forced to leave after decades of International Monetary Fund structural adjustment policies. Even the IMF itself admitted that its schemes are “flawed, have increased inequality and [have] not … delivered economic growth,” all of which are, of course, utter euphemisms. (African independent June 24, 2016)

Hidden casualties of war

The crisis of forced mass migration has many victims. Articles have been published about the tens of thousands of migrant children that are “missing” in Europe, purported victims of criminal gangs, an unspeakable tragedy. And that is a woefully conservative figure. (Politico May 3 2016).

The Politico article stated: “The closure of European borders and lack of an effective strategy to cope with wave after wave of refugees … often leave unaccompanied minors crossing into Europe with nowhere to turn. And that makes them easy prey for smugglers and traffickers.”

One can only imagine the unspeakable pain of a parent fearing that their child may have gotten caught up in the European sex trade.

On July 1, the International Migrant Alliance distributed a statement from the World Council of Churches dated June 28, 2016.  As documentation of worldwide forced migration varies from source to source, and is conflictive, the WCC statement is important to publish.

The statement said, “The world is in the midst of a historic crisis of forced displacement — of people obliged to leave their homes, communities and countries to escape conflict, persecution, repression, natural and human-made disasters, ecological degradation, or other situations that endanger their lives, freedom or livelihood.

“During 2015 … displacement … surpassed all previous records, exceeding 65 million people — or one out of every 113 people on earth. Conflicts and insecurity in the Middle East — especially the tragically continuing war in Syria and in parts of Africa — have been major drivers of this exodus.

“In the same year, more than a million people crossed the Mediterranean to Europe as refugees and migrants. More than 3,770 people perished during 2015 in the course of this hazardous crossing, and more than 2,850 more are thought to have been lost already so far this year.

“In Central America … the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that the number of asylum seekers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador increased from 20,900 in 2012 to 109,800 in 2015.

“These crises have demonstrated that, in today’s world, it is impossible to remain insulated in one’s own safety and comfort from the suffering experienced by such vast numbers of people seeking refuge. Closing one’s eyes and ears to the plight of the victims was never acceptable, and now it is no longer feasible. …

“All too often, the response by governments and societies of countries in which suffering people have sought safe haven has been one of fear, rejection and exclusion. All too often, political actors have sought to galvanize public concern and to increase fear for political advantage. …

“Longstanding and fundamental principles of international humanitarian law have been questioned and undermined, including the right of asylum — the fundamental principle that all people … are entitled to seek international protection regardless of … any criterion other than need.

“This principle … is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. The Refugee Convention was a collective international response to the suffering of — mostly European — refugees in the aftermath of the Second World War. The principles and obligations defined … are just as relevant and necessary in the context of the current global crisis as they were then in the post-World War II European refugee crisis.”

How to answer Brexit and Trump?

In light of this global humanitarian crisis, what should the working class and revolutionary movements consider in response?

Here is a suggestion.  Build a global movement of solidarity that demands:

  • U.S., NATO out of Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and everywhere!
  • Reparations for Africa!
  • Stop U.S. death funds in Central America and Mexico! U.S. out of Latin America! Cancel the debt of Puerto Rico!
  • Demand refugee status for all the displaced from wars, climate change or economic violence!
  • Build solidarity, not walls!
  • Make December 18 “World Day of Migration” and June 20 “World Refugee Day,” global days of class solidarity!

This article is based on a June 30 talk. Gutierrez is Workers World Party’s presidential campaign manager and co-coordinator of the New York May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights.