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Weissman writes: "If immigration and border control pose divisive hot-button issues in the United States, migrants and asylum seekers could prove fatal for the European Union."

Migrants aboard a ship. (photo: AP)
Migrants aboard a ship. (photo: AP)

Those Damned Migrants: Blame It All on Them!

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

29 April 15


f immigration and border control pose divisive hot-button issues in the United States, migrants and asylum seekers could prove fatal for the European Union. Nearly 1800 of them perished in the Mediterranean in recent weeks. About the same number have reportedly gone missing, and officials are expecting as many as half a million refugees this year to brave the Med in hopes of finding a better life in Europe.

“It is sickening to see thousands of refugees drowning on the doorstep of the world’s wealthiest continent,” declared actress Angelina Jolie, the UN's Special Envoy for Refugees. “No one risks the lives of their children in this way except out of utter desperation.”

Briefing the Security Council on Friday, Jolie blasted the great powers for their humanitarian failure on Syria. An estimated 220,000 Syrians have died in the four-year civil war. Nearly four million are now refugees in neighboring countries. And Syrian war refugees are by far the largest group risking death to enter Europe by sea.

“We cannot look at Syria, and the evil that has arisen from the ashes of indecision, and think this is not the lowest point in the world’s inability to protect and defend the innocent,” said Jolie.

Refugees from war-torn Afghanistan are similarly crossing the Med in large numbers. Yemenis are now joining the global exodus, while poverty, disease, and rotten governments appear to be the driving force for migrants from Eritrea and other African countries.

Jolie’s outrage rings true, but her argument could prove toxic. Washington has long justified military intervention, open and covert, by cloaking its imperial adventures in humanitarian camouflage. The classic case was Vietnam in the 1950s, as revealed in The Pentagon Papers. Working under Col. Edward Lansdale and in cooperation with the US and French navies, the CIA sent trained infiltrators into the Communist north to wage a psychological terror campaign that helped scare nearly a million, mostly Catholic refugees to flee south. The agency hoped the refugees would build a power base for Washington’s hand-picked Catholic ruler, Ngo Dinh Diem, while its “Vietnam Lobby” publicized the refugee’s flight from “the Communist Hell” to build public support for Diem in America.

The story in Syria, though far less elaborate, is cut from the same cloth. Under pressure to act in Syria, a publicly reluctant Obama used the CIA help the Qataris and Saudis supply Sunni rebels in Syria with Libyan and other arms. In their effort to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Kadhafi, Obama and his NATO allies similarly claimed to be protecting the supposed innocents of Benghazi. Regime change accomplished, the US, Britain, and France largely walked away, leaving chaos behind. That was how Libya became the single largest smuggling port for refugees and asylum seekers willing to risk their lives to get to Europe. Great powers may work hard to be seen as Good Samaritans, but they generally have their own interests and their own agendas, which humanitarians like Jolie tend to ignore.

Equally toxic, those of us who share Jolie’s outrage have so far failed to create a grass-roots movement that can counter one of the most salient facts of political life in Europe today. Voters, already battered by the no-hope economics of austerity, are increasingly blaming immigrants for lost jobs and declining healthcare and other social services. Racism no doubt fuels the scapegoating, as increasing numbers of Europeans turn to ultra-nationalistic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim parties like Marine Le Pen’s Front National. These are the folks most effectively working to break up the European Union. Nowhere are their efforts playing out more pungently than across the Channel, where Britain is now in the closing days of a nasty election campaign.

“Saving lives means rescuing these poor people,” declared Prime Minister David Cameron, offering to send the Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark, three helicopters, and two border patrol ships to join in the EU’s search-and-rescue efforts. But sticking to his earlier beliefs that this will only encourage more migrants to try their luck, he has limited Britain’s contributions to two months and has insisted that his country would not necessarily accept any of these poor people as permanent residents.

“What we need,” he said, “is a comprehensive plan, going after the criminal gangs, going after the traffickers, going after the owners of the boats – potentially taking action there as well and stabilizing the countries from which these people are coming.” In other words, more intervention to alleviate the disasters cause by earlier meddling while no doubt creating new disasters.

Cameron also warned that, if elected to succeed him, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband “would increase immigration, not reduce it.” The Tory leader is, of course, trying to woo voters away from the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is fighting to get Britain to withdraw from the European Union.

In fact, like other European leaders, Cameron is only feeding the migrant bashing on which the anti-EU movement is building.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."

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