smhwpf: (Way out)
[personal profile] smhwpf
I have never been so ashamed to be a European. God knows we have a horrific colonial history, and in the modern age there's the whole Neocolonial economic relationship of rich countries with the developing world and so forth.

But it is particularly appalling to witness the utter betrayal of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees on and within our borders. The utter craven cowardice, the hypocricy, the abandonment of compassion and solidarity, the collective washing of hands.

Al Jazeera has been doing some excellent coverage of the tens of thousands stranded in Greece. Piling up in unofficial refugee camps with worse conditions than those on Syria's borders. Unaccompanied children with nowhere to go, vulnerable to people trafickers. The hundreds drowning in the Mediterranean, the thousands of women facing rape as one of the hazards of the journey - all not our problem. Somebody else's. As Hoda Abdul Hamid said on the AJ report today "The lonely children have been abandoned by everyone."

All are now closing their borders. Sweden, having briefly taken the moral path of openness in the autumn, has shut the gates; yes, some still have been getting through, but those that do (who have the right papers) will now get only temporary residency, making it much harder to integrate into society, and family reunions have been made much harder. Oh, at least we're still better than Denmark, we don't take their jewellery, yet. Cold comfort.

There is a direct link between these policies and the drowinings, rape and child traficking on the refugee road. Because in the past, family reunion was the one legal route to Sweden and other European asylum recipient countries. So a large proportion of the refugees arriving in Sweden and Germany were men, aiming to bring their families later. But now that option is closed off, and so the families must make the journey, with all its perils, themselves. But their suffering is apparently a price worth paying to give Migrationsverket (the immigration agency) a "breathing space".

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, when he addressed a pro-refugee rally in Medborgarplatsen in autumn spoke of openness, of the need for safe and legal routes, of not wanting a Europe of walls. But then the cry became "It's too hard! We can't cope! We need a breathing space!" As so many have commented, it is the Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war who need a breathing space. To my mind, the government's decision was not only morally bankrupt but politically stupid. The government looks weak. That it has admitted that the Sweden Democrats were right all along. And it has pleased no-one, neither its progressive base, nor the anti-migrant voters who think Sweden should never have admitted so many in the first place. Löfven has the lowest ratings of any Prime Minister ever. It seems to me that the only sensible strategy was to ride the tiger, maintain the moral high ground, tell the Swedish people "It is hard, but we can cope. We are rich, we are resourceful, and we can do this. It will be hard in the short term, but it is the right thing to do, and in the long term we will be the richer for it."

Instead we had the pathetic sight of Deputy PM Åsa Romsön of the Greens crying as she joins Löfven of announcing the new measures. "Woe is me, that I am doing this terrible thing!" And yet she and her Green colleagues did it even so.

But back to Europe as a whole, and the horrendous preliminary deal struck with Turkey. From now on, all refugees reaching Greece are to be sent back to Turkey. A deal that flagrantly breaches the UN Refugee Convention, as there is no way Turkey can be considered a safe country. They do not have a functioning asylum system, they are rapidly slipping into dictatorship, imprisoning journalists and those who criticize the President. They just raided a major opposition newspaper, Zaman, closed it down, and reopened it as a government propaganda sheet. The peace process with the Kurds is dead, and the Turkish military have been pursuing an increasingly brutal campaign in the south-east. There are reports that they have sent Syrian refugees back to Syria. And they are a poorer country than most of Europe, and already home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

Then there is this bizarre "one-for-one" element of the deal - that for every refugee the EU sends back from Greece, Europe will take in one refugee from Turkey. How generous! We will take one refugee, but only if another sacrifices themselves by taking the risk of making the journey to Greece, braving the people smugglers and the Med, dodging the NATO boats trying to stop them, only to be sent back and put to the back of the queue for eventual resettlement.

Turkey is to get aid for this, supposedly for them to help the refugees on their soil. €3 billion, or maybe €6 billion. But if we can spend €6 billion so that Turkey can support 2.7 million refugees in their country of 75 million, then why can we not spend this money so that the EU's 400 million population can support considerably fewer? Or even as many? Ah, but it's OK for Turkey. They are already poor, and off-white, so they can take all the poor, off-white people.

In return we are also offering Turkey visa-free travel to Europe (good), and a restart of EU membership negotiations. How can we even talk about Turkey becoming an EU member when they are trampling on basic rights as they are? Oh well, Hungary and Poland are going that way anyway, so why worry.

And what is most shameful as a European, is that our governments are doing this in large measure in response to the views of the majority of their citizens. That even those, like in Sweden and Germany, who were more inclined to compassion and solidarity, have turned against the refugees. Cologne and Kungsträdgården were enough for that.

There are still those, so many, who help.The army of volunteers on Lesvos. Again, Al Jazeera has done some very good coverage of ordinary Greek people, despite their own grim economic circumstances, doing what they can to help through soup kitchens in Athens, providing food, clothing and blankets in Idomeni on the Macedonian border, and elsewehere. The Danish woman convicted of people trafficking for giving a lift and lunch to a family of refugees. So many helping across the continent in so many ways, big and small. These are signs of hope.

But those of us who favour compassion and solidarity towards refugees are, unfortunately a minority. Two weeks ago there were Refugees Welcome protests in 120 cities in 32 European countries. It is hard to find reports of them, apart from that one. I was at the one in Medborgarplatsen again, in Stockholm. But we were far, far, fewer. When Stefan Löfven flattered and lied to the crowds back in September, Medborgarplatsen was full to bursting. This time there was plenty of space, and only a part of the square filled. A few hundred maybe. It is good to have such events; but it is not enough.

I have never felt so ashamed to be a European.
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