In recent months, the Western world has been pulled into a state of shock and panic as the repercussions of its actions have come starkly into view, due to an intensifying refugee crisis from Eritrea to Libya to Syria and around the globe. The mainstream media would have you think that this crisis materialized overnight. However, it has roots in the terrible atrocities the West has engaged in over the last several years – atrocities that cause people to have to flee their homes in the first place.
The situation at hand is a harbinger of a much deeper crisis that will come if the reigning empires of the world do not change their ways. The unsustainable nature of capitalism will ultimately destroy the entire planet – but many of the plants, animals and people who live on it will go first. To understand the roots of the refugee crisis, one has to focus in on the ongoing global disasters that are consistently hurting those who are disadvantaged globally.
It’s the business of forcing people to come to you by making their parts of the world unlivable.
The unfortunate irony of the Western world’s policies toward refugees is that they actually exacerbate the root causes of migration. While purporting to “address” the plight of refugees, the West simultaneously implements policies that inflame climate change and wars, destabilizing regions with populations already facing turmoil. The acknowledgement of the refugees’ suffering comes – as do most acknowledgments from the world of white-dominated Western politics – in the form of fully blaming the home countries of those refugees. Western powers are acknowledging the crisis – but they are not acknowledging that it is a problem they played a major role in creating. They are acting as if it’s the fault of evil, anti-Western apparitions (like, the terrorists) or convenient enemies (like, “people smugglers”), and they are drumming up new propaganda against these apparitions. These sorts of narratives are convenient tools for these governments and far-right factions of the public.
This attitude of brutal relentlessness is intricately woven into the decision to take military action in areas that have already been decimated through war or let corporations profit at home. The Wall Street Journal reports of the refugee crisis in Europe:
There are also profits to be made. In Germany, Air Berlin PLC was paid some $350,000 last year operating charter flights to deport rejected asylum seekers on behalf of the government. In Sweden, the government paid a language-analysis firm $900,000 last year to verify asylum seekers’ claims of where they were from. In Athens, a Western Union branch has been disbursing €20,000 a day (about $22,600) to migrants, reaping fees on each transaction.
This process of “dealing” with refugees could easily be likened to destroying a country and then paying your own people or friends to rebuild it. It could be likened to corporations in the United States like Corrections Corporation of America, which similarly detains undocumented immigrants in detention centers after this country has used their labor where they are moved around for further exploitation. It’s the business of forcing people to come to you by making their parts of the world unlivable.
As the planet slowly decays, people are moving because of climate change. The “safe” level of carbon concentrations, 350 parts per million, was passed decades ago. This year, the globe reached a terrible milestone. Now, for the first time since the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory began recording, the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached over 400 globally for a month. Countries like Algeria and Pakistan have recently seen deadly rises in heat waves. Places throughout the global South, which will suffer the most, contribute the least to the problem of polluting emissions. And while sea levels rise, there is less water to sustain life in the many parts of Middle East and Africa. The World Resources Institute recently highlighted how the progression of climate change directly correlates with the war in Syria:
Drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country’s 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilization.
People of the world are already fighting over the dwindling resources while the West endlessly plunders to fuel its capitalist interest of exploiting natural resources. The ongoing and future refugee crisis will largely be caused by the irresponsibility of the Western world. The violence of destroying the environment further stokes the violence that humans are capable of committing against one another. But the West makes places unlivable in other ways as well.
People from the Caribbean and South and Central America have fled to the United States after their countries have been devastated by the foreign policy and economic onslaught of the Western world, just like many in the Eastern Hemisphere. For instance, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) destroyed local economies and negatively affected millions of communities by increasing unemployment. Two million farmworkers alone lost their jobs from the trade deal. Hillary Clinton can laugh about the US role in Honduras just like she laughed about killing Muammar el-Qaddafi and destabilizing Libya. The ensuing violence after a US-backed post-coup government gave its loyalists powerful positions is no laughing matter. Countries across the ocean could soon be reeling from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, just like Mexico and other parts of the Americas were devastated by NAFTA and neoliberal economic policies. But when people flee violence fueled by joblessness, poor economies and regime change, they are not welcomed with open arms by the empires that caused much of that chaos.
We’ve seen how people leaving countries like Somalia, Iraq and Mexico become members of al-Shabab, ISIS and the cartels that fill the talking points of far-right xenophobes. But despite this, bombing these countries and killing civilians – thus inevitably driving people to flee – is seen as a necessary and unrelated course of action. Refugees are framed as less than human, a strand we see in the dehumanizing political rhetoric of the West that comes to life at protests to deport child refugees from El Salvador or in images of the foot of a bigot kicking a refugee father carrying a child.
These abuses are not committed exclusively by the West; China, Russia and other Eastern nations are capable of just the same as they kick around their unwanted Muslim populations, such as the Rohingya and Uighurs, among others. They follow the same methods of repression against ethnic minorities or otherwise politically isolated, unwanted and scapegoated communities.
When people flee violence fueled by poor economies and regime change, they are not welcomed by the empires that caused much of that chaos.
Amid all of this, the racial nature of the refugee crisis is present in the racial hierarchies of travel. Countries like Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina have agreed to settle Syrians, who have seemingly become more favored by some than their darker-skinned refugee counterparts. The hypocrisy is blatant in the terrible way that a nation like Brazil or Canada seeks to look merciful in the media by accepting Syrians, while expelling Haitians who seek refuge. Even the United States has agreed to take some Syrians in, after deporting millions of people seeking asylum and stability in the past few years. At the same time, the closest ally and biggest recipient of US funds, Israel, is deporting African refugees after detaining them in desert camps, while consistently hounding Palestinians who are made refugees by the expansionary existence of the Israeli state.
The entire spectacle has become a game of politics. No powerful country wants these people, whom they have placed in a position of desperation. And given the racism shown in who is and isn’t welcomed in minuscule numbers by these empires, it’s clear that some refugees are seen to deserve asylum even less than others.
However, the West and other nations that have chosen to act like the West are at a turning point in history. They all have a choice. They can change their ways or wait for the world to collapse on them. A world away, there are people whose blood is spilled by wars fueled by Western governments, people whom Western oppressors can’t hear scream when they go to sleep at night. The dispossessed know where you are. If Western nations have any desire to preserve themselves, they will seek out ways to preserve their infrastructures outside the realms of capitalism, conquest and colonialism. Otherwise, the “first world” can keep doing what it’s doing and wait for the moment when the rest free themselves and the last become first. That time is inevitable.