From top:Julien Mercille
The refugees crossing Europe should be welcomed as they are fleeing chaos of the west’s creation.
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
We have heard a lot about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flocking to Europe, but much less about Europe’s responsibility for this state of affairs. Indeed, most refugees are fleeing countries in the Middle East that have recently been invaded or attacked by Western forces or seriously affected by the consequences. In short, this is “blowback” from Europe’s own militaristic actions.
It is a no-brainer that a rich continent should help people leaving poor countries out of desperation. And because Europe also bears a direct responsibility for the chaos, it has an even larger moral obligation to do everything possible to fix the problem.
However, media coverage has highlighted personal tragedies and stories such as that of the little boy (Aylan Kurdi) drowned on a beach. Those stories show the human costs of the crisis. However, Europeans could look at thousands of images of drowned children without ever knowing that their governments played a large role in creating the problem through war.
Military interventions for regime change in the wake of 9-11 in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have involved the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain. The no-fly zone to remove Muammar Gaddafi from Libya was led by the UK and France, with assistance from Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Canada, among others.
The large majority of refugees come from exactly those places, like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ireland played an important role as well by allowing US military flights through Shannon airport on the way to and back from those wars. This is still going on, as the group Shannon Watch reported last week:
“Right now, armed US troops and military planes move through Shannon Airport on a daily basis. We contribute to the NATO-led operations in Afhganistan, a country that has been brought to its knees by the US/NATO invasion, and we supported the equally devastating NATO invasion of Libya. And we provide tax breaks and other supports to companies that develop and manufacture components used in the lethal weapons systems that kill innocent people throughout the Middle East”.
In Syria, the atrocities were triggered partially by the spillovers of the Iraq war. Groups like ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front which are terrorising large areas of the Middle East emerged out of the invasion of Iraq, evolving from al-Qaeda’s activities there.
This is well described by the journalist Patrick Cockburn in his book The Jihadis Return. For example, many of the leaders of the Islamic State movement were incarcerated in an American prison in Iraq called Camp Bucca for a few years during the occupation.
As the Washington Post reported, “Camp Bucca provided a unique setting for both prisoner radicalization and inmate collaboration—and was formative in the development of today’s most potent jihadist force”, ISIS. The radicals’ time in prison “deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following” so that “the prisons became virtual terrorist universities”.
Therefore, as James A. Paul, the former executive director of the Global Policy Forum (based on New York), said, to use the term “regime change refugees” would go a long way to change the media discourse and popular understanding of the situation.
Also, while Europe is procrastinating and dragging its feet to welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees, countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have already received 3.5 million of them from Syria, and they haven’t invaded Iraq or Afghanistan.
A Sunday Business Post investigation revealed Ireland’s shameful record. During 2008-2014, the total number of people given refugee status in Ireland was only a third of the average across the EU’s 28 member states (relative to population size of European countries). Whereas Ireland accepted only 46 asylum seekers per 100,000 population, the EU average was 148. Ireland has thus the second-highest rejection rate of asylum seekers in the EU, after Greece. Those figures completely undermine our government’s recent claims that it has provided a “very large response” to the crisis.
But hope has come, once again, from ordinary people. There have been numerous actions across Europe supporting the refugees. We will have to pressurise our governments if any sense of morality is to influence the response to the ongoing tragedy.
Julien Mercille is a lecturer at UCD. He is the author of Cruel Harvest: US Intervention in the Afghan Drug Trade (Pluto). Twitter: @JulienMercille