By Alex Callinicos
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Nato policing of European borders will make the refugee crisis worse

This article is over 8 years, 3 months old
Issue 2491

Jens Stoltenberg is an obscure Norwegian politician who is the current secretary-general of Nato. This is a post reserved for European political mediocrities loyal to the Atlantic order dominated by the United States since the late 1940s.

Last week Stoltenberg was throwing his weight about at the annual Munich security conference. He accused Russia of “destabilising the European security order”.

In response the Russian prime minister, Dimitry Medvedev, delivered a shrewd blow. He said the European Union (EU) has a “belt of exclusion” on its borders rather than a “belt of friends”. To prove the point Stoltenberg announced on Thursday of last week that a Nato squadron based off Cyprus was moving to the Aegean Sea.

He said it was in order to “help Greece, Turkey and the EU with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees”.

Nato presented itself as a force for freedom during the Cold War. Now it is turning into the border guard of Fortress Europe, helping the EU to bolt the doors against the wretched of the earth.

It has to be said that the EU is not doing very well at this. An estimated 2,000 migrants are crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece every day. This prompted an emergency visit to Turkey last week by German chancellor Angela Merkel, who called for Nato’s involvement.

Merkel has come a long way from her pledge to open Germany to refugees in September. But of course throughout Europe the barriers are going up. David Cameron sums up Europe’s mean-spirited approach with his attempt to cut benefits for EU migrants. The Nato intervention is justified as an attack on human traffickers. US defence secretary Ashton Carter explained, “There is now a criminal syndicate that is exploiting these poor people and this is an organised smuggling operation.”

But to blame migration on people smugglers is to display the mentality of a peculiarly stupid policeman. To understand why people are risking the dangerous winter seas in the Mediterranean you only have to look at the Russian-backed assault on Aleppo by Syrian government forces.


Turkey is bombarding Kurdish areas in northern Syria. And the United Nations has announced that there were 11,002 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the highest number since figures began to be collected in 2009.

No wonder that the victims of these wars see peaceful and relatively prosperous Europe as a haven.

Fortunately very large numbers of people in Europe now understand this. The unprecedented wave of solidarity with refugees that developed last summer has not been broken. Efforts to identify migration with terrorism after the Paris atrocities have failed. As have attempts to link it with male violence after the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne in Germany. Sympathy has been translated into a real movement expressed in the multitude of efforts of ordinary people, from Lesvos to Leeds, to raise money, food, and clothing for refugees and get these to them.

This has transformed the situation of those sections of the radical and revolutionary left who have taken a principled position in support of open borders.

Socialist Worker has always opposed all immigration controls. Back in the 1970s we defended migrants against the attacks of Enoch Powell and the National Front.

Proudly we proclaimed, “They’re Welcome Here!” But we became used to being isolated. People who might join us in opposing fascists and racists drew the line at opposing all immigration controls. Now, however, we are part of a much broader movement that welcomes refugees.

Of course, the majority in this movement may not consciously support open borders. And we face opposition from organised racists and repressive, Islamphobic states.

But society across Europe is now polarised between those who welcome or reject the refugees. This represents a historic opportunity to win much larger numbers of people to principled anti-racist politics.The international day of action against racism on 19 March will be an important opportunity to consolidate the movement of solidarity with refugees. Anti-racists must throw all their forces into building it.

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