In a chilling confirmation of the murderous cost of border controls, figures released last week showed that at least 404 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the first six weeks of 2018.
The analysis by the United Nation’s International Organisation for Migration says that this toll is double the number of refugees who drowned between 1 January and 16 February last year.
The agency also says that more than 1,200 child migrants have died since 2014. Nearly half died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. And, says the IOM, “the real figure is likely to be much higher”.
Refugee arrivals into Europe dropped from 12,430 in the same period last year to 8,407.
But deaths have increased because of the European Union’s (EU) dirty deal with Turkey that has forced refugees to take more dangerous routes.
The deal, signed in March 2016 with British support, means that refugees can be deported from Greece to Turkey.
Previously refugees from the war-torn Middle East used to travel across the Aegean Sea into Greece, through the Balkans and then into western Europe. That route is now blocked.
Refugees are still fleeing war, poverty, catastrophic climate change and dictatorship.
The biggest rise in arrivals is from Eritrea in East Africa—up from just 16 last year to 1,184.
The country has been ruled by president Isaias Afwerki, a national liberation hero turned dictator, since it won independence from Ethiopia in 1991.
Tens of thousands are fleeing the country’s harsh military service laws which mean working class people can be conscripted for life.
Afwerki responded to protests last November with brutal repression, forcing more people out of the country. Eritrea is also in the middle of a dangerous imperialist power play between the Western-backed Egyptian dictatorship and Turkey.
Any escalation of tensions will mean more refugees into Europe. Yet the EU’s response is to keep refugees locked out through “Fortress Europe”.
And if they do make it across the Mediterranean, many remain stuck at Britain’s border in Calais, trapped by millions of pounds’ worth of barbed wire, bullets and tear gas (see page 9).
The only solution is to force the British government to open the border.
That’s one of the reasons why anti-racists are planning to join national demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on 17 March.
Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) supporters are holding rallies, public meetings and film showings to build across Britain in the run up to them.
Around 50 people joined the first SUTR meeting in Liverpool on Sunday.
The 17 March demonstrations are an important part of building a mass movement against racism.
As Dan Lewis, CWU union North West chair, told the meeting in Liverpool, “By going out on 17 March you are changing the world by standing up to racism”.
Catalonian movement fights Islamophobia and antisemitism
when anti-racists take to the streets in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on 17 March they will be part of actions across many countries.
Unity Against Fascism and Racism (UCFR) in Catalonia is the sister movement of Stand Up To Racism.
The political situation in Catalonia over recent months has of course been dominated by the struggle for an independent republic and the Spanish state’s opposition to that struggle.
Fascist organisations had been much weakened by UCFR’s campaigning.
They lost almost all their councillors in Catalonia in the last municipal elections, and a neo-Nazi centre in Barcelona was shut down thanks to a powerful local UCFR campaign.
But fascist attacks are now at a record level.
UCFR includes people with many different ideas about independence. But we are united in the need to stop the fascists, as well as the Islamophobia, antisemitism and other forms of racism that are also growing.
Only last week, antisemitic graffiti appeared on Barcelona’s oldest synagogue, and there are Islamophobic incidents on a regular basis.
The 17 March demonstration will go through the centre of Nou Barris, a working class area of Barcelona where fascists are trying to establish themselves through protests against a new mosque.
Roger, a victim of a fascist attack last year and a leading activist in the local UCFR group that was built subsequently, said, “As a working class we cannot allow our neighbourhoods to be a breeding ground for fascism.
“We have to organise a real, inclusive movement in our areas so as to leave no physical or political space for fascism.”
Laura, a member of the anticapitalist network Marx21 who is helping to build UCFR in her rural town, explained, “UCFR can act to bring very diverse people together. This also includes international solidarity.
“It is not just about the specific problems in Catalonia but about the global growth of racist movements. That’s why it’s so important to show our strength everywhere, on the same day.”
Dregs of the far right join veterans’ Newcastle demo
Anti-racists mobilised against the Veterans Against Terrorism (VAT) in Newcastle last Saturday.
The march was supported by the racist Football Lads Alliance (FLA) and Nazi groups such as the North East Infidels. The racists turned out around 350 supporters and anti-racists brought out some 160 against them.
This disparity underlines the danger if the left dosn’t take the FLA seriously because it’s not a fascist organisation.
The FLA posed as simply being against “terrorism”, but has become increasingly openly racist towards Muslims. Its leadership has increasingly targeted the left and anti-racists, such as shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. FLA leaders aim to build a racist, populist movement on the streets.
Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of Stand Up to Racism, told those opposing VAT and the FLA, “We are here because of those people who want to sow the seeds of division and hatred.”
VAT leader Richard Inman is a right wing Christian fundamentalist who believes “the entire Muslim religion is the antichrist”.
He is also a supporter of fascist Tommy Robinson and supported a march that targeted East London Mosque last October.
With the Tories in crisis and the collapse of Ukip, the right is in flux and could regroup around another formation. The whole of the left needs to take the threat of the FLA seriously.
Anti-racists in the West Midlands should come out to oppose the FLA when it marches in Birmingham on Saturday 24 March.
Another fake ‘Trojan Horse’
The Telegraph newspaper has apologised and agreed to pay costs and damages over an article that wrongly claimed there was an Islamist “Trojan Horse” plot at a primary school.
Nasim Ashraf and Hafizan Zaman were accused of plotting a “campaign of intimidation” to take over Clarksfield Primary School in Oldham with the “aim of imposing an aggressive and separatist agenda” on students.
The Telegraph said last week, “We accept that such allegations are unfounded.”
Ashraf said, “We are very pleased that The Telegraph has apologised for what it accepts are completely false allegations.
“Hafizan and I have done nothing but positively contribute in a society, which regrettably, finds many reasons to divide community.
“Our struggle for justice shall continue until we have been vindicated by other media outlets who have also churned out similar defamatory allegations against us.”