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Europe’s hidden shame – a system to criminalise refugees

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Issue 2458
African migrants organising in Paris last week
African migrants organising in Paris last week (Pic: New Anticapitalist Party NPA)

The French state went to war last week—with a group of poor Eritrean and Sudanese migrants.

Fathi from Sudan told Socialist Worker, “Twice the police attacked us. They beat people up, and some are still in hospital. And they arrested some people who are still in detention.”

The migrants had stayed under the La Chappelle metro station in Paris for months. Hundreds of people have demonstrated to defend them, including Frede, a socialist in Paris.

She told Socialist Worker, “Officials said they were working with NGOs to get places for the migrants to stay and help them claim asylum.

“But many weren’t offered places and a lot of others were temporary.

“So the migrants came back and we organised to help them—all the left parties and NGOs—to get food and what we could.”

On Monday of last week the police escalated the situation.

“Everyone was very shocked by the level of violence,” Frede said. “The police hit many of the migrants. After that there was the first of the bigger demonstrations.”

The struggle is emblematic of what migrants face across Europe.

Around 200 people began a hunger strike at the Amygdaleza detention centre in Greece on Wednesday of last week.

Javied Aslam, president of the Union of Immigrant Workers in Greece

Javied Aslam, president of the Union of Immigrant Workers in Greece (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Javied Aslam, president of the Union of Immigrant Workers, told Socialist Worker, “People are supposed to be held for no more than six months.

“But dozens have been there longer. So they are striking and demanding better food and conditions.”

Their strike is the latest of many at the notorious centre, where people are kept in hot metal sheds, beaten and denied medical attention.

It highlights the real attitude that European politicians have towards migrants.

Pinar Aksu came to Britain from Turkey as a refugee when she was a child. She was detained with her family at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. 

Pinar said, “Europe should protect refugees. But once they get to Italy, or even manage to get to Britain, there isn’t much help for them.

“Almost two million Syrians have crossed into Turkey. But it’s much harder for anyone trying to get into Europe.”

Javied said, “Many people come to Greece across the sea, and many die in the sea. But those who survive end up in detention centres. 

“The Syriza-led government promised to close these centres, and we demand that it does. We’ve seen if there aren’t protests and strikes you cannot get your rights. ”


People only make the crossing because they are desperate. Fathi was a journalist in Sudan but had to leave as his life was at risk.

“We leave because we have no other options,” he said. “We had war and dictatorship. Someone high up in the government party told me if I didn’t stop writing they would kill me.”

He managed to get to Turkey and tried several times to cross by boat to Greece. Greek patrols tow migrant boats they catch back to Turkey. 

Fathi said, “The man who’d taken our money told one refugee to sink the boat if they saw the Greek police boat. He said that then they would save us.

“But they didn’t—three people from Afghanistan drowned.

“The rest of us were only saved because one person had a mobile phone and called the Turkish coastguard.”

Once Fathi got to Greece he was repeatedly attacked by racists.

“They beat me and set my house on fire,” he said. “I went to the police and they said I should leave.”

Pinar Aksu, activist and former detainee

Pinar Aksu, activist and former detainee (Pic: Josh Brown)

If migrants complain about police treatment they risk being in dispute with police. This can be used to turn down citizenship applications.

Three years after leaving home, Fathi arrived in Paris—as France was in the thick of its own clampdown on migrants.

The epicentre has been the port town of Calais. Thousands of people there have been driven from squats and camps to a new “welcome centre”.

But it has room for none of the men and just a fraction of the women and children.

The rest are forced to camp in a reclaimed rubbish tip around its edges. NGOs that tried to fill the gap left by the state’s refusal to care have begun to “strike”.

They say their resources can no longer stretch far enough to help and they want the state to accept its responsibility.

Furious president of the NGO Calais Openness and Humanity Severine Mayer said, “The mayor Natacha Bouchart dares to claim Calais has shown toughness and humanity.

“Toughness we’ve seen—fences, barbed wire, earthen walls, arrests and segregation. But humanity? Where is that?”

This model is now being applied elsewhere. Frede said, “They are trying to turn Paris into Calais, into a town where migrants are chased out of sight and into hiding.”

Frede explained that not everyone who gets to France is trying to get to Britain.

“Some are,” she said. “But those who want to remain here don’t necessarily have the right to claim asylum. 

“The policy of the government is generally to demand the expulsion of as many people as possible.

“There’s a real climate of xenophobia as the Labour-type Socialist Party government keeps passing racist and repressive laws.”

Javied pointed out, “The people in detention centres are from different countries. But 90 or 95 percent of them are Muslim. So this is an Islamophobic policy, a racist policy.”


The treatment of refugees is linked with other forms of racism.

Food worker Andrei Dudau from Romania is an activist in the Unite union in Britain. 

He told Socialist Worker, “The situation for migrants here is getting worse. I keep hearing of more racist attacks.

“Two guys I know have decided to go back because they don’t feel safe. With the referendum on the EU this will get worse.

“The right wing media promote fear and the politicians aren’t helping. You expect it from the Tories, but I was shocked to hear Labour people coming out with some of the same things.”

But Andrei said even vulnerable people can fight back.

He said, “People say, ‘I can’t complain. I don’t want to lose my job.’ Being in a union makes a difference.

“And I think some British people don’t realise that the Tories try out policies on migrants. 

“If they can take rights from us, they’ll be taking them from you next.”

The situation in each country is unique, but the racism and repression in common shows the nasty reality of the EU.

As Frede put it, “The EU has a system of immigration controls, not a system for welcoming migrants. 

“The EU stands against migrants, not with them.”

‘Solidarity’ as a barbed wire fence

(Graphic by Socialist Worker, incorporating razor wire photo by Tom Woodward on Flickr

(Graphic by Socialist Worker, incorporating razor wire photo by Tom Woodward on Flickr

Half of the funds for the EU’s Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows Programme are used for border control.

Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. It had trouble being accepted partly because its border with Turkey had no fence to keep non-Europeans out.

The Bulgarian government’s “containment plan” aims to prove to the EU that its borders are secure enough to make it a member with full rights. 

The first 20-mile section of razor wire fence was completed last September. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented police beating asylum seekers and pushing them back over the border before they can claim refugee status.

Fortress Europe spreads further than many realise. It pushes people to travel in unsafe boats by blocking off safer routes into Europe. The Amnesty report states, “The measures employed by the EU do not stop at its actual borders but extend deep into neighbouring countries.”

The EU and its member states “funded reception and detention centres for migrants and refugees in countries where there are serious concerns about access to asylum procedures in detention, such as Turkey and Ukraine.”

David Cameron’s latest plan is to try and redirect aid to poor countries towards strengthening their borders to stop migrants leaving.

The racist myth of the fake refugees

Daily Mail newspaper columnist Max Hastings managed to fit most of the right wing myths about refugees into one article last week. 

He whined that the British navy has been reduced to a “ferry service for migrants”.

Hastings said the people rescued by a British navy vessel were all “economic migrants”.

The EU’s Fortress Europe policy is based on a myth that there are two kinds of migrants. There are “real” refugees to be welcomed—and “economic migrants” to be kept out.

Everyone trying to enter is assumed to be an “economic migrant”. These are assumed to be a drain on society—and a threat.

But a recent Amnesty International report pointed out that, “almost half of those irregularly entering Europe are fleeing conflict and persecution in countries like Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Somalia.”

Travelling to improve your life is nothing to be ashamed of. 

But the myth fuels prejudice against people who move to work—including those whose rights the EU is supposed to defend.

Figures for migration to Britain show that the number of migrants from EU states has increased.

But the largest numbers come from groups outside the EU.


These include skilled workers, many from South East Asia, and students, with an increase from China.

Neither group is affected by negotiations around internal EU migration.

But the constant anti-migrant racism affects all groups. And whatever the rhetoric, this racism comes from the top.

The German government presents itself as the most pro-immigration of the major EU countries. 

Yet this spring the Labour-type Social Democratic Party demanded a law to reduce immigration from non-EU countries. 

Like David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel wants to control immigration without excluding skilled workers.

Mainstream racism boosts right wing populist parties—and mainstream parties move right in response.

Ukip in Britain, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the Freedom Party in Austria scapegoat eastern European workers for social problems.

In Germany the Islamophobic group Pegida recently got 9.6 percent of the vote in the Dresden mayoral election. 

Candidate Tatjana Festerling condemned asylum seekers who move “because here there’s somewhere nice to live and you get dough from the state”.

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