Monday, October 29, 2012

Tear down Fortress Europe

Seth Kusorgbor, a 46-year-old man from Ghana, is a refugee living in the Hal Far refugee center on the Mediterranean archipelago of Malta (just south of Sicily off the toe of Italy). Mr. Kusorgbor was burned & disfigured when his tent caught fire from a candle  knocked over in the middle of the night. Hal Far, one of 15 refugee centers on Malta, houses nearly 1,000 mostly African refugees in filthy, rat-infested, overcrowded tents without proper sanitation or clean water. It’s frigid in the winter & tabletop cookers are the only means of heating the tents. There are regular power cuts at the facility so residents (inmates?) use candles for light & some measure of warmth, substantially increasing fire risk.

The Maltese government only provides emergency medical treatment so Mr. Kusorgbor had to spend all his savings (which he needed for traffickers to take him to Italy) on medicines. Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres runs a clinic at Hal Far using the medical triage system. In 2009 it suspended operations because the Maltese government refused to provide even minimum hygienic conditions for treatment of such things as infectious diseases. All of the immigrants have just come through a brutal odyssey, many from war-torn countries (60% of the immigrants at Malta are from Somalia), crossing deserts & in rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea. So most come with severe psychological distress, malnourished, with skin, respiratory, & infectious conditions. They were either rescued or intercepted at sea by the Maltese military which has search & rescue jurisdiction in that part of the Sea.

Conditions are so inhumane in Malta detention centers that several agencies have made formal complaints to the European Union (EU); there have also been several rebellions by immigrants protesting conditions. In response to the pressure, the European Commission said it will increase surveillance of detention centers in Malta. But of course, the EU has no intention of doing a damn thing to ameliorate conditions; Malta is a dumping ground where most immigrants are confined for nearly two years, denied migrant status to Europe, & then dumped back in Africa--including Libya where violence against African immigrants is a humanitarian crisis.

The EU has no intention of resolving this immigration crisis because its policies directly mandate it. Passports & visas for travel anywhere were not generally required until WWI. One of the primary causes of WWI was the conflict (between Germany, other European countries, Russia, Japan, & the US) over colonial partition of the world, including Asia, Africa, & the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Passports were a method of controlling/deterring the flow of immigrants from those colonies. The EU was formed to solve the problems of global competition, making European countries stronger against the US & Japan, but using the language of internationalism. Europe was now borderless & EU citizens were free to move & work without showing passports. Europe was not just a superstate but a supra-state, a higher & more harmonious form of political organization than the nation-state. National rivalry would be replaced with collaboration. Don’t you just love how they peddle baloney as filet mignon!?

In fact, the EU is riven with conflict & we witness it now breaking down before our eyes. It doesn’t work for “Europeans” & was always an exclusionary, xenophobic, racist Iron Curtain system of border patrols & detention centers. Its critics appropriately call it, “Fortress Europe.” It has encouraged racism & white supremacy, fomented the rise of neo-Nazi & Islamophobic groups in every country, exacerbated tensions between nationalities, broken down international solidarity, & made the lives of millions of immigrants a living hell. It has made the Mediterranean Sea a grave yard for immigrants.

The EU is now proposing a $410 million project deploying drones over the Mediterranean Sea along with increased satellite activity & sensors to keep an eye on immigrants--not for surveillance of inhumane conditions in detention centers, not to save them when their boats are sinking--but robotic eyes to intimidate & force them to return to the African continent. “European” political leaders & trade union officials accepted the neoliberal EU project as advancing working people’s interests. Tell that to the Greeks, the Portuguese, the Spanish, et al! Immigration rights are human rights; immigration rights are workers rights & the sooner “European” workers get that in their bones, the sooner Fortress Europe can be torn down & genuine, enduring bonds of international solidarity built up. (Photo by Luiz Santos from

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