Refugees deserve help, but what about the EU poor?

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
A homeless woman from north Wales, sits huddled under a sleeping bag next to her dog Casper in a shopping arcade near the Victoria rail station in central London © Chris Helgren
Aylan Kurdi has achieved more in death than he ever could in life. The image of his three-year old body lying just beyond the waves on a Turkish beach, will forever taunt the West with the lie of its claim to being synonymous with civilization and justice.

Ignorance

It says much about the ignorance that permeates Western culture when the picture of one dead child can cause so many to emote over their lattes, compel others to embark on collections and aid missions to refugees in Calais, Hungary, Greece, and Turkey, without eliciting the slightest understanding of why Aylan and countless others like him have perished; and why so many human beings are all of a sudden desperate to come to Europe, despite the huge risk such a perilous journey involves.

The mass exodus of refugees from the Middle East did not begin with the death of this three-year old Syrian boy. He is not the first child to have drowned in the attempt and nor will he be the last. This exodus has been taking place for three or four years – years in which European governments have extended themselves in doing their utmost to deepen the conflict, societal collapse, and instability that now scars a large swathe of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

In this they have been aided by a complicit media, which has succeeded in reducing the world to a struggle between the West - that pillar of human rights, democracy, and civilization - and everyone else, by implication those who are against human rights, democracy, and civilization. This narrative could only succeed with the acquiescence of a populace that has willingly suspended disbelief when it comes to the chaos and conflict that in recent years has been the rule rather than the exception across much of the world.

The blood on Netanyahu’s hands

An illustration of the grievous consequences of this unquestioning acceptance of their government and media’s own narrative is embodied in the imminent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UK. Here, then, we have a government and a population lamenting the death of this Syrian child in advance of a visit to the UK of a man with the blood of hundreds just like him on his hands, a leader who will be accorded a red carpet welcome and treated with the kind of respect and deference that makes a mockery of anything approaching justice.

Palestinian maths teacher Ali Wahdan moves his motorised wheelchair past the ruins of his house, that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, in Beit Hanoun town, in the northern Gaza Strip July 6, 2015. © Suhaib Salem

Thankfully, not all are blind to this nauseating hypocrisy. In the UK, for example, a petition calling for Netanyahu’s arrest for war crimes has managed to attract enough signatures to trigger a debate in parliament. But, even so, the reality is that the likes of David Cameron will bend over backwards to emphasize Britain’s friendship with this apartheid state, thus spitting on the graves and the suffering of people whose only crime is that they dare to exist.

Difficult dilemma

Across Western Europe, after the wave of pro-refugee sentiment we are witnessing inevitably dies down, wherein people previously welcomed with the fist of fury are for the first time being treated as human beings in desperate need of help, governments are going to be faced with a difficult dilemma.

Under the policy of austerity that has reigned across Europe over the past few years we have seen workers, the poor, disabled, and the most economically disadvantaged hit with cuts to their incomes, cuts to the public services upon which they depend, resulting in many cases in the imposition of poverty and despair. This has all been done in the name of tackling an economic recession brought to the world courtesy of a banking and financial system that has more in common with a casino on the Las Vegas Strip than institutions entrusted with the pensions and investments of millions of people.

The point is that austerity has been sold and implemented on the basis that there is no alternative, that the money required to fund public services, pay salaries and benefits is no longer available. Yet now, all of a sudden, people forced to suffer the worst under austerity are finding out that this is nonsense - that when it comes to absorbing thousands of refugees from the Middle East there actually is money available.

This contradiction is pregnant with danger inasmuch as the absorption of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere, unless accompanied by immediate investment in infrastructure, services, housing, and so on, may only succeed in raising cultural and social tensions, providing ammunition for the far right and those for whom refugees, migrants, and foreigners are deserving of nothing but enmity.

Hypocrisy of mainstream politicians

As for those politicians now clambering to announce they would be willing to invite Syrian refugees into their homes, or into their second homes, how many homeless people do you think they walk or drive past in London, Berlin, or Paris on a daily basis without so much as a thought for the despair so many of their citizens are experiencing each and every day?

This is not to suggest these refugees are not deserving or worthy of help. They clearly are, especially from those countries whose hands are covered in the blood of millions across the Middle East with their role in devastating the region, leading directly to the birth of ISIS and the proliferation of terrorism and the resulting refugee crisis, one that is now biblical in scope.

Syrian refugees arrive on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. © Dimitris Michalakis

But by the same token, we cannot allow hypocrisy to prosper. There is a direct and causal relationship between the West’s foreign policy and a world that has never been so polarized and divided between rich and poor, developed and undeveloped. Indeed the wealth of the northern hemisphere is predicated on the poverty and immiseration of the southern hemisphere. As such, it could be argued that those arriving in Europe in their thousands now are merely collecting a debt of obligation that has been long overdue.

Here we come to the most nauseating aspect of this crisis. For years now the West has extended itself in trying to isolate the Assad government, demonizing it as morally equivalent to ISIS and other terrorist groups that have written a new page in history when it comes to barbarity and evil. They have facilitated this evil and until we see a reorientation of Western policy towards Syria, this barbarity will go on and on.

EU now functions in name only

Taking their lead from their political leaders, people across Western Europe are volunteering to take in refugees, tapping into a mood of humanitarian concern for the welfare of people now being allowed into Europe where before they were not. As for the EU, it now functions in name only, with its disunity, division, and dysfunction incredible to watch. Unable to arrive at a coordinated, cohesive response to this crisis, we now have a situation that demands the involvement of the UN.

This refugee crisis is not a European crisis it is a global humanitarian crisis caused by those in position of power who view the world through a skewed lens, reducing it to one giant chessboard upon which governments can be moved around, removed, and replaced at will.

‘Might is right’ can never supplant justice as the basis of international affairs. Each and every refugee is the victim of the former and a consequence of the absence of the latter.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.