Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Nine days in July, 1938

July 25, 2020

Part 4 and end – Lesbos and the shadow of Evian

The al-Assad family that has been ruling Syria since 1971 fits right in with a long list of venal and corrupt families who are prone to using extreme violence to keep their power and – more importantly – their business interests intact. From the Kim dynasty in North Korea through to the Obiangs in Equatorial Guinea, the now deposed Duvalier clan in Haiti, the Gnassingbes in Togo or the terrorism-spreading House of Saud, they all share one overriding characteristic, whch is that they consider the countries they rule as their private property, to be distributed and looted as they see fit. One of the most bewildering scenes of the last decade is the blind support lent to the Assad government by some deeply misguided – or bought – elements of the Left, who would do well to read this from an ideologically impeccable source.

I have been loath to use the term ‘Arab Spring’, as it is historically illiterate. The term ‘Spring’ refers to one episode in Eastern European history, which happened in Prague 1968 and was crushed under Soviet tanks. The term also suggests that the people rising up against autocratic and corrupt governments like that of Ben Ali in Tunisia (yes, another one of those clans) were following some kind of script. This is the same arrant nonsense that compelled a Dutch editor to ask me whether the popular uprising in Burkina Faso that chased Blaise Compaoré (and his clans, yes) from power in October 2014 was somehow inspired by the Arab Spring. No it wasn’t: it was inspired by the people being royally fed up with a corrupt dynasty, supported by France, that refused to leave the scene. And if there were any inspiration, it surely would be a similar uprising in neighbouring Mali, which had dethroned the military dictator Moussa Traore, in 1991. Or indeed, in Burkina Faso itself where the people had chased away an incompetent head of state…as early as 1966.

So, something similar started in Syria in 2011. One BBC reporter who covered those very early protests, commented that the Assad dictatorship was “very very well constructed” and that the people oppossing it were “very very brave”. As Assad’s extreme repression intensified and Syria descended into civil war, millions started leaving the country. Soon, the EU’s Evian Paradigm would hit the buffers.

Lesbos, Greece. Picture accompanying an article by Ingeborg Beugel, retrieved from De Groene Amsterdammer.

There is just one country between Syria and the outer limits of the European Union. And when Turkey held some three million Syrian refugees within its borders by 2014 something had to give. At least, that was clear to all, except for the Brusels bureaucrats, still busy preparing deals with murders and butchers south and east of the Mediterranean to Keep ‘Em There. ‘Nobody saw this coming,’ Polman cites Kati Piri, a Member of the European Parliament. Until the proverbial dam burst, in 2015.

One of the many points this book makes so eloquently is that the refugee issue is always described as humanitarian, an active denial of the local, regional and international politics causing the existence of refugees. This absolves distant rich actors of all responsibility: we just give a little money to create a safe space or a camp somewhere and then we publish nice pictures of grateful refugees eating the crumbs from our table. Another point the book makes very well concerns the rule regarding countries that are first port of call for arriving refugees: the rule, rigorously followed, says that those countries must process the arrivals. What this means in practice is the total absence of any European solidarity when it comes to receiving refugees. As the uniquely insensitive Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte puts it: well, you know, those countries that live next to refugee crises just have bad luck.

In short, the Keep ‘Em There dogma remains firmly in place once refugees have crossed an external EU border. When they came to Greece in ever larger numbers it was not the EU’s problem – nope: it was Greece’s. Next thing we know: this, the overcrowded camps where desperate people are stored, places my good friend and colleague Ingeborg Beugel, who reports on Camp Moria and other places always and consistently describes as The Horror Camps. Towards the end of the book, Polman takes us to Lesbos, and describes the scenes she finds there: bewildered refugees asking questions about where to go, volunteers blowing bubbles to amuse the refugee children, the masses of life vests on the beach, the utter squalor in the camps and the maddening bureaucratic blockades refugees face when they want to move on.

With one and only one exception, when the German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally deblocked the situation as the whole of southeastern Europe and the rest were slamming their borders shut. In a short-lived gesture that nearly ended her political life she allowed Syrian refugees through and into Germany. But the idea that the ‘burden’ (barely equivalent to the annual intake of a single Dutch amusement park, Polman drily notes) would be equally shared among fellow European member states proved illusory. The borders slammed shut again. And the next thing we saw was the infamous deal with Turkey, discussed in the last instalment…and real violence against refugees trying to land on Europe’s shores. So much for the much-vaunted European values of democracy and humanism. After all, death already is an accepted instrument, employed very effectively to Keep ‘Em Away. The migration route across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe is the deadliest in the world and may have claimed as many as  30,000 lives since the EU came into being in 1993.

Is there a solution to all of this? There are hints in Polman’s book here and there, like Spain’s decision in 2005 to give residence permits to 600,000 migrants who had been in the country for longer than three years and without a criminal record, which led to hysterical reactions elsewhere on the old and ageing continent. The number is, of course, insignificant, as Polman keeps emphasizing. This is a major contribution of this book: wide-ranging and meticulously researched it provides perspective, facts and history instead of hysterics. It also has an extensive Glossary to explain the complicated and sometimes crass terminology being used regarding migration and the movement of refugees. It chronicles the shameful history of deliberate failure, since Evian.

But the biggest contribution of Nobody Wants Them is that it buries forever the myth that European politicians somehow buckle under populist pressure and develop their anti-migrant and anti-refugee policies. This is complete nonsense: Polman’s unearthing of the Evian Conference clearly demonstrates that this has been standard policy for almost nine decades. But the standard policy is untenable, living as we do in a world with obscene inequalities, with wars that are fought using arms that land huge profits in Europe (and indeed the US, Russia and China), which then closes its eyes for the consequences, with aid money that is used to ensure that the migration routes from poor nations becomes even more deadly than they already are…the list goes on.

The Evian Paradigm may be alive and well. It is also obsolete. Given the challenges ahead – including demographics, chronic instability and climate change – it is high time to do better. Much better.

 

Nine days in July, 1938

July 23, 2020

Part 3 – Brussels

“This country is run by gangsters.”

Bone dry assessment by a Nairobi-based journalist, as we were discussing president Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan, some nine years ago; me as a Radio Netherlands Worldwide editor, he as a regional correspondent. Bashir, the homicidal autocrat deposed by popular uprising a year ago and still wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for – among other things – mass murdering the people of Darfur Province, was of course an ideal partner for the execution of the EU’s policy of Keeping ‘Em Out. Sudan received a cool 200 million euros in 2016, to beef up its border security. The people hunting down refugees, notes Polman drily, were the same folks who had been hunting Darfuris. The former Janjaweed killers on horseback transformed themseves into the Rapid Support Force charged with border protection. EU oficials in Khartoum and Brussels, meanwhile, perfected the Art of Playing Innocence Personified.

Brussels has developed a habit of seeking out and partnering with extremely dodgy characters. Polman presents a whole raft of such deals in her book, including the one with Sudan, a depressing indication of the lengths to which Europe is prepared to go to ‘protect’ its white-as-snow innocent inhabitants from the – let’s not mince words here – darker-skinned hordes trying to scale the walls of Fortress Europe. If that takes making deals with homicidal maniacs, so be it. Gangsters? Brussels says: no problem. Mafia types who turn refugee centres into slave markets? Brussels says: why not?

The former Libyan leader Colonel Muamar Ghadaffi, deposed in a criminal enterprise undertaken by former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, former US president Barrack Obama and his former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, understood the xenophobic feelings of the European underbelly very well. When he was still bestest of friends with the British, the French and the Italians, Ghadaffi’s aid was solicited in the epic European struggle to Keep ‘Em There. Refugees or migrants…? That distinction had already been buried, as the Evian Paradigm took hold ever more firmly, while the end of the Cold War faded from view.

Threatening to let “millions of Africans” through so they could land on Europe’s wealthy shores, the Colonel was clearly angling for deals that would give him access to Brussel’s ever larger funds for outside border control, while he knew that a blind eye would be turned to the torture and killings that were routine in his detention camps. Whatever his forced departure from Libya has wrought, and all of it is chaos that has travelled across the Sahel and to the Atlantic shore, the basic European policy remains firmly in place: we make deals with whoever happens to run a particular portion of what remains of this vast North African country, even if that includes uniformed officials to whom people smugglers pay protection money.

These are some of the many practical examples Polman cites. They stem from something that sounds very friendly: the European Neighbourhood Policy. These are anti-migration deals made with governments to the south of the European Union, designed to keep as many migrants and refugees out as possible. As you know by now, these are small numbers. The vast majority of refugees are safely holed up in their camps and have nowhere to go, by design… This friendly neighbourhood policy, which I have on numerous occasions called by its proper name – blackmail – goes hand in hand with the equally friendly militarisation of EU border protection, spearheaded by the Frontex agency. This militarisation goes deep into the Sahel region and far out on the seas off Africa’s shores.

It is hard to find the most cynical deal of them all among the many you will find in this book, none of which register in the mind of your average EU citizen. But both the EU-facilitated slave markets in Libya and the EU deal with Turkey expose how migrants and refugees are considered objects, to which you can attach a price tag. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s erstwhile Prime Minister and later the country’s increasingly autocratic president, made it extremely explicit: Europe, how much are you prepared to pay me to Keep ‘Em Away? Three billion euros, say? Fortress Europe is an expensive folly but it remains the only game in town.

Brussels said: sure, yes, and thus ensured that Erdoğan had the leaders of the largest trading bloc in the world by the short and curlies. This grossly unedifying horse-trading led to the EU-Turkey deal of March 2016, a panick response to the events of 2015, the subject of the last part of this mini-series. Oh and the main architects of that infamous deal? The Dutch, acting in pecisely the same way as they did in the 1930s, when the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany went down on their knees at the border, to be let in, only to be told: Sorry, we’re full. The Evian Paradigm is alive and well.

Conclusion is next.