NEWS that a further 23 refugees have drowned in Greek waters this weekend are a grim reminder that crisis is lapping at the shores of our society.
Boris Johnson likes to present his government as a new beginning, the first secure majority government since the bankers’ crash and one which offers Britain a new start outside the European Union.
But the truth is his election last month changes very little.
That’s certainly true of the refugee crisis, where newly disciplined ranks of Conservative MPs voted in unison against Labour’s amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill offering a safe haven for child refugees.
The Tories echo rightwingers such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini or our home-grown bigot Katie Hopkins when it comes to refugees.
“It is all the fault of human traffickers. Yes, some people drown trying to reach Europe, some of them are children and it is all very tragic — but by attempting to rescue these people, or offer them safety, we only make the problem worse by encouraging more to risk the dangerous journey.”
This is the poisonous logic that saw the EU cancel its search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, putting the onus on volunteer boat crews instead, with even these facing hefty fines, confiscation of their equipment and even lengthy prison terms as the Italian government seeks to discredit their humanitarian rescue efforts by slandering them as traffickers.
It also serves to justify British government attacks on the social security system, with the myth that we are a “soft touch” when it comes to claiming benefits used as an excuse for attacks on all our rights.
The truth is that few people risk everything for a “promised land” of imagined riches. The refugee crisis is not driven by the desirability of living in Europe. It is driven by instability, war and climate change in the countries people are fleeing.
Labour was right to call on the government to offer safety to unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe.
These are vulnerable children who need our help, and tens of thousands like them have gone missing, sold into modern slavery or the sex trade to face lives of barely imaginable abuse. Shame on every MP who voted against this act of basic humanity.
But offering safety is not enough. The refugee crisis isn’t a standalone issue.
It is directly linked to failed states and war — which are themselves linked to foreign policy choices by our government and its allies, both through wars we engage in directly (such as those that have laid waste to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya), those fought by terrorist groups with our tacit assistance (as in Syria), and those in which we supply arms or logistical aid to the aggressor (as we do with the Saudi war on Yemen).
It is directly linked to worsening poverty across much of the Third World. The phrase “unequal treaties” calls to mind colonial officials forcing humiliating terms on defeated foreign enemies such as China. But it could equally describe the network of international trade dominated by a handful of giant corporations and policed by the likes of the World Bank and IMF today.
One of the most refreshing parts of Labour’s vision under Jeremy Corbyn was Barry Gardiner’s willingness in the international trade brief to use our departure from the EU to rewrite some of these rules. But under our current government that is not going to happen.
Nor is a Conservative government going to address the elephant in the room — the climate change catastrophe which is setting Australia alight, making climate more unpredictable, droughts and floods more severe, across huge swathes of the planet.
If these causes are not addressed then the refugee crisis will only worsen. The need for a radical transformation of our society does not diminish because the Tories were re-elected last month. It only becomes more urgent.
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