Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why the West must take responsibility for migrant crisis


By Rasna Warah

You reap what you sow. For every action there is a reaction. Choices have consequences. These are words of wisdom that have been passed down from generation to generation.

So when President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to bomb Iraq in 2003, ostensibly to uproot Al-Qaeda (which was not in Iraq at the time) and to destroy weapons of mass destruction (which they did not find), anti-war protesters warned that the consequences of these military actions would be dire.

Islamic State

Indeed, with strongman Saddam Hussein ousted, Iraq fragmented into factions, including Islamic State, which has set up base in that country and neighbouring Syria.

The United States’ and Britain’s “war on terror” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks spread from Iraq across the world, leading to the increasing militarisation of entire regions through these countries’ support for and use of armed rebel groups, targeted killings, drone attacks, and illegal detentions.

In 2011 when Nato forces bombed Libya on the pretext of protecting civilians, but which was really a ploy to rid the country of the dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, the world watched as if this was a good thing. When Gaddafi was lynched by a mob armed by Nato forces, the world applauded.

Libya, which enjoyed one of the world’s highest levels of literacy, GDP per capita, and longevity, and had some of the best infrastructure in Africa, would soon become a basket case. And so it has, with rebels and factions, including the Islamic State, fighting for its control, and its shores becoming a leading conduit for human traffickers.

Thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced since 2003. Meanwhile the terrorists are wreaking havoc on the world’s oldest civilisations.

Ancient cities and monuments of immeasurable historic value are being destroyed in Iraq and Syria by zealots who appear to be using a Nazi manual to carry out their heinous deeds.

In their bid to bring about regime change in Iraq and Libya, the United States and Nato powers unleashed turmoil, anarchy, bloodshed, and displacement in the Middle East and Libya.

Nearly four million Syrians have fled their country in the past few years. These refugees are risking their lives and those of their families to reach Europe.

American and European leaders are acting as if this crisis is not of their making. Except for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has an open-door policy towards Syrian refugees, Western leaders are viewing the refugee crisis as an unfortunate intrusion into their ordered lives; the refugees are being depicted as barbarians at the gate, even though it was the destabilisation policies and actions of Western leaders that created the conditions that led to the refugee crisis in the first place.

The mainstream Western media are giving the erroneous impression that the vast majority of the refugees are fleeing to Europe, which is not the case.

Turkey has borne the brunt of this crisis and is now the world’s top refugee hosting country. More than a million refugees have fled to Lebanon, a small country where refugees make up a fifth of the population.

Curiously, the international media has replaced the word “refugee” with “migrant”, as if these two words mean the same thing. Leading news organisations refer to the phenomenon of hordes of people entering Europe as a “migrant crisis” rather than a refugee crisis.

A migrant is a person who works or lives in a country of which he is not a citizen. A refugee is a person who flees his country because of conflict or persecution.

As Danish scholar Jan Oberg observed, using the word “migrants” instead of “refugees” takes attention away from what the refugees are fleeing and Western governments’ complicity in creating the crisis.

Humanitarian crisis

Others say that what is unfolding in the Middle East is not a humanitarian crisis but a war crime, the result of meddling Western powers’ support for armed factions and militias, which are now waging wars on their own people and dividing countries.

The United States and European countries, Britain in particular, sowed the seeds of the current refugee crisis. The least that these countries can do now is to let the refugees in.

Rasna Warah is an analyst and commentator based in Nairobi.