Racism has produced the Mediterranean `refugee crisis”

Today, thousands of people escaping violence are killed or die because of the color of their skin, their origins, and because there are too many of “them” to fit into the neoliberal order of exploitation and competition. At the same time, the disequilibrium of the climate originated in the global North and has had a devastating impact on the global South.

The European Union had no qualms when it defunded and thus forced the Mare Nostrum Italian program to be abandoned and then moved to the Frontex program, based on nationalist (here European) security and militarization. Mare Nostrum saved 150 000 people, while Frontex, not designed to save people, has already killed thousands with more deaths to come.

This move seemed innocuous from the United States where the militarization of civil society has already been normalized.

After the events of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, went on air to establish that, thanks to the police and the military, the city was back in order, adding that Baltimore was resilient. Resilience rhymes with silence, and, as Audre Lorde taught, “silence and invisibility go hand in hand with powerlessness”.

The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means. Organizations as respected as Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors without Borders), whose President once opposed the Western military actions in Libya, present in their latest reports evidence of this racist indifference and its consequences for real human beings. Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, continues to defend his government’s decision to involve France in the bombing of Libya. At least, another French president refused to participate to the destruction of Iraq but that was then.

Amnesty interviewed refugees to document the reality of the very long journey to the Mediterranean Sea shores. Libya is often the destination. People risk abduction and extortion by smugglers and police. Women face the additional risk of sexual violence, and all in the context of growing racial and religious intolerance. The next goal is to escape Libya where the rights of allegiance to local powers prevail over human rights. With the complicity of many, the smugglers have developed a new crude business in this zone of no rights.

The smugglers are merely taking advantage of a situation that has it source somewhere else. As Loris De Filipi, MSF President explained, “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible.” Both Amnesty and MSF are demanding a change of European policies.

The European Commission has proposed to create a quota system to distribute the migrant population among European countries according to their size and economy, “share the burden.” Thus far, only six countries out of the twenty-eight countries have agreed to participate to this program. British Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected participating in any EU migrant resettlement proposal. Her conservative counterparts in the EU have agreed with her. Instead, they have offered a military intervention to destroy the smuggling business in Libya.

The formula of “nothing for refugees and everything for the military” comes from a radically racialized world vision. The “refugee crisis” is is not a question of choice or opportunity, to use neoliberal language. People just want to escape the impossibility of life.

With about 19 000 km of walls built in the world, the message is violent and the violence it creates. We should instead look at opening the borders and learn about the racialization of humanity. Only by freeing the movement of people can the world start a desegregation process that is necessary if we want to survive. Every serious geographer agrees people thrive when they can move and not be fixed in place.

We have been told the markets should be free because they can regulate themselves. It’s not so. Having no real existence, markets, can never be free. Only the people can regulate, and only the people can know freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: MSF / Ikram N’gadi)

If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken

From my adoptive hometown of Baltimore the racialized surveillance of movement of people appears clear and loaded with violence and discrimination.

Monday was the funeral of Freddie Gray who died in police custody of unnatural causes, adding to the long list of people of color who died in police encounters. He was beaten up evidently. His fault was to run away from police for no other reason than not trusting them. The police chased him. The police do not need probable cause to arrest in high crime area. Baltimore is a high crime area all by itself and also a “Black city.” In this racially discriminatory and oppressive context, a young Black man does not want to be close to police. The latter is not there to protect him. The same is true for Black women. The city has paid over $ 5.7 million in settlement for the wrongdoing of the police since 2011. There is harassment, humiliation and constant scrutiny of movement for the African Americans in the street of Baltimore. Still, the police authorities accuse the poor and the destitute to be the threat, while the city is cutting social, public housing programs and school budget including financial support for organizations that provide support to the population while many actors with power just organize the demise of their community.

Worldwide, movement is not easy for the poor or the destitute. While the United States is the showroom of pure racism, the Mediterranean Sea is the theater of the policy of laissez-faire, let them die. As Senegalese author Fatou Diome declared, this racialized laissez-die has shaped the European Union’s dissuading policies against migration.

Since the beginning of 2015, over 39 000 people have attempted the crossing to Europe. 1776 have died just to escape the violence in Libya, Syria, Iraq or other battled countries. This means one death every two hours since the first of January. This is the highest rate ever recorded. According to the UN Commissioner of Refugees, only 10% of people running away from violence migrate to the EU but that’s enough to rekindle the conservative and nationalist spirit of this rich continent.

On April 19th, a rotten trawler with 700 migrants packed on board capsized. All 28 survivors had been on the upper level. As is often the case, women and children were locked up down in the hold. And so they all died.

This happened after 400 migrants died in the Sicily. These latest incidents shook the consciousness of some in Europe. In Italy the population came to the rescue helping the migrants in a solidarity spirit that should be the norm. But the policies of asylum don’t carry this humanistic solidarity spirit. They penalize populations coming from the South. The Dublin II Accord signed by 32 European States has stated that demand for asylum can only be filed in the first entry country. Today these countries are typically Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta.

At a recent summit EU Ministers of Foreign and Interior Affairs, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi demanded that the rest of Europe participate in rescuing and receiving this flux of migrants.

After the drama of Lampedusa that left almost 280 dead, chanting “Never again”, the EU leaders eliminated the Italian program “Mare Nostrum” that ambitiously had the ability to search and rescue in international and European waters the migrants. Mare Nostrum was replaced by the “Triton” program which is not a search-and-rescue operation and operates only on European waters. It is also less expensive. As Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs noted, the UE, is the biggest economic power of our time, somehow can’t 3 million additional Euros per month to aid migrants.

Ten measures that resembled pious hope more than coherent actions were proposed. European leaders agreed to return most of the refugees to their war-torn countries, consenting to only 5 000 permits. These decisions are marked by the neoliberal austerity mindset that imposes discrimination and misery for those left out of the political and economic order.

The leaders also agreed to increase the funds for Triton within the program of surveillance of borders called Frontex. They also affirmed that they would fight the traffickers. As the socialist group of the European Parliament argued, these actions merely add another layer of military violence to areas already ravaged by conflict.

There is an obvious discrepancy between the dramas taking place in the Mediterranean waters and the streets of Baltimore or other US cities, and the application of the right to move freely or migrate to seek safer land, safer lives.

Fatou Diome put it clearly, “If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken.” She added that the people who depart for survival already consider that their lives have no value and therefore are not afraid of losing it. The disaster has been already organized for them through imperialist wars and deprivation.

After the funeral, the riot in the streets of Baltimore shed light on the balance of power. Freddie Gray could not run away from arbitrary arrest and humiliation, and lost his life. The young rioters in Baltimore had a similar perception of their position. It is not enough to condemn violence, as Martin Luther King declared without “condemning the contingent intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention … Riot is the language of the unheard.”

These are large issues. Another type of dialogue and solidarity has to be formed if we are to restore a humanistic dialogue and discourse and free the movements of the oppressed.

(Portrait of Freddie Gray: Kim Sarabia / Colorlines)

(Photo Credit: Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters)

Mixing human rights, peace and violence against women

This year the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize. Was it for having the only human rights court in the world with binding judgments? Was it for its Erasmus program that has broken down nationalistic sentiments through education? Or was it for its new take on women’s rights with the nomination of a new commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy—Tonio Borg from Malta—who is notorious for his harsh positions against LGBT and also against women who resort to having an abortion for various reasons (including for malformations of fetus)?

Borg has been the foreign minister of Malta until his recent confirmation by the European Parliament of his nomination by 386 votes in favor and 281 against with 28 abstentions. The former commissioner John Dalli was from Malta as well, and had to resign for collusion with the tobacco industry to influence European decisions on tobacco legislation. This time, the commissioner will be in collusion with the anti women’s rights groups.

This new development highlights the ambivalence of the European Union’s women’s rights approach.

The parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1607 (2008) questions the antiabortion position of some member states: “The Assembly is nonetheless concerned that, in many of these states, numerous conditions are imposed and restrict the effective access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services. These restrictions have discriminatory effects, since women who are well informed and possess adequate financial means can often obtain legal and safe abortions more easily.”

Article 7.5 insists on the means to address restrictions on access to safe and appropriate abortion services: “7.5. adopt evidence-based appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights strategies and policies, ensuring continued improvements and expansion of non-judgmental sex and relationships information and education, as well as contraceptive services, through increased investments from the national budgets into improving health systems, reproductive health supplies and information.”

Conservative MEP (Members of European Parliaments) have argued that Borg was right when he declared that the EU had no competence on abortion rights and should not interfere with member States’ affairs on this issue. On the other side, the opposition to Borg’s nomination have insisted, “Access to adequate public health rights, including sexual and reproductive health rights is a basic right”.

Once again the question of human rights is filtered through an individualistic patriarchal lens that distorts the reality of  the lives of women and LGBT’s.

Meanwhile, MEPs from nationalist groups declared the confirmation of Borg was “a victory of common sense over prejudice and intolerance.” How should we understand common sense, prejudice and intolerance? Are these notions associated with refusing sexual and reproductive health services to women, which is tantamount to promoting violence against women?

When President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, he approved the drone program and other violent interventions throughout the Muslim world. And now, true to form, the Prize is given to the European Union just as its commission has taken a retrograde step on women’s rights. In this spiral of discourses and praxis of rights and peace, the conservative dominant power legitimizes violence against women who are the majority of the Wretched of the Earth.

 

(Photo Credit: Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation)