Over three million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on 24 February, with the UN declaring the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. There has been an outpouring of sympathy for those fleeing war from millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people have even offered to open up their homes to those displaced. But the ‘generosity’ of the governments of the West reeks of hypocrisy.
The EU border force, Frontex, drew an iron ring around the EU in recent years, allowing thousands of refugees fleeing imperialist wars in the Middle East to drown in the Mediterranean. They have paid Erdogan to stuff refugees into squalid camps, and have fired tear gas to repulse African refugees trying to enter the Spanish territory of Ceuta. Meanwhile, the Biden administration still routinely separates children from their parents at the Mexican border. The relatively accommodating approach to Ukrainian refugees we see today is not based on humanitarianism. It is a cynical move to shore up public opinion behind western imperialism, against Russia.
Moreover, the treatment of Ukrainian refugees has been not nearly as generous as the western ruling classes would have us believe. While some countries have taken in large numbers, others have accepted a bare handful, despite these imperialist reptiles being chiefly responsible for the Ukraine war to begin with. We reject their crocodile tears and say: down with borders, down with war, down with imperialism, down with capitalism!
The EU says it is prepared to grant Ukranians a blanket right to stay, study and work throughout its 27 nations for up to three years. Obviously, Marxists believe all refugees (not only from Ukraine, but everywhere ravaged by capitalist crisis and war) should receive the maximum level of solidarity and support. But it is galling when such provisions arise from the same ‘Fortress Europe’ that spent millions over the past decade on brutally repelling refugees from its borders.
By making border crossings as difficult and dangerous as possible, the EU’s border policies have led to thousands of deaths. As recently as 2020, a £91 million contract was awarded to an arms company to build drones which feed back to the HQ of the EU’s border force, Frontex. The drones focus on the Libyan search and rescue zone, allowing coastguards to perform violent ‘push-backs’ against boats trying to cross the Mediterranean, blocking refugees from Europe’s shores. Meanwhile, anyone who succeeds in making the journey can be assured of facing poverty, unemployment and legal persecution on arrival.
The vast majority of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Poland (about 1.7 million), although many have also travelled to Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, Germany, France, Ireland and elsewhere. The Polish government pledged to set up an 8bn złoty (£1.34bn) fund for people fleeing the war, including a one-off payment of 300 złoty (£50) for each refugee. But only a matter of months ago, the country was locked in a geopolitical spat with Belarusian President Lukashenko, with thousands of desperate refugees from Iraq, Syria and Africa trapped in the middle.
These huddled masses were directed to the Poland-Belarus and Lithuania-Belarus borders by Lukashenko in retaliation against EU sanctions. Unable to return to Belarus, they were repulsed by troops at the EU’s border. With nowhere else to go, at least 19 refugees died in the freezing forests of no-man’s land. Far from seeing these refugees as human beings who needed assistance, the Lithuanian Prime Minister described them as weapons in a “hybrid attack” against their country.
Poland has since escalated its border control measures, approving a £300 million wall with thermal cameras and motion sensors, blocking aid groups, and deploying troops to repulse refugees. The British government, which now cries crocodile tears for the fate of Ukrainian refugees, even sent members of the army over to help Poland reinforce its border.
We saw a similar volte-face from Greece, which acted quickly to send blankets, tents and face-masks for Ukrainian refugees. Up until now, the right-wing New Democracy of Greece government served as a loyal gendarme of Europe’s borders. A report published just last week by the UN exposed the violent human rights abuses that refugees face along the Greek land and sea border: with men, women and children being forced into the water, or stripped and pushed back in harsh weather conditions.
The European Commission has poured €700 million into constructing refugee ‘camps’ (effectively prisons) on the islands of the Aegean Sea. Then there was the EU-Turkey agreement concerning refugees in 2016, in which the EU paid the reactionary Erdogan regime €6 billion to ensure that refugees arriving in Greece were ‘returned’ to Turkey. There, they were subject to brutal treatment and kept in camps in conditions of squalor.
And this month, literally at the same time as the Spanish government was issuing welcoming words to Ukrainian refugees, a video emerged of migrants from North Africa being brutally beaten by Spanish border guards. In response to these images, the Spanish government said that Spain’s armed forces acted “within a legal framework and with a criteria of appropriateness and proportionality.”
Meanwhile in Europe's southern border Spanish police brutally beats up refugees trying to cross over pic.twitter.com/wJJYqhIuTI— Jorge Martin (@marxistJorge) March 6, 2022
Stirring up racism
The ruling classes of Europe have never shied from stirring up reactionary, anti-refugee rhetoric in the past, to distract the working class from the real criminals at home. Refugees were accused of driving down wages, draining public finances, taking up hospital beds and housing, etc. Consider French President Emmanuel Macron, who referred to refugees fleeing from the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last year as potential “illegal threats”, adding that France would only welcome refugees who “share our values”.
Of course, the hypocritical double-standards of the European ruling classes in Europe by no means suggests that they are going to cease whipping up racism against refugees in the future. As Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov, put it: “These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people... This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists…”
These racist attitudes, which proved politically convenient in the past, also extend to non-European migrants from Ukraine! Many black and Arab people have reported being actively pushed back from borders, with videos on social media under the hashtag #AfricansInUkraine showing refugees being prevented from boarding trains out of the country, and told that only “Ukranians are allowed on board.”
Don’t imagine that this is just a few racist train guards. As the Ukrainian ambassador, Vadym Prystaiko, made clear when attempting to justify racial segregation at the country’s borders, this is a government policy with overt racist overtones:
“Problems arise when young foreigners are prioritised over women and children of Ukrainian citizenship who are trying to get on the same trains.
“Maybe we will put all foreigners in some other place so they won’t be visible and there won’t be conflict with Ukrainians trying to flee in the same direction. This is something that has to be taken care of and we will be doing it.”
Despite the glowing coverage in the West, this is the real character of Zelenskey’s government.
Not even the pretence of generosity
Meanwhile, some western governments are barely maintaining a pretence of generosity. The USA, for example, despite being chiefly to blame for provoking this conflict, has accepted only a few hundred Ukrainian refugees so far. But nobody can compete with the British ruling class’ repulsive two-facedness. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has claimed, “I want to send a very strong message that the United Kingdom welcomes refugees.” Yet this “strong message” is a pathetic sham.
The ruling Conservative government has consistently strived to whip up a hostile environment of discrimination and harrassment towards refugees. And now, it is not even meeting the hypocritical standards met by their European counterparts. Thousands of Ukrainians have been sent away from the border barrier in Calais, or are stuck at visa centres across Europe. The only way for Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK is through sponsorship by an individual or business, or a ‘Ukraine Family Scheme’, where refugees with passports can apply for visas if they have settled family in the UK.
1/2 The UK government told Ukrainian refugees to board a Eurostar train from Calais to Lille where their visa application would be processed (the surged team at Calais only give out ready salted crisps). Small detail is ... that train does NOT exist. And that's not the worst ... pic.twitter.com/5HTjevHYnj— Jorge Martin (@marxistJorge) March 10, 2022
The latest “concession” is a second visa scheme called ‘Homes for Ukraine’, where the Tories will pay individuals or charities £350 per month to host Ukrainian refugees. What this means in practice is the government is cutting corners for housing refugees by shunting the responsibility to ordinary citizens, announcing: “if people want to welcome [them] into their own homes, they can do so”.
And how do refugees obtain these visas in the first place? Through the UK’s “bespoke humanitarian routes” to UK visa centres in Europe, of which there are only one or two in each EU country. These centres – run privately by TSLContact – do not offer free appointments. Instead, they offer a range of ‘additional services’ such as £90 for document scanning and £60 for a ‘flexible appointment’.
The CEO of TSLContact’s parent company made the nauseating boast that they had hit “new growth records” in 2021, with a 25 percent increase in revenue to €7.1 billion. In other words, they are profiting from the exploitation of migrants, who in desperation to flee a destructive war, are forced to fork out extortionate fees for a visa. Yet this is ‘business as usual’ for former Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has made clear her priority is not to provide a safe haven to refugees and waive all visa requirements, but to “protect the security of the United Kingdom” precisely by expanding these offshore ‘hubs’ for visa processing.
The Byzantine nature of the visa application process means that, despite over 100,000 British households offering to provide shelter to refugees, only a fraction are likely to be approved to stay. The Labour Party under ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer has called for uncapped numbers of refugees, yet in practice it is throwing its weight behind the ruling class, demanding emergency protection visas which can be given ‘en route’ to the ‘sanctuary’ of Great Britain. In other words, leaving thousands of refugees to fend for themselves at the mercy of exploitative visa processing hubs, in just the manner the Tories propose. So, while British imperialism has tried to score cheap points, it hasn’t even met the low bar of its European counterparts.
Only a matter of months ago, when thousands were fleeing wars launched by western imperialism, the ruling class said their countries were “full”. Now millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by a Russian invasion, hey presto! It turns out the means exist to welcome them.
This latest refugee crisis – like crises that preceded it and others that are ongoing but less well publicised – is yet another product of imperialism. Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing an inter-imperialist war provoked in the last instance by the constant eastward advancement of NATO, and the policies of the western-backed, reactionary Maidan regime, as well as by Russian imperialism. At the same time, these governments are funnelling huge quantities of weapons to Ukraine as part of their proxy war with Russia, in their efforts to draw out the bloodshed. While the ruling class might like to present themselves as saviours to Ukrainian refugees, they are actually part of the reason these people were forced to flee to begin with. It is their bloody system that is to blame for the catastrophes that are wreaking havoc across the world.
As night follows day, the ruling classes of Europe will throw Ukrainian migrants under the bus when their purpose has been served. After all, we saw how the ruling class in Germany welcomed refugees in 2015 – in part reflecting the pressure of ordinary Germans to show solidarity with those fleeing war; and in part as a source of cheap labour – and how the same ruling class has whipped up anti-refugee sentiment to suit its political needs since then.
We must denounce the hypocrisy of the ruling classes of Europe and demand the same treatment for all refugees fleeing poverty and wars caused by imperialism. Human beings forced to leave their homes should be given accommodation, jobs and security. They will tell us there are not enough homes for all, not enough jobs for all, that there’s no money to fund such programmes. But when it comes to funding wars, to investing in the Army, to bailing out capitalists, then money is quickly found. Weapons companies are profiting from the war, their shares skyrocketing in the stock exchange. We say, expropriate the arms industry, seize the profits of the capitalists so that we can provide decent jobs and housing for all.
If we are serious about showing solidarity with refugees, and in ending the reason refugees are forced to flee their homes, then we must carry through an international struggle against capitalism and for socialism.
Only by overthrowing this rotten capitalist system can we solve this crisis. It is only through building a socialist society without borders, war and imperialism that people will be able to move around the world peacefully and freely according to their need.
We must emblazon on our banner the words of the Communist Manifesto: “workers of the world unite!”