By Yazan Al-Saadi & Elia El Khazen
We know all the numbers that need to be known.
We are aware of all the ratios of refugees to citizens in every country, from Lebanon to the UK, Libya to Greece, Macedonia to Canada.
We have seen all of the ruling class directly blame the refugees for their own policies’ shortcomings. The “refugee crisis” they insultingly call it, as if these desperate men, women, children and elderly were but a oncoming storm or a swarm of locus, an act of nature.
We have seen them channel the legitimate anger of workers towards acts of islamophobia, racism and petty nationalism, blaming the “other” for what neoliberalism’s destruction, gleefly utilized by legions of ruling elites, have brought onto us.
We have stood firm against the attempt of many authorities, and their ilk, to smear refugees entering various countries, describing them as an “invasion”. This label in particular is especially revolting when it in fact was various forms of historical and contemporary invasions, instigated, armed and politically covered by our own countries, that are why refugees were, and to continue to be, fleeing from their homes.
We have witnessed respective governments launch grenades and tear gas, fire rubber bullets and live rounds at refugees. We have witnessed these authorities watch silently as refugees helplessly sank in their boats, or cornered the refugees in pathetic ‘reception centers’ encircled by barbwire and are checkpoints. Any parallels with concentration camps arising from these scenes are clearly excused and to be expected.
These authorities have unashamedly denied paperwork, basic rights and services, affronted human dignity by their common use of torture, detention without trial, murder by negligence, and their constant vomiting of absolute hate against vulnerable refugees.
Our own government in Lebanon has gone even further by implementing a sponsorship system in which visa is only granted if tied to a property owning Lebanese citizen. Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR are forced to sign pledges not to work and to return to Syria when their expensive permits expire or when the Lebanese government demands it. Syrian refugees, and other so-called foreigners of the lower class, are subjected to illegal curfews that pepper the most affluent quarters of the country. These classist measures will only serve to compound abuses that are already burdening refugee communities.
As the Balkan route has been shut to more than 40,000 refugees and rendered their lives similar to the wretched squalor of Calais refugee camps in France, over a million refugees in Lebanon live under equally dire conditions every day. Already, as various reports have shown, the restrictive system has caused over 70 percent of Syrian refugees to fall below the poverty line. Many of them work in dangerous conditions for mediocre pay, with little to no benefits or legal protections, and they are in constant threat of arrest. Large numbers of Syrian refugees are trapped in a cycle of debt and indentured servitude, in addition to suffering from daily emotional, sexual, and physical abuses, in a nation that does not allow them free mobility within its borders.
Ultimately, the Syrian refugees are being punished for the Syrian revolution, an uprising that has captivated the world and polarized most of the ideological Left.
The traditional and Stalinist Left, both in the Arab world and in the West, have helped carry the message of Bashar el-Assad, which demonized courageous Syrian communities who rose up against his brutal and illegitimate regime. The echo his claims of a “security threat”, while others have repeated the horrendous discourse that these refugees are a ‘weapon’ in the hands of armed groups. While there are many different groups to blame, it is the Left, especially, that have made these refugees easy pray for neighboring and Western governments to ostracize, marginalize and exploit in the most offensive and inhuman ways.
This xenophobic discourse has also encouraged distracting competition between migrant workers and local workers, who are tricked into clashes with each other over mere scraps that fall off the ruling class’s bountiful table. In such a time, when the Leftist solidarity is needed most with the refugees, many of its members have betrayed the inherent principles under the justification of pragmatism and political allegiances. They can defend themselves in whatever way they think fit, but the fact of the matter remains: they are useful idiots for power-holders of today’s status quo.
A plethora of iNGOs and local NGOs are also partners in enabling this grotesque state of affairs, in which their actions have permitted the ruling class to reap the benefits of the absence of local states when it comes to services. INGOs and NGOs mainly turn a blind eye as oppression remains supreme, and only seek to offer cold comforts and small bandages to deep, deep wounds. For these organizations, it is the donor that is the priority rather than the refugees.
In the new chapter of the War on Refugees, the Lebanese government, along with its Turkish and Greek counterparts, have signed on to be foot-soldiers at the gateway to “Fortress Europe”. These ‘minions’ of the European strongholds are guilty of crackdowns on refugees merely to appease ridiculous European notions of “the spillover effect” of the Syrian revolution that threaten their tightly-held shores.
This is essentially why governmental aid are tied to magnitude of crackdowns, the ferociousness of security batons cracking skulls, and the containment of refugees in the not Western, ‘Global South’ parts of the world. The politicization of aid is but one cog in this dark machine. It will only result in the creation and furthering of more and more informal, abusive conditions for refugees, for children, for countless men and women.
For all these reasons and so much more, this Saturday is the first time since last year, when refugees stubbornly and rightly broke through Europe’s ever-expanding walls, that mass movements across 15 European countries along with Lebanon and Australia have coordinated various demonstrations to show solidarity with refugees in all places.
Join our call for solidarity. Organize in your city against the oppression, crackdown and scapegoating of refugees by your authorities. Challenge discrimination in all its forms.
Only solidarity prevails in the face of xenophobia, islamophobia, racism, sexism and classism.
Long live the refugee, the 21st century’s vanguard, who challenges the tapestry of repression by simple acts, and by their very humble existence.
Refugees of the world, we are with you. Refugees of the world, unite.