Thursday 13 August 2015

Migration and the tragedy of Kos


This photo speaks more than a thousand words. It was taken by Yannis Behrakis during the chaos that ensued when water cannon, along with beatings with truncheons by riot police were used against Syrian refugees who have sought refuge on the island of Kos. While all this was going on, the refugees, these 'swarms' to use U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's words, formed a human shield around a woman refugee and her child, to protect them from the beatings.

In order to be able to do despicable things to human beings one has to dehumanise them. So you call them 'swarms' as David Cameron has done, or 'cockroaches' as Katie Hopkins of the Daily Mail, did a few months ago. But, who is showing humanity here? In the middle of the attack by riot police, brought in by a 'left' government, the first thought of the Syrian refugees was to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

The governments of Europe have shown absolutely no humanity or compassion for those who have been driven out of their homes as a result of war and state disintegration. This is despite the central role that the West has played in most of these wars, fuelling the mass exodus of displaced people who have no choice but to risk their lives in the graveyard that the Mediterranean has become. Most refugees arriving in Europe come from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya - countries that the West has waged wars against in the name of 'democracy'.

More than 180,000 have reached Italy and Greece by sea alone this year, and more than 2,000 have died making the crossing. And yet the only response of the European governments is to 'protect' their borders. 'Not in my back yard. Let these people go elsewhere. We don't want them here'. Fortress Europe has to be defended at all costs.

'War, violence and persecution left one in every 122 humans on the planet a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum at the end of last year, according to a stark UN report that warns the world is failing the victims of an 'age of unprecedented mass displacement'. UNHCR estimates that an average of 42,500 men, women and children became refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced people every day last year - a four-fold increase in just four years', reports the Guardian.

Dr Dimitris Yannousis, has just come back from Kos where he spent 50 days working for Medicins sans Frontiers. He treated 820 people and he reports that 93% of those are refugees from countries that are at war, mainly Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 'I have treated war wounded, pregnant women, very old people who have walked for thousands of kilometres in an attempt to reach a place where there is no war... Most children suffer from post-traumatic stress and they bear their burden in silence... I remember a young man who was injured in Syria and had his leg amputated. He reached Kos with the help of his brother, walking through Syria, then Turkey and finally taking a boat to Kos. The conditions in which he found himself in Kos were horrendous... Another 18 year old was in a pre-diabetic coma - he could not get insulin during the three months he spent in Turkey while waiting for a boat to take him across'

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made a statement last week saying that given the economic situation in Greece, it's impossible for the country to deal with all the people who are washing up on its shores. So he asked the European Union for help in dealing with the situation. A very sensible request.

But two days ago the situation on the island of Kos reached a climax. A policeman yielding a knife in one hand slapped a refugee with the other. Following this incident, and as a form of protest, the refugees staged a sit-in on the city's central road, obstructing traffic and damaging passing cars. The 'left' Greek government took the decision to send riot police to the island so that they could 'manage' the situation. What followed is unspeakable. Water cannon, truncheons, beatings, the use of fire extinguishers, stun grenades, and the 2,500 refugees were herded like cattle into a stadium where they were locked for nearly 24 hours. People started fainting in the heat, there was no access to shade, water or food. According to the latest reports ambulances are in constant use, taking starving children who are fainting, to the local hospital.

(image taken from here )

Medicins sans Frontieres issued the following statement: 'We have unconscious people being carried by their friends and family every 15 minutes. It is absolutely out of control. Nobody understands the sense behind it, or if there is any sense at all'. Furthermore: 'this is the first time we've seen this in Greece - people locked in a stadium and controlled by riot police. We're talking about mothers with children and elderly people. They've been locked in there after many hours in the sun'.

The key words here are 'this is the first time we've seen this in Greece'. Eight months ago Syriza were outraged by the condition of refugees in the camps in which they were being held. Eight months later what is occurring is much much worse than before they came into government.

Greece is heading towards its third bailout, a bailout that is much more savage than the two that preceded it: the country is expected to hand over 50 billion euros'  worth of 'valuable state assets' to an independent body under the control of European institutions who will proceed to sell them off; a broad programme of deregulation will declare war on workers, farmers and small businesses; pensions are to suffer rapid cuts; minimum wages are to be reduced; collective bargaining is to be severely curtailed and it's going to become easier to sack workers. As Nick Dearden has written, this is 'a cynical attempt to set up a corporate paradise in the Mediterranean, and must be resisted at all costs'. The bailout money will find its way to the pockets of European banks and it's never going to be possible to pay the debt off.

All of this has been 'achieved' by a so-called left government that is so blinded with its love of the European Union that it could not conceive of the only possible way out of this crisis, a Grexit. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras keeps saying 'I don't like this, but I have no choice'.

Did he have no choice when he sent the riot police to attack people who have been misplaced, who are fleeing horrors in countries that have been ravaged by war and by neoliberal globalisation? Did he have no choice when he sent the riot police to attack women and infants?

Bulletins from Alilegei Kos (Solidarity with Kos), an organisation in Kos who are doing their utmost to ease the suffering of asylum seekers on the island.
Most images have been taken from Alilegei Kos (Solidarity with Kos),


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