September 20, 2015
Syria, Empire Driven Catastrophe & the Refugee Crisis

Nilotpal Basu

WAS it a mere coincidence? The day Britain and the world was trying to reconcile with the stunning spectacle of Jeremy Corbyn being elected as leader of the Labour Party, London and other major cities across Europe were witnessing massive ‘welcome refugees’ rallies of people. Perhaps not; Jeremy Corbyn though a member of the House of Commons since 1983, was a rank outsider in the battle for leadership of the Labour. He had barely managed to get the minimum support for being part of the race for the top spot. With an unprecedented near 60 percent of the support of the Labour membership, what Corbyn achieved has been an important political development not just in Britain but with implications across the continent. Corbyn remains the most consistent Left leader in the Labour ranks and has been surprisingly consistent in opposing Labour’s cooption into the neo-liberal fancies and the Blairaite neo-Labour sham. Corbyn consistently supported and expressed solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people and opposed West’s imperial forays in West Asia and northern Africa and their criminal assistance to Israel. Groaning under neo-liberal policy led growth in inequality, job loss and insecurity and influenced by the imperialist intervention induced growth of fundamentalism in the Arab world and the consequent Islamophobia, there was a fertile ground of reinforcement of the rightwing. Neo-fascist anti-immigrant sentiments were growing dangerously. But obviously, there is an environment of a fight back building up from below. This was evidenced in the political process which catapulted Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour party. It was as some observer put it, nothing less than an ‘insurrection’, which gathered momentum with Corbyn’s candidature as the pivot. So, it is not just southern Europe. In the nerve centres of finance capital, people are spoiling for a fight and Corbyn is their new icon. The welcome refugee rallies were recognition of the need for renunciation. The hapless refugees driven by fear and despair with their life and livelihood in jeopardy were undertaking a risk to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe for safety. AYLAN KURDI AND GLOBAL CONSCIENCE The image of a three year old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi seems to have acted as a trigger for outpourings of the global conscience. The hapless kid had started his fateful journey along with his five year old elder brother Galip and their parents in a crude boat across the Mediterranean. They were victims of unscrupulous human traffickers who were squeezing people in distress. But was the trafficker the only villain? Aylan’s lifeless body was washed and landed on a Turkish beach. A camerawoman shot his lifeless innocent body and uploaded it on the social media. It went viral. Millions shared and the outrage was immediate. The image is so moving; his face almost sunk into the wet sand helpless and so caringly dressed up in his shoes and the red tee for the extremely danger prone journey. It was embodiment of a human tragedy of unprecedented proportions. That it needed sweet little Aylan and his martyrdom of circumstances over which he or his people has no control to wake up global consciousness about the humungous magnitude of the people’s distress not just in Syria, but in different parts of West Asia is a commentary on the obnoxious nature of global media, not to speak of the perpetrators of wars and conflicts in a faraway place. THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CRISIS The UN refugee agency UNHCR observes that growth of refugees to “an all time high as violence and persecution” is on the rise. From 37.5 million in 2005 in has risen to 59.5 million in 2014. The major centres of refugee outflow are Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen and of course Syria. In 2014, 2,19,000 people tried to cross Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. In just eight months of 2015 these numbers have crossed 3,00,000 according to UNHCR. Of these attempting an escape to safety 2,500 have died. The Syrian situation is the worst. Since displacement started, four million refugees registered with UN. Additionally 7 million are internally displaced. Together, this is more than half the total population, uprooted since 2011. The Syrian refugee crisis is particularly pathetic with 51 percent Syrian Asylum seekers being under 19 and 39 percent under 11. A nation and a people stand virtually destroyed. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? Knowledge of rocket science is not required to understand that quest for hydrocarbon and other energy resources apart from the overall drive for regional hegemony, imperialism ably supported by Israel and Gulf monarchies led by Saudi Arabia has wreaked havoc. The process has led to a catastrophe, of a magnitude which has very few parallels in the world history. Afghanistan and Iraq then Libya and finally in the quest for the prize trophy Iran and consequently Syria; that has been the sordid journey of West’s lust for resources and control leaving behind a trail of blood and mayhem jeopardising lives of millions which Aylan Kurdi typified. The direct imperialist war did have a heavy toll on the civilians. But it unleashed a new monster – fundamentalist extremism. They came in many names; Al Qaeda, Al Nusra and finally the deadliest of them of all – Islamic State. But these are the main and the big outfits of terror and medievalism with countless smaller groups. It is crystal clear that these gruesome developments have been sparked off by regime changes and their unscrupulous attempts as in Syria. The purported objective was to impose ‘democracy’ and ‘human values’ which conformed to those purportedly subscribed by the ‘civilized world’, euphuism for the West. Russian president Vladimir Putin has been bang on target recently, when he pointed out that this notion of the West arrogating to itself the right to violate international law to impose on peoples in other countries unilaterally standards which were not in consonance with the cultures and civilizations of those people. Jeremy Corbyn was even blunter. In the run up to his leadership campaign he plainly stated that Tony Blair would have to face the international criminal court in Hague for what constituted a fit case for war crime in Iraq. Be it George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or Tony Blair – even their people now know so very well what they were upto. RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS The response to the crisis is also a telling commentary on those who have been responsible for the crisis in the first place. The US has fuelled conflicts in all the five nations from which most refugees are fleeing. In Iraq at least a million people have died, brought the Al Qaeda and evolving into the IS displacing over 3.3 million people due to the barbaric activities of the outfit. In Afghanistan the occupation and the war is escalating. There are 2.6 million Afghan refugees according to the UN. In Libya, the US-NATO campaign destroyed the country with IS affiliates in northern Africa. UN estimates that there are over 3,60,000 displaced Libyans. Saudi Arabia along with their allies is pummeling Yemen leading to 4,500 deaths. According to UN there are 3,30,000 displaced Yemenis. In providing asylum, US accounts for just 1,500 Syrians. Germany in contrast has plans on taking 800,000 refugees in 2015 alone. Gulf States Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait, richest in the region have not taken a single refugee. All these countries bankrolled Al Qaeda, Al Nusra and the IS in Iraq and Syria. Facts speak for themselves. Contrast this response to the nature of pomp and grandeur which Saudi monarchy displays. For his three day visit to the US to meet President Obama, Saudi king Salman booked an entire luxury DC hotel – all 222 rooms which he had covered in gold at the cost of $ 1 billion per night, but claims that the country has no resources for refugees. Richard Dawkins has been extremely contemptuous at the recent Saudi offer to provide Germany with $ 200 million for building 200 mosques for the Syrian refugees there. The financing of fundamentalism is so obvious! SYRIAN CAULDRON Now the facts are coming out. A report by the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) which was being alleged by the Syrian government much earlier has now come out in the public domain. The report formerly classified “secret” dated August 12, 2012 was circulated among government agencies like CENTCOM, CIA, FBI, DHS, NGA, State Department and others. It read “The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey (which) support the (Syrian) opposition there is possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what we supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” And there are continuing series of communications outlining the cynical manipulations which has led to this demonic proportions that the IS threat has assumed. The recent Russian decision to move in military hardware and provide greater military support to the Syrian government despite objections of US and some of its allies, further exposes the US hypocrisy in being in touch with IS, despite public pronouncements to destroy the outfit. Russian foreign minister Lavrov dropped wide hints at this and pointed out that the Russians have enough specific information to show that the aerial bombings at IS targets were not in keeping with what was originally planned and there were obvious signs that IS has prior information. The cynicism continues. Turkey has been attacking Kurd armed resistance to the IS in the Kurd dominated regions. The West’s insistence at regime change in Syria is completely derailing the public pronouncements of taking on IS unitedly. TOWARDS A SOLUTION Therefore it is clear that the refugee crisis is not one dimensional; it is definitely not merely a humanitarian crisis. Undoubtedly, with democratic forces taking on international finance instigated intolerance and neo-fascism and anti-immigrant claptrap, there will be growing voices of sanity towards accommodation of Syrian and other refugees in different parts of Europe, perhaps also elsewhere in the world. But is it a simple question of rehabilitation? In a moving letter released recently by Abdalla Kurdi, father of Aylan Kurdi the lifeless boy whose image has stirred out conscience says “our Syrian homeland has become a focus of local and international power struggle…. where there is neither security nor economic stability”. He further states, “This is the reason that people have packed up living the country of their fathers and grandfathers for other countries in hope of finding security and human life. The victims of such power struggles are always the civilian population. For reasons of both political and economic security…..I initially fled to another area of Syria and from there abroad….the price was too high. I have lost my wife and both my children. And yet my tragedy is not the first and will not be the last.” Adding “I am now back in the land of my ancestors and will remain here with the graves of my children and my wife. This earth is soaked in the blood of martyrs who have defended Kobane….. I do not want anyone from this region whether Kurd, Arab, or Syrian or Armenian to go through what I have gone through……… important step on the road away from an ideology which opposes the value of humanity is that we live together in collective self administration, in democracy and in brotherhood”. He appeals to the world to ensure political stability on the basis of people’s own choice. That is the way forward – a political solution based on the wishes of the people and their interests not that of resource hungry corporates. Defeating war and fundamentalist extremism cannot be achieved without the participation of the people in those regions. Once the situation stabilises can we have a lasting solution for the refugee crisis which does not show signs of going away any time sooner.