The recent deaths of more than 800 people who drowned when a small fishing boat capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa shocked people across Europe. This brings the death toll of immigrants from north Africa attempting to reach Europe by boat in 2015 alone to 1,600. Last year, around 170,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to get to Italy and as many as 3,500 died – as Amnesty International put it on a recent poster, “the equivalent of two Titanics.”
Why are immigrants willing to go through such a dangerous journey, risking everything and leaving their family, friends and culture behind in order to come to Europe? It is because of the poverty, misery and barbarism produced by imperialist wars in the Middle East and Africa. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen – time and again, Western powers have engaged in conflict directly or through puppets for prestige, power and control of resources. The conflict in Syria alone has displaced 9.5 million from their homes. The horrific conditions in the region have given rise to the Frankenstein’s monster of ISIS.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called the recent deaths part of a “systematic slaughter” but European politicians are scurrying to avoid any blame for it. Their response to this ongoing crisis has been to callously cut to the funding of the EU search-and-rescue missions while, at the same time, intensifying the disastrous policy of militarising the EU borders, including researching the possibility of using drones to monitor borders. We have to challenge the hypocrisy of Western governments which spend billions waging war in the Middle East but can’t find money to support those fleeing those wars.
Some politicians and the mainstream press have used this tragedy to spout their disgusting racism against immigrant and asylum seekers. In Italy, the racist Northern League has called for the navy to blockade Libya to stop refugee boats. In Britain, right-wing commentator Katie Hopkins caused outrage with a racist article under the headline ‘Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants’, in which she said, “These migrants are like cockroaches.” Despite the pleas of some in the liberal press to simply ignore her, over 250,000 have signed a petition to demand that she is sacked. It is important that such racism is not left unchallenged.
The Socialist Party calls for an immediate end to the disastrous policy of militarising the EU borders and an end to racist immigration laws. Linked with this, we need a movement of working class people against racism and for a society free of war and the horrors of capitalism.