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Europe’s Big Beautiful Wall

Since the refugee crisis began the EU has been trying to make a deal with Turkey to keep as many people from landing on its shores as possible. Turkey, for its part, has been playing it smart – maintaining a porous maritime border with Greece which it occasionally demonstrates its ability to seal shut.

As of Sunday an agreement finally comes into play whereby any Syrian refugees crossing the sea will be sent back to Turkey and, instead, a Syrian who is registered in the system inside Turkey will be given a place in the EU. A cruel, dystopian lottery.

It is not clear what this means for refugees from Iraq or Afghanistan, countries both ripped apart by Western wars and now collapsing under the spread of ISIS.

The EU has stated that it will not take more than 72,000 people this year. In October and November of 2015, 35,000 people were arriving in Lesvos every week. It will not take long for the EU to arrive at this arbitrary limit. It is not clear what the plan is then. Many people I spoke to in Lesvos said they would have happily stayed in Turkey had they been allowed to work or granted basic rights and dignities. Their situation in Turkey will only worsen now that the EU is outsourcing its dirty work to Erdogan.

The EU’s position on refugees is, in essence, no different to Donald Trump’s declaration that he will ‘build a big beautiful wall’. The EU has already built all its land walls – it just couldn’t wall off the sea. So instead they’ll pay Erdogan billions of euros to be their jailer.

But no one calls out the EU leadership for being totalitarian fascists. We don’t get smug think pieces discussing what kind of hillbilly Frenchman would ever condone walling off an entire continent. Occasionally the press talks about the rise of the European right, but the right is already here.

After the initial empathy shock over the summer’s photographs of Aylan Kurdi’s dead body on the beach faded, as it always does, European public opinion has quietly shifted to a belief that  that there is “no more room” on the continent and that the sea must be patrolled and the numbers must be controlled.

But let’s consider three sets of numbers:

1 There are 500,000,000 EU citizens. 1,000,000 new refugees adds 0.2% to the current population.

2 Between 2011 and 2014 2,650 British citizens died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by the government.

3 The average age in Europe is now 38. In Germany it’s 46.5. The average age in Syria was, at last census, 24, and probably even younger among the refugee population.

Just as the public has seemingly accepted that there is no more room in Europe, so they have accepted that austerity is their only option. But austerity measures are, quite simply, killing people. Just as the EU’s policy on refugees is killing people. At least 3,500 people died trying to cross the sea in 2015.

It is painfully obvious that the most moral and economic solution to the refugee crisis is to integrate the millions of able-bodied people who are hungry to work and get on with their lives in peace. Many of whom dream of being able to return to their home countries if the current wars ever end.

Last week a study was published showing that 51% of billion-dollar start-ups in the US were started by immigrants. While I am loathe to use profit as a substitute metric for morality, it is clear that every way you look at this issue, the isolationist stance of Britain and the EU is, at best, woefully misguided and, at worst, Donald Trumpian ethnic supremacism that speaks posh and politely.

And that’s before considering the enormous blood debt both Europe and America owe the Middle East for the catastrophic invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the deaths of at least 200,000 civilians and the subsequent rise of ISIS.

But Britain and the EU are only interested in building walls and sealing the seas. Because contemporary capitalism is built between those walls and its fundamental condition is the poor’s inability to escape the sweatshops and the diamond mines and the testing grounds for arms manufacturers while 3,000,000 Britons are able to live outside the EU and more Britons access benefits in other EU countries than vice-versa. Europeans should remember the next time they scoff at Donald Trump and his “big, beautiful wall” that theirs has already been built.

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Omar Robert Hamilton is a filmmaker, writer and a producer of the annual Palestine Festival of Literature. He is currently working on his first novel – set in the Egyptian revolution and on an edited collection of essays on the revolution for LeftWord Books (Delhi). www.orhamilton.com

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