FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

A black rubber inflatable boat was found abandoned earlier this week on the shingle at Dungeness on the Kent coast. Eight men, reportedly Iranians or Kurds, were later found close to the beach or in the nearby village of Lydd.

An Iranian living in south London was later charged with helping the migrants to cross the Channel illegally from France to the UK.

Sea crossings by small numbers of asylum seekers are highly publicised because the short but dangerous voyage makes good television.

The number of migrants over a period of months is in the low hundreds, but politicians believe that the impact of their arrival is high, as was shown by the home secretary, Sajid Javid, rushing back from holiday and declaring the crossings “a major incident”.

Nobody forgets the effect of pictures of columns of Syrian refugees, far away from UK in central Europe, had on the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Three days after the little inflatable boat beached at Dungeness, the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo made a speech in Cairo outlining the Trump Middle East policy, which inadvertently goes a long way to explain how the dinghy got there. After criticising former president Obamafor being insufficiently belligerent, Pompeo promised that the US would “use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria; and that sanctions on Iran – and presumably Syria – will be rigorously imposed.

Just how this is to be done is less clear, but Pompeo insisted that the US will wage military and economic war in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, which inevitably means that normal life will be impossible in all of these places.

Though the US and its allies are unlikely to win any victories against Iran or Bashar al-Assad, the US can keep a permanent crisis simmering across a swathe of countries between the Pakistan border and the Mediterranean, thereby ensuring in the long term that a portion of the 170 million people living in this vast area will become so desperate that they will take every risk and spend the last of their money to flee to Western Europe. Keep in mind that these crises tend to cross-infect each other, so instability in Syria means instability in Iraq.

Given the seismic impact of migration fuelled by war or sanctions in the Middle East and North Africa on the politics of Europe over the last seven or eight years, it shows a high degree of self-destructive foolishness on the part of European governments not to have done more to restore peace. They have got away with it because voters have failed to see the linkage between foreign intervention and the consequent waves of immigrants from their ruined countries.

Yet the connection should be easy enough to grasp: in 2011, the Nato powers led by UK and France backed an insurgency in Libya that overthrew and killed Gaddafi. Libya was reduced to violent chaos presided over by criminalised militias, which opened the door to migrants from North and West Africa transiting Libya and drowning as they try to cross the Mediterranean.

In Syria, the US and UK long ago decided that they would be unable to get rid of Assad – indeed they did not really want to since they believed he would be replaced by al-Qaeda or Isis. But American, British and French policy makers were happy to keep the conflict bubbling to prevent Assad, Russia and Iran winning a complete victory. A result of prolonging the conflict is that the chance of the 6.5 million Syrian refugees ever returning home grows less by the year.

The economic devastation inflicted by these long wars is often underestimated because it is less visible and melodramatic than the ruins of Raqqa, Aleppo, Homs and Mosul. I was driving in northeast Syria last year, west of the Euphrates, through land that was once some of the most productive in the country, producing grain and cotton. But the irrigation canals were empty and for mile after mile the land has reverted to rough pasture. Our car kept stopping because the road was blocked by herds of sheep being driven by shepherds to crop the scanty grass as the area reverts to semi-desert because there is no electric power to pump water from the Euphrates.

The British and other governments try to distinguish between refugees seeking safety because of military action or because of economic hardship; yet they increasingly go together. Syria and Iran are both being subjected to tight economic sieges. But the casualties of sanctions – as was brutally demonstrated by the 13-year-long UN sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between 1990 and 2003 – are not the members of the regime but the civilian population. Mass flight becomes an unavoidable option.

Iraq never truly recovered from a period of sanctions during which its administrative, education and health systems were shattered and its best-educated people fled the country. The first casualties of sanctions are always on the margins and never those in power, who are the supposed target. An example of this was the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran in 2018, which led to the exodus of 440,000 low paid Afghan workers who are not going to get jobs back in Afghanistan (where unemployment is 40 per cent) and who in many cases will therefore try to get to Europe.

Wars that are not concluded trigger waves of migrants even when there is no fighting because all sides need to recruit more soldiers from an unwilling population. In Syria, families are terrified of their sons of military age being conscripted not only by the Syrian army but by the Kurdish YPG military forces or al-Qaeda type militias.

There is a clear connection between western intervention in the Middle East and North Africa and the arrival of boat people on the beaches of southeast England. But much of the media does not highlight this and, by and large, voters do not seem to notice it.

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy never suffered political damage from their ill-advised role in destroying the Libyan state. A couple of years later Cameron was pressing for Britain to join the US in air attacks on Syria, which would certainly not have got rid of Assad without a prolonged air campaign similar to those in Iraq and Libya.

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent MindsThe outcome of these interventions is not just the outflow of refugees from zones of conflict: the weakening or destruction of states in the region enables groups like al-Qaeda and Isis to find secure base areas where they can regroup their forces. A fragmented Syria is ideal for such purposes because the jihadis can dodge between rival powers. Pompeo’s bombast will be a welcome development for them.

The only solution in northeast Syria is for the US to withdraw militarily under an agreement whereby Turkey does not invade Syria, in return for the Syrian government backed by Russia absorbing the Kurdish quasi-state so hated by the Turks and giving it some degree of internationally guaranteed autonomy. Any other option is likely to provoke a Turkish invasion and two million Kurds in flight – a very few of whom will one day end up on the pebble beaches of Dungeness.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail