For several months, the region of Idlib in the north of Syria has been devastated by the forces of Bashar El Assad and the Russian army. Nearly three million civilians (a million of them children) are trapped in this last outpost of the rebellion. As with Aleppo and eastern Ghouta, the Assad regime is trying to re-take this region through terror and a scorched earth policy. Russian planes are indiscriminately bombing apartment blocks, public buildings like schools and hospitals, markets and fields. More than a thousand people have died since the end of April 2018 according to the UN, and nearly a million are trying to escape the massacre, hungry, homeless, subjected to the glacial temperatures of winter. In this theatre of barbarism and chaos, the populations have only one way out: to flee for their lives. To head for the Turkish border or try to reach the Greek frontier, the nearest port to enter Europe.
Only the frontier between Syria and Turkey is now closed. Since 2015, the Turkish state has been carrying out a well-paid service to the European democracies by taking in the waves of refugees which the Europeans refused to deal with. The Turkish offensive in the north of Syria has changed the situation. The three million inhabitants of Idlib have now become hostages, prisoners of the region’s imperialist powers. As we have seen, Turkey and Russia are capable of anything, including the bloodletting of whole regions, terrorising the population and massacring them to satisfy their rapacious appetites. Today the region of Idlib has become a macabre board-game for imperialism, a region that moribund capitalism has sown with misery and death.
The refugees: commodities to be sold or disposed of
While Erdogan is refusing to take in the new exiles, he also wants to get rid of the three and a half million already inside Turkey. For him and his regime, these people are just objects to be used as commodities in their political ambitions. On the domestic level, the refugees are already the target of a disgusting campaign of denigration aimed at restoring the popularity of the AKP in Turkey. But it’s above all on the imperialist level that the refugees have their “value”, since they are being used to blackmail the powers of the EU. For months Erdogan has been threatening to open the country’s western borders in order to compel the European powers to support his military campaign in the north of Syria and to give him financial aid. On 28 February, he carried out his threats and tens of thousands of refugees have been trying, at considerable risk, to enter Europe via Greece, despite the categorical refusal of the Greek authorities, supported by the great democracies of the EU. At least 13,000 refugees are massing at the frontier, prey to cruel exactions from all sides. Others are trying to reach the islands of Chios or Lesbos by sea. Here too they face the same conditions: herded like animals, lacking water, heating, food and elementary hygiene. On Lesbos, the Moria camp, designed to hold 2,300 people, 20,000 are massed together behind barbed wire. The Repubblica newspaper gives us this abominable description: “The first to go under are the children. Here, there is nothing for them, not even beds, toilets or light. Here there is only the mud, the cold, and the waiting. An absurd, maddening purgatory. Day after day, as hope to reach Europe disappears over the horizon, there’s nothing for the weakest but to attempt suicide…but because they are afraid, they rarely go all the way. From time to time, an adult knocks on the doors of the clinic at the bottom of the hill, carrying in his arms a small child who has highly eloquent marks on his body. Everyone knows what has just been done. In a few months he will try again”. More than three quarters of a century after Auschwitz, it’s the same frightful reality for those populations that capitalism has judged undesirable.
Those who try to reach this Eldorado are being stopped with the greatest violence and brutality by the Greek authorities. We have seen unbearable, revolting images of Greek guards trying to sink an inflatable dinghy full of refugees and to scare them away with live rounds. In the Evros region, the police and the army are patrolling the zone and the 212 kilometres of the border are impassable. Those who try to get across are met with tear gas and even with real bullets, which according to the Turks has led to injuries and deaths. Those arrested are beaten, stripped, humiliated and sent back. Thinking that they are only metres away from paradise, they are faced with the cruel reality of Fortress Europe, for whom they are just refuse, stray animals which no state wants to help out. Each state blames the other but they all have the same aim: categorical refusal to welcome these populations who are victims of the barbarism engendered by the imperialist powers with the most incredible cynicism and hypocrisy.
The hypocrisy of the democracies faced with the waves of refugees
Soon after the Turkish regime announced that it was opening the gates in the direction of Europe, the reaction of the main EU states was clear: all the representatives of the European bourgeoisies cried out against the “unacceptable” policies of Erdogan (Angela Merkel). The head of the Austrian government Sebastian Kurz, elected specifically on the basis of his anti-immigration policies, feigned disquiet about “these human beings being used to put pressure on the EU”
The great democracies of Europe can come out with all kinds of compassionate phrases, they can put all the responsibility on their Russian and Turkish rivals, but the reality of Europe’s migrant policy reveals their ignominious hypocrisy. It is the “motherland of the rights of man” which has most clearly expressed the real intentions of the EU states: “The European Union will not give in to this blackmail,, the frontiers of Greece and the Schengen space are closed and we will make sure they remain closed, let’s be clear about this” said Jean-Yves le Drian, the French minister of Foreign Affairs. Thus, millions can perish of hunger and cold – the European states will do nothing for them, unless it is to make their situation even harder by strengthening the hermetic seal on the Greek border. Ursula von der Leyen, the EU president, guaranteed that “all necessary aid” would be supplied to the Greek state. Already the Frontex agency has sent police reinforcements and 700 million euros to this end. The intransigence of the European leaders reflects their desire to cut the grass under the feet of the populist governments and movements which will not hesitate to use this new exodus for their own benefit.
The European powers want to present themselves as the victims of the wicked manipulator Erdogan, or shed crocodile tears about the refugees, pleading that they are powerless to help, but they are all responsible for this, just as they are responsible for allowing hundreds of thousands of people to succumb to Russian bombs, Greek bullets, or Turkish cynicism.
Their nauseating tirades about the rights of man and their phoney indignation are just a smokescreen to hide their anti-migrant policies. Deportations, the dismantling of refugee camps, the erecting of walls and barbed wire fences, the militarisation of the frontiers and the increase in administrative measures aimed at restricting access – all these measures are first and foremost being set up and applied with the greatest rigour by the democratic states, where the dictatorship of capital functions in its most perverse and cynical way. The western democracies, whether run by the left or the right, are not only accomplices to the “bad guys” like Erdogan and Putin: they treat people in the same degrading way, but with a sprinkling of added hypocrisy.
Barbarism and chaos are all capitalism has to offer
After thirty Turkish soldiers were killed in an attack by the troops of Assad, giving rise to fears about an escalation of tensions, Moscow and Ankara signed a cease-fire on 5 March. This a farce which no one believes in given that the ambitions of both powers can only push them towards further clashes and confrontations. There is no sign of any stabilisation in the Middle East. The continuing retreat of the USA, and as a consequence, of France and Germany, brings with it a number of dangers in which the civilian population, as always, will be the first victims. It is undeniable that Assad has decided to reconquer all the territory he possessed prior to 2011. To this end, he has not hesitated to shed the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Putin, the only one who can modify the ambitions of the “butcher of Damascus”, does not seem to be completely opposed to this. But at the same time the master of the Kremlin has an interest in maintaining cordial relations with Erdogan in order to put pressure on NATO and maintain his precious naval base in Tartus in the west of Syria. For its part, Turkey now has a free hand to mop up the Kurds, denying them their autonomous territory in the north, which it fears will be a prop for the nationalist demands of the Turkish Kurds. Last October, after violent battles, Turkey managed to establish a “security zone”, breaking up the territorial integrity of Rojava. While up to now the American presence has provided protection for the Kurds, the departure of US troops from Syria will probably sign their death warrant.
This is all the more the case in that the European powers like France and Britain have lost a lot of ground and are no longer in a position to pursue their strategy of fighting both Daesh and the Assad regime through a game of alliances with the rebels and the Kurds. Thus, all the elements are coming together for new massacres which will create more millions of refugees.
What’s happening on the Turkey-Greece border is not an exception but one illustration among many of the horror that capitalism is making hundreds of millions go through. The lot of the African migrants on the Moroccan border, the living hell in Libya, or the situation facing Latin Americans between Mexico and the US are not so different. All of them are fleeing war, violence, criminality and ecological disaster. Today, more than seven million people are in the situation of exiles struggling to survive. They are trying to escape the barbarism of capital but are the pawns and victims of the national bourgeoisies who are instrumentalising the “refugee question” for their sinister imperialist interests.
The rebels against the Assad regime are just a rival faction within the Syrian bourgeoisie. They are used by the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other imperialist powers as pawns in the defence of their imperialist interests