Thousands of migrants trapped for several weeks at the Polish border, abandoned to their fate in wet and frozen forests, without food or water. Families wandering in the middle of nowhere, forced to drink water from the surrounding swamps, sleeping on the ground in sub-zero temperatures. Exhausted, often sick, exiles beaten up by Belarusian army troops who knowingly led them to the European Union (EU) borders. Hysterical Polish authorities who do not hesitate to send women, children, the disabled and the elderly back into the woods and to beat up those who try to cross the barbed wire fences that have been illegally deployed all along the border. This sad spectacle is unfortunately reminiscent of many others, just as revolting. But the instrumentalisation of migrants for openly imperialistic purposes adds the colour of the most shameless cynicism to this distressing picture.
Hostages of sordid imperialist rivalries
The sudden presence of migrants in this hostile region, a route rarely used by refugees, is not accidental: the Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in open conflict with the EU since his disputed re-election in August 2020, has encouraged and even organised the transport of migrants by offering them an illusory way out to Europe, and has thrown them towards the Polish border. Charters are even reportedly being chartered to Minsk to transport the would-be exiles.
For Lukashenko and his clique, migrants are merely a bargaining chip in response to Western sanctions and pressure. Moreover, as soon as the negotiations with the EU and Russia began, the Belarusian government sent a few hundred migrants back to square one, on a "voluntary" basis (what a euphemism!), as a sign of “good faith”. So much for the deaths! So much for the trauma! So much for the dashed hopes!
The use of refugees in the context of imperialist rivalries has developed spectacularly in recent years, taking advantage of a context in which the richest states have become veritable fortresses and are wallowing in the most xenophobic rhetoric every day. We have recently seen Turkey threaten to open the floodgates to emigration at the Greek border, or Morocco at the Spanish border, each time playing “migratory blackmail” in order to defend their sordid national interests. Even France, in the context of post-Brexit tensions, is suggesting, more or less subtly, that it might leave the UK to deal with Calais migrants on its own. It is also likely that behind the Belarusian refugees, Putin's Russia is advancing its pawns.
The hypocrisy and cruelty of the “democratic” states
« The Poles are doing a very important service to the whole of Europe,” said Horst Seehofer, the German Minister of the Interior. And what a service it is! Poland and its populist government did not hesitate to deploy thousands of soldiers at the border and to explicitly threaten refugees: “If you cross this border, we will use force. We will not hesitate”. 1 At least the message is clear and the intimidation has been administered with zeal: tear gas thrown at hungry and exhausted people, regular beatings, no care given to the sick...
The EU, which claims to be so intransigent about the “respect for human dignity”, also turned a blind eye when Poland arrogated to itself, on 14 October, in defiance of “international conventions”, the “right” to systematically turn back migrants to Belarus without checking whether the asylum applications were valid, even according to the narrow rules of bourgeois legality. The bourgeoisie has thus equipped itself with a regulatory and legal arsenal that is totally unfavourable to migrants and it does not hesitate to cheat its own rules when the need arises!
The same applies to the walls against migrants. When the UK wanted to re-establish a border in Northern Ireland, the bourgeoisie took offence at such “peace-threatening” boldness, “reminiscent of the worst hours of the Cold War”. When Lithuania and Poland decided to build thousands of kilometres of barbed wire fences, this was called “protecting European borders” and “doing a very important service”...
Poland's populist government, after being roundly reviled for its anti-abortion measures and Eurosceptic statements, is suddenly in the spotlight. This crisis is a real boon for Poland’s image with its “European partners”. Clearly, if the Polish state is doing such a great “service”, it is because it is doing the dirty work of the other EU states without a second thought.
Let us remember that the “great democracies” of Europe, when they do not themselves park asylum seekers in abject concentration camps, such as Moria in Greece, subcontract the “management of migratory flows” to regimes that are well known for their “respect for human dignity”: Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco or Libya, where the worst kind of slave traders still operate under the benevolent eye (and purse) of the European Union! On the other side of the Atlantic, President Biden, who was supposed to break with his predecessor's disgusting migration policy, is proving to be just as brutal: since September, his administration has been “evacuating” thousands of migrants to a Haitian hell, nearly 14,000 according to the American media.
The “democratic” states can always present themselves as the guarantors of “human dignity”, but the reality shows that they do not attach any more importance to it than the more “authoritarian” regimes. For both, only their cold interests in the imperialist arena count.
The “right of asylum”: a tool for building walls against migrants
It is up to the parties of the left of capital, from ecologists to Trotskyites, to brandish an equally hypocritical semblance of indignation. In Poland and other European countries, small demonstrations, led by leftists, have been held to demand the application of “international law” and the reception of refugees in the name of the “right of asylum”.
Yet bourgeois law, with its international conventions and “human rights”, is quite comfortable with the inhumane physical and regulatory barriers erected against migrants: the “right to asylum” is applied piecemeal according to ultra-selective criteria, and in the face of Poland’s abuses, which are indeed incompatible with the Geneva Convention, European states need only look the other way.
By “fighting for the application of refugee rights”, NGOs and leftist organisations are in fact abandoning migrants to the gallows trees of the administration, exposing them to permanent policing and the equally impassable wall of bureaucracy. There is nothing to hope for in bourgeois law, which only expresses the sinister interests of the ruling class and its barbarism. The “sorting centres”, the coast guards pushing back the fragile boats of migrants (as Frontex does), the innumerable walls, the subsidies to countries that regularly use torture, all this exists in the strict respect of “law”.
The only answer to the crimes of the bourgeoisie against migrants is the international solidarity of all proletarians. This is the method that the workers' movement has always defended: when the International Working Men's Association was founded in 1864, it already had to oppose speeches accusing immigrants of driving down wages. In the face of this nationalist reflex, it affirmed on the contrary “that the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists”. Then as now, it is not the migrants who are attacking our living conditions, but capital.
EG, 21 November 2021
1« Faute de politique d’accueil commune, l’Europe déstabilisée par la Biélorussie », Mediapart (11 novembre 2021).