Originally published in Liberation Newspaper, October 2015
The refugee crisis has led to sharp political polarization across Europe. On one hand, there have been massive demonstrations of international solidarity—demanding that their governments allow in the refugees and provide for their basic needs. On the other side, fascist and semi-fascist forces across the continent has exploited this crisis to gain strength. They have been helped by a range of ruling-class political parties that have scapegoated Muslims and immigrants for their country’s social problems.
In Italy, the government announced last year that it would be ending its search-and-rescue mission for refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. This is a criminal policy, given that many refugees attempt to reach Europe across the Mediterranean in a perilous crossing that has already led to the tragic death of thousands. Italy receives many refugees from Libya, which has fallen into civil war between rival militias since the 2011 NATO bombing. Roberto Maroni, a leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League and governor of Lombardy, announced in June that his province would stop admitting refugees altogether.
Closer to Syria is Greece, a main entry point for refugees into Europe. Greece’s economy has been crippled by U.S. and EU-imposed austerity and soaring unemployment. Hate crimes have been on the rise, and the powerful neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has risen to become a national political force. Pro-immigrant, socialist and anarchist groups have organized community defense squads to defend areas of immigrants and refugees. Although its top leadership is under house arrest for running a criminal organization, Golden Dawn still increased its level of support in September’s election to 7 percent.
This dangerous phenomenon is present to varying degrees across the European Union. In Finland, fascists threw rocks and petrol bombs at vehicles carrying refugees. In France, the far-right anti-immigrant National Front is polling at or near first place for the next presidential election. France’s prime minister, from the misnamed Socialist Party, insists that the country will not admit more than 30,000 refugees, a tiny figure. In Britain, the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party has grown dramatically in recent years and the ruling Conservative Party is moving to the right to compensate.
Even in countries like Germany, whose government has advocated a comparatively more accepting policy, there have been manifestations of far-right anti-immigrant violence. Hundreds of rioters attacked refugees in the German city of Dresden multiple times in August.
But in other states of the European Union, the government sets the tone for the right-wing attack. Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary has been perhaps the most outspokenly anti-refugee head of government in the EU. Meeting refugees on his border with brutal military force, Orban is blatantly bigoted against Muslims, saying, “We don’t want to [live with a large number of Muslims] and I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.”
Progressive forces across Europe have been mobilizing opposition to this right-wing trend and proclaiming “refugees are welcome here!” As imperialist-fueled civil conflicts have combined with rapid shifts in the global capitalist order, human displacement is higher than ever.
In this global context, it is vital to strengthen working-class internationalism to counter the fascists and semi-fascists. This is underway in the form of large demonstrations, a resurgent immigrant and refugee rights movement, and important breakthroughs such as the one in Barcelona, where the Mayor Ada Colau announced the city would be a safe haven for refugees. The same is needed in the United States to not only assist the refugees of the Middle East, but to defeat dangerous, well-funded bigots like Donald Trump.