‘European Union anti-refugee policy is racist’


The remains of an inflatable rubber dinghy off Libya that was carrying 15 people, all of whom were rescued by rescue ship Open Arms

By Ben Cowles in Britain:

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

EU accused of ‘institutional racism’ in the way it handles Mediterranean rescues

‘If white Europeans had been on the boat, they probably wouldn’t have had to wait so long’, NGO says after EU nations ignored the boat’s distress call

THE European Union was accused of institutional racism for the way it handles rescues in the Mediterranean today after calls about another refugee boat in distress went unanswered.

German charity Sea Watch discovered an inflatable boat with 15 people on board adrift in the Mediterranean yesterday from its reconnaissance plane, Moonbird.

“Our crew accompanied the boat for hours and tried to inform the merchant ship Vos-Aphrodite, only a few miles away, about the acute sea emergency, and to coordinate a rescue”, Sea Watch tweeted yesterday afternoon.

“Several contacts failed and none of the ships in the vicinity attempted to rescue [the people].

“We received information from the so-called Libyan Coastguard that their ships would remain in port due to ‘bad weather’. We’ll search for the boat tomorrow, with the sad expectation that EU authorities are once again responsible for the death of people by refraining from assistance.”

Fortunately the Spanish NGO migrant rescue ship Open Arms was in the area and tweeted today that it had found and rescued the 15 people on board.

Open Arms said the refugees‘ dinghy was taking on water and was about to sink. “15 people: six men, two women, two children and five minors. Everyone is safe,” the charity tweeted this afternoon.

Both Sea Watch and Open Arms condemned the EU’s inaction as well as its relationship and funding of the Libyan Coastguard.

“If Libya is not a safe place and its ‘coastguards’ do not go out to rescue lives in danger if there is bad weather, they should stop calling themselves coastguards”, the charity’s founder Oscar Camps tweeted yesterday.

Sea Watch said: “A Libyan Coastguard that doesn’t send a boat for weather reasons; merchant ships who refuse any communication with our [search and rescue] reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird and official maritime rescue co-ordination centres who value formal responsibilities more than human lives.

“If white Europeans had been on the boat, they probably wouldn’t have had to wait so long. That is institutional racism. Fortunately, our crew was able to find the small rubber dinghy again this morning and co-ordinate a rescue with our friends from Open Arms.”

Meanwhile the Alan Kurdi and the Ocean Viking — civil refugee rescue ships operated by German charity Sea Eye and French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) respectively — were today finally given permission to disembark the refugees they rescued in the Mediterranean in the past two weeks.

The Alan Kurdi rescued 91 people in Libyan waters on Saturday as armed, Libyan-flagged speedboats attempted to disrupt the operation by firing bullets into the air and the sea.

The Sea Eye’s chairman Gorden Isler said Berlin’s silence to the armed attack on the Alan Kurdi was deafening. “If we were a merchant ship and had transported diesel engines or crude oil, then there would certainly be reactions from the federal ministries,” he tweeted.

The Ocean Viking rescued 104 people on October 18 and has since spent 11 days at sea with nowhere to go and no word from Europe.

Michael Fark, MSF head of mission for Libya and Mediterranean, said the charity was relieved France, Germany, and Italy finally agreed to relocate all of the 104 survivors on board the Ocean Viking, and the 90 people on board the Alan Kurdi.

“These prolonged, inhumane standoffs must not continue. It is unacceptable to strand people at sea, waiting days and weeks while European states debate whether and how to fulfil their humanitarian and legal obligations.

“It’s disappointing that only three states were part of this solution. All European states must live up to their principles.

“This means agreeing on the implementation of a predictable and humane disembarkation mechanism for everyone rescued at sea, that also shares responsibility, easing the burden on coastal states.”

Saving refugees from drowning, rescuer interviewed


Hannah Wallace Bowman, communications manager on board the Ocean Viking (right)

By Ben Cowles in Britain:

Friday, October 4, 2019

‘It will not be easy to reconcile how Europe is allowing this to happen

HANNAH WALLACE BOWMAN speaks to the Star about her time on board the Ocean Viking, an NGO migrant rescue ship that has saved hundreds of lives despite Fortress Europe’s dogged efforts to stop them

“I CAN’T even begin to describe how overwhelming the situation in Libya and the Mediterranean is,” says Hannah Wallace Bowman, communications manager on board the Ocean Viking, a migrant rescue ship operated by French charities Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee.

“I don’t think I will really be coming to terms with it anytime soon,” she says after having spent close to two months at sea and saving the lives of over 650 people.

The Ocean Viking, which launched in August, is MSF and SOS Mediterranee’s return to sea-based migrant rescues. The charities had been operating the Aquarius for several years before, but were forced to stop in December 2018 after what MSF Sea described as “sustained attacks on [its] search and rescue [operations] by European states.”

Once again, instead of allowing the crew to safely carry the rescued to a safe port — as international maritime law requires all sea captains to do — Italy, Malta and the European Union made every effort to prevent the Ocean Viking, and other ships of the civil migrant rescue fleet, from doing so.

Bowman had been on board the Ocean Viking since the beginning. She spoke to me right after disembarking for the first time in over three weeks.

“We’ve seen people who have wounds from melted plastic that has been burnt onto their skin. We had people who were made to call their families to ask for money while they were having physical violence inflicted upon them.

“I can only begin to imagine how devastating that must be to have your brother, your sister, your child on the phone, hearing them going through that pain and not being able to do anything.

“When I actually get a chance to sit and think about what it is that I have experienced with these people, I’m not entirely sure how easily I’ll be able to reconcile the fact that Europe is allowing this to continue and that we are demonising the people who are doing the work to save these people.”

A lone life jacket floats in the Mediterranean (Pic: Hannah Wallace Bowman)

The EU responded to the so-called “migrant crisis” in 2015 not with rescues but by launching an anti-human-trafficking naval mission called Eunavfor Med, which later became known as Operation Sophia. Though its primary mission was to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, the mission’s ships are estimated to have saved the lives of 45,000 migrants from a watery Mediterranean grave.

However, in April, after pressure from Italy’s then far-right … coalition government, the EU agreed to pull Operation Sophia’s SAR ships and increase funds to the so-called Libyan coastguard (LCG), which has been pushing refugees back to the war-torn country ever since.

“As it stands, Operation Sophia has placed all its emphasis on aerial assets,” Bowman says. “So they don’t have any rescue capacity, which means they can watch people from the sky and they can also direct interceptions.

“They can empower the LCG in order to intercept boats. But if they see a shipwreck, they’re pretty powerless to do anything.”

Worse, the Libyan coastguard and Operation Sophia do not collaborate with the civil fleet, even when their ships are in the vicinity of a boat in distress, Bowman says.

“When we’ve tried to contact the relevant authorities, they simply don’t respond. If they do pick up the phone, they don’t speak English, which is a requirement of your co-ordination centre.

“So we’re pretty alone out there. At least that’s what it feels like.”

The inhumanity of Europe’s handling the crisis was illustrated on September 20 when the Ocean Viking rescued 35 people in a wooden boat from waters within Malta’s search and rescue area.

The Maltese authorities later sent a vessel to the Ocean Viking to transfer the 35 people picked up in its waters but would not take in the 182 other refugees — including a newborn baby, several children and a pregnant woman — who the crew had saved just a few days before in Libyan waters.

“It was a really difficult moment. We had to explain the reason some people were allowed to get off and others weren’t was simply down this fairly arbitrary division in terms of search and rescue regions.

“We were really worried as to how people were going to respond. But I was incredibly impressed with the level of dignity that people received the news. I certainly wouldn’t have taken it as they did.

“Some of them took off to lay down and cry. Others just took themselves inside and had a quiet moment. It was a really sombre atmosphere on the ship.

“This decision really revealed the level to which this system is so entirely dysfunctional.”

Members of the Maltese Armed Forces take a group of migrants to a Maltese military ship in the Mediterranean Sea

Terrible as this situation was, and how utterly demoralising it must have been for the migrants left on board, it seems it wasn’t as bad as what happened in August on the Open Arms, a NGO migrant rescue ship operated by a Spanish charity.

The vessel went 19 days with close to 100 refugees crammed on board. Italy’s then interior minister Matteo Salvini’s stubborn refusal to allow the rescued into Lampedusa left the boat languishing for days within sight of land.

The charity’s founder Oscar Camps shared videos of the tense situation on board as arguments broke out between the crew, the Italian coastguard and the rescued people. In one clip, nine refugees throw themselves overboard in an attempt to either reach the island or end their own lives.

Eventually, after several emergency medical evacuations, an Italian court ordered the ship’s temporary seizure and brought the migrants to land.

“We also endured a very horrific standoff at the same time as the Open Arms incident,” Bowman reminds me.

At the time, the Ocean Viking was carrying 356 refugees and had also been denied a port of safety by Italy and Malta. Other EU nations ignored its calls for help.

“People were throwing themselves overboard on the Open Arms and we had people threatening to go on hunger strike.

“They were absolutely terrified that we were going to send them back to Libya. They were asking us every day what’s going to happen and where we were going. And we couldn’t tell them anything.

“We had to say we’re really sorry, we don’t know, we’re working as hard as we can, but we promise we won’t take you back to Libya.

“Fourteen days at sea waiting in very cramped conditions in the middle of the summer really pushes people to breaking point.

“These people had been through so much already. And they were now in a situation where they were being told once again that they’re not wanted, they’re not welcome, that people don’t see them as human beings.

“One of the things the crew wondered was how we got into this state. It was only a year ago that the Aquarius was prevented from entering a harbour for just a few days and the world took notice. And now we were weeks on end and it was just commonplace. It was the new normal.”

I ask Bowman how she feels about Europe’s handling of the crisis. She says the overriding emotion is one of sadness.

“We’ve literally just got off the ship, just touched ground for the first time in over three weeks. But for the people that we have rescued, their journey is not over.

“They’re entering into a context where there are a lot of misconceptions about who refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers are. The asylum system process they’re about to go through is incredibly arduous.

“The fact remains that no-one knows how many people, as I speak to you now, are trying to make that journey across the central Mediterranean. We know it’s the deadliest migratory route in the world, but we don’t really know exactly how deadly it is.

“On this last rotation, we had a family: a father, mother and four kids, who’d been detained in Libya. They tried to make the crossing twice previously and had been intercepted by the LCG and forced back into detention.

“They had been treated by MSF while they were in detention, which they were incredibly grateful for because they said there were other people who weren’t as fortunate, who lost children.

“They told me this was their last attempt. They said: ‘Look, we don’t even know what we would have done. Honestly, if we hadn’t made it, then we would rather have been dead in the water. At least then it would be over. At least then we would be able to rest.’

“I understand that is really difficult for people to put themselves in the shoes of an individual for whom their reality is so incredibly removed from their own. But I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’re so lacking in a sense of shared humanity. What world are we creating? Where are we heading?”

Children wave at a boat from aboard the Ocean Viking as it reaches the port of Messina, Italy

It sometimes feels like we’re heading towards a kind of eco-fascism, comes my response. As our ecosystems are increasing devastated by climate change, I worry that it will be those forced to flee from the worst effects that will bear the brunt of, and the blame for, climate destruction.

“We can just keep building the walls higher,” Bowman says, “but they can only go so high.

“Unless we really address the root causes as to why it is these people are forced onto the move, unless we address the situation in Libya and provide legal options in order that they can escape, then nothing is going to change and we’re still going to be a necessity in the central Mediterranean Sea.

“The very organisations, the very people who are simply trying to do the job that Europe has left by removing its search and rescue capacity are also now the organisations and individuals that are being singled out as criminals.”

With alt-right poster boy Salvini no longer in government, perhaps things could change for the civil migrant rescue fleet. Indeed, late last month the governments of Malta, Italy, France and Germany met in Valletta and agreed to set up “regulations for a temporary emergency mechanism” to help Italy and Malta deal with the crisis — note the word “temporary”.

Bowman says it’s too early to tell if any of this will have a positive effect, but she does hold out hope for the future. She says she has to.

“If I didn’t believe we have the possibility to shift the way people see what we do and the way that we deal with one another as humans, I wouldn’t be doing the job that I do.

“The situation now is quite literally leaving people to die at sea. It’s leaving people with a totally impossible choice whereby they are having to decide between staying where they are and suffering or risking their lives at sea.

“I feel the shift will come from civil society, from people once again embracing what it means to be a human being with shared responsibility, with community, with compassion.

“I have to believe that things could be different. And I believe that part of that change comes from people having the tools to understand the reality that is playing out there.”

Hannah Wallace Bowman is a communications manager for MSF.

The Civil Fleet

SINCE the EU abandoned its search and rescue missions in the central Mediterranean sea in April, a number of NGOs have stepped up to do the humanitarian work Europe should be doing.

These NGO migrant rescue ships have become known as the civil fleet. Here is a brief rundown of the most active ships in the central Mediterranean since April 2019.

Ocean Viking: Operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, this ship has saved up to 650 lives since April. It returned to sea on Thursday.

Alan Kurdi: This ship, named after the Syrian Kurdish boy who was found dead on a Turkish beach, is operated by the German Charity Sea Eye. It has saved around 182 lives. The charity is currently raising funds to return to sea. You can donate here.

Alex: Operated by the Italian charity Mediterranea Saving Humans, this ship saved 54 people in July. The Alex is still being held by the Italian authorities after it docked in Lampedusa.

Mare Jonio: Also operated by Mediterranea Saving Humans, the Mare Jonio has saved the lives of 106 refugees in August. The ship has also been siezed in Italy.

Sea Watch III: Operated by German charity Sea Watch, this ship has saved the lives of roughly 117 people since April. The boat has remained in the hands of the Italian authorities since June when Captain Carola Rackete disembarked 52 migrants in Lampedusa in defiance of Matteo Salvini.

Open Arms: Operated by the Spanish NGO Open Arms, the ship has saved 124 lives in August. The ship set sail again for the central Mediterranean on October 2.

Eleonore: Operated by German charity Mission Lifeline. The ship has saved 104 lives in August. The Elenore has been seized by the Italian authorities in Sicily since it finished its last mission on September 2.

European Commission, xenophobia and militarism


This 13 September 2019 video is called Bad start? Outrage over new EU Commission ‘European way of life’ portfolio.

By Will Morrow:

“Protecting the European way of life” and “a stronger Europe in the world

New EU Commission to intensify militarism and attacks on refugees

16 September 2019

Ursula von der Leyen, the former German defense minister and incoming head of the European Commission (EC), unveiled her proposed team of commissioners in a press conference last Tuesday. The nominations and titles of the new posts are another marker of the extraordinary pace with which the European ruling class is moving to the right. The incoming EC will oversee an escalation of militarism, vicious attacks on refugees and the elevation of fascist and far-right forces against the working class across the European Union.

The most widely commented upon change is to the portfolio covering immigration and refugees. It was previously titled “Migration, interior affairs and citizenship”. Henceforth it will be named “Vice-president for protecting the European way of life.” It covers not only migration, but responsibility for policing Europe’s external borders and internal security, as well as education and employment policies.

The new title, which associates restricting migrations with protecting a so-called European “way of life,” is a direct reprisal of the tropes of the modern-day fascist right and would have pleased Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels himself.

For example, a major theme advanced by French fascist ideologue Renaud Camus, in his The Great Replacement, is that migration to Europe threatens to replace—i.e., extinguish—European “identity” and culture. Camus’s “theory” was cited by Brenton Tarrant, the fascist terrorist who gunned down 50 Muslim worshipers at two [mosques] in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, in the manifesto he published shortly before the attack. Tarrant’s manifesto opposed what he called an immigrant “invasion” to the west.

The introductory letter from von der Leyen to Margaritis Schinas, a former European Parliament member for the Greek conservative party New Democracy who will fill the role, includes passages that could have been culled directly from the publications of the extreme right. Protecting the “European way of life,” von der Leyen states, “highlights the need for well-managed legal migration, a strong focus on integration and ensuring our communities are cohesive and close-knit.”

“We must address and allay legitimate fears and concerns about the impact of irregular migration on economy and society”, she states. Those whose “legitimate fears” von der Leyen has in mind are evidently the far right, with whom she makes clear the EC will collaborate: “Building a consensus for a fresh start on migration will require outreach, consultation and close cooperation.” Schinas should “lead this work by focusing on building bridges between those most entrenched,” she writes. Von der Leyen’s overtures are entirely in line with the current policies of the European Union, which has promoted far-right forces across the continent, and the German Grand Coalition of which she has been a part. The Grand Coalition has elevated the fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) to the official opposition in Parliament, and defended the right-wing extremist Humboldt University professor Jorg Baberowski—who infamously remarked that “Hitler was not vicious”—from criticisms by students who have opposed his efforts to justify the revival of German militarism by relativizing the crimes of the Nazis. The Coalition’s intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, has placed the German Socialist Equality Party on a list of left-wing extremists because it opposes capitalism, militarism, fascism and seeks to build a socialist movement of the working class.

The European bourgeoisie is shifting so far to the right that it is increasingly dispensing even with the hypocritical humanitarian titles that it previously bestowed to its right-wing policies. This has provoked consternation even among bourgeois figures in the media and political establishment.

Even outgoing European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has expressed his concern at the renaming of the immigration post. There have been statements of opposition from individual members of European Parliament, and on Wednesday, the European Parliament voted for a motion by the French MEP for the Greens Karima Delli, protesting the announcement.

These protests are completely cynical and fraudulent. The European Union has overseen a policy of mass murder toward refugees for years, including deliberately canceling rescue ships in the Mediterranean to drown thousands of refugees in the continent’s southern sea as a deterrent to other asylum seekers. All the parties protesting the latest name change support the attack on migrants but want to give their own variant a less accurate title. They know their policies are unpopular in the population and fear an eruption of opposition from below.

Von der Leyen also announced that the foreign relations portfolio will be renamed as the commission for “A Stronger Europe in the World.” …

He will be responsible for overseeing a more aggressive military policy by the European Union against its major geopolitical rivals, including Russia, China and the United States, and escalating predatory operations to secure access to markets and resources for European imperialism.

We must “build our partnership with the USA, although we have issues, but they are our closest allies; define our relation with a more self-assertive China; be a more reliable neighbor, for example to Africa,” von der Leyen said. The foreign relations portfolio will become a “geopolitical commission.” She concluded by declaring that “the world needs more Europe. The world is calling for more Europe.”

By a more “responsible neighbor” for Africa, von der Leyen has in mind an expansion of the ongoing seven-year occupation of resource-rich Mali and the Sahel led by French imperialism in alliance with Germany; the backing for African dictators such as Egypt’s Abdel el-Sisi; the wars for regime change as in Libya in 2011; and the establishment of more concentration camps across the continent to hold asylum seekers.

There is no support for these policies, whose logical outcome is the waging of nuclear war with European imperialism’s geopolitical rivals, in the working class. It is the working class that will be forced to pay for the ruling elite’s militarization through austerity against its social rights and living standards. That is why, as in the 1930s, the ruling class is turning once again to the promotion of far-right and fascist forces.

Other nominations for the EC also indicate a more aggressive policy by the major EU powers.

Margrethe Vestager will be vice-president of an expanded portfolio, “Europe fit for the digital age.” She will retain the competition portfolio, in addition to overseeing regulation of the technology sector. This indicates that the EU will intensify its measures aimed at restricting the power of the major US-based technology companies inside Europe, including Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Vestager had been labeled the “tax lady” by US President Donald Trump after she handed out fines to American technology companies, including €8 billion to Google. Yesterday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced that France would block Facebook from deploying its new cryptocurrency, Libra, on the continent.

The EU’s restrictions on US-based technology companies are not only directed at Washington but are aimed at strengthening the powers of the EU member states to censor the internet and suppress growing opposition in the working class. In another indication of the turn toward authoritarianism and building up of a police state, the commission for enlargement to oversee the introduction of new member states to the EU will be operated by Laszlo Trocsanyi, an ally of the far-right Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán who helped to craft Orbán’s reforms placing the judiciary under the control of the executive.

The announcement of the new slate of EC commissioners is another confirmation that there is no progressive faction of the European bourgeois political establishment. The working class across the continent confronts a ruling elite that is shifting sharply to the right, preparing for war and establishing the forces of dictatorship to respond to a growing international movement of the working class.

European Union accused of ‘fascist rhetoric’


This 28 September 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Right-Wing Eastern European States Honor Nazi-Collaborating Fascists as ‘Heroes’ (Pt 1/2)

Far-right governments in Eastern Europe are rehabilitating past Nazi collaborators as national heroes, rewriting the history of the Holocaust to turn the Soviet Union into the villain. Historian Dovid Katz explains to TRNN’s Ben Norton how the fascist-apologist “double genocide” myth is spreading.

This video is the sequel.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

EU accused of adopting ‘fascist rhetoric’ with new Commissioner For Protecting Our European Way of Life to oversee immigration policy

Ursula von der Leyen said new Commission, which is all-white, was ‘as diverse as Europe is’

By Jon Stone in Brussels

10 September 2019

The EU commission has been accused of adopting “grotesque” and “fascist” rhetoric after it created a new “Commissioner for Protecting our European Way of Life” role to oversee immigration policy.

Incoming president Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the new job along with the rest of her cabinet at a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, explaining that it would cover migration issues.

But critics said the new job’s Orwellian-sounding name suggested that immigrants were a threat to the European way of life.

Ms Von der Leyen said the new Commission cabinet was “as diverse as Europe is” – though critics also pointed out that all of its members are white.

Many of the posts in Ms Von der Leyen’s new cabinet, which will serve for five years, have avoided traditional ministerial titles for more goal-orientated names like Commissioner for “A Stronger Europe in the World” and “An Economy that Works for People”.

But it is the migration commission[er]’s rebrand that has raised the most eyebrows. Labour MEP Claude Moraes said that “calling the European Commission migration portfolio ‘protecting our way of life’ is deeply insulting”, adding that the “weird and odd titles’ of the Commission would create “confusion”.

Molly Scott Cato, a British Green MEP, told The Independent: “This looks like the portfolio to fight back against the rise of the fascists, but only by adopting their divisive rhetoric around ‘strong borders’.

“What Greens value about our European way of life is our role as a beacon of compassion and diversity. We will continue our work to ensure that Europe remains a safe harbour for those fleeing persecution and to champion global human rights.”

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told The Independent: “The very point about the European way of life, is the freedom for individuals to chose their own way of life. We do not need a Commissioner for that, thank you very much.”

“The implication that Europeans need to be protected from external cultures is grotesque and this narrative should be rejected.

“The only threat to “our way of life” is autocrats … like Orbán, [Poland‘s] Kaczinsky or Johnson trampling all over the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy. Instead of creating fake portfolios, the Commission should show some more guts in upholding the values we have laid down in our treaties, laws and case law.”

NGOs also criticised the mode. Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said: “Linking migration with security, in the portfolio of the Commissioner for Protecting our European Way of Life, risks sending a worrying message.

People who have migrated have contributed to the way of life in Europe throughout its history. We trust that Commissioner-designate Margaritis Schinas will work hard for an EU in which safe and legal routes allow migrants to continue to contribute to the future of Europe.” …

The role was given to Greece’s EU commissioner, Margaritis Schinas,

Margaritis Schinas is a member of the New Democracy Party (ND). A ‘centre-right’ party which sometimes cooperated with the Greek Golden Dawn nazis when ND was in a previous Greek government. And which recently, when they returned to the Greek goverment, made anti-refugee policies even harsher.

Greece: With helicopters hovering above, hundreds of police in full riot gear raided four buildings in Athen’s Exarcheia neighborhood on August 26. After blocking all entryways, the police detained 143 migrants and refugees, 35 of whom were children and babies. Many lived in a building known as Spirou Trikoupi 17: here.

who previously served as the Commission’s chief spokesperson under Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr Schinas said in a statement: “I am trilled to be nominated for the position of Vice-President for Protecting Our European Way of Life.

“From better protecting our citizens and borders and modernising our asylum system, to investing in Europeans’ skills and creating brighter future for our youth, I am confident that we can take great strides over the next five years to both protect and empower Europeans.”

Refugees betrayed, from Hitler till today


This video says about itself:

Voyage of the Damned (1976)

This movie is based on the 1974 book about the voyage of the SS St. Louis in 1939. Over 900 Jews were on board hoping to find sanctuary in Cuba.

By Bill Van Auken:

”Voyage of the Damned:” Hundreds of refugees stranded in the Mediterranean

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the infamous voyage of the German cruise liner the MS St. Louis from Hamburg to the Americas with 937 passengers aboard, nearly all of them German-Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.

Even though the Cuban government had sold them visas, when they entered Havana’s harbor on May 27, 1939, the authorities stopped the refugees from disembarking. After waiting for a week in the vain hope that Cuban officials would reverse their decision, the St. Louis sailed to the coast of Florida hoping that the United States would offer refuge. However, the Democratic administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt also turned away the refugees. Attempts to enter Canada and the Dominican Republic were similarly rebuffed.

Left with no option but to return to Europe, the St. Louis docked at the Belgian port of Antwerp on June 17. Within less than a year, Belgium would be occupied by the German Wehrmacht. By the end of the Second World War, 256 of the St. Louis passengers would be murdered in the Holocaust.

Chronicled in the book Voyage of the Damned as well as a film by the same name, the fate of the St. Louis was a symbol and harbinger of the unprecedented barbarism, including Hitler’s “Final Solution”, that would engulf humanity in the course of a global war that claimed the lives of some 85 million people.

It was undoubtedly the tragic and criminal saga of the St. Louis that Leon Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionary and founder of the Fourth International, had in mind when he wrote in a May 1940 manifesto on “The Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution”:

“The world of decaying capitalism is overcrowded. The question of admitting a hundred extra refugees becomes a major problem for such a world power as the United States. In an era of aviation, telegraph, telephone, radio, and television, travel from country to country is paralyzed by passports and visas. The period of the wasting away of foreign trade and the decline of domestic trade is at the same time the period of the monstrous intensification of chauvinism and especially of anti-Semitism. … Amid the vast expanses of land and the marvels of technology, which has also conquered the skies for man as well as the earth, the bourgeoisie has managed to convert our planet into a foul prison.”

These words retain all of their burning actuality under conditions in which “Voyages of the Damned” are being repeated on a daily basis in the central Mediterranean, a watery grave for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees, some 14,000 of them over the last three years alone.

The plight of two rescue vessels stranded off the coast of Europe, the Ocean Viking and the Open Arms, recalls nothing so much as the St. Louis, with the continent’s governments refusing to admit the more than 500 refugees aboard the ships.

A boat carrying refugees in the Mediterranean [Photo: UNHCR/L.Boldrini]

The migrants, most of them from Africa, were rescued off the coast of Libya from which they had fled, some them literally plucked out of the water. The 151 passengers—including 31minors—of the Open Arms, a vessel operated by a Spanish rescue group, have been at sea for nearly two weeks off the coast of Italy. They have been denied entry by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has imposed fines of up to €1 million along with imprisonment for captains entering Italian waters with refugees, together with the confiscation of their ships.

Salvini, who is in the midst of a campaign to form a new, openly fascist government in Italy, has railed against the rescue ships, touting his policy of “absolute prohibition” against their landing and seeking to use the plight of the stranded refugees to whip up anti-immigrant chauvinism in advance of an election.

The Ocean Viking, which has 356 refugees rescued at sea—nearly a third of them minors—crammed into a space meant for 200, has been denied refueling in Malta as well as entry to Italy. The passengers are enduring conditions of suffocating heat and humidity and facing the threat of huge sea swells forecast for Wednesday.

The fascistic rants of Salvini are only the most blatant expression of a policy that has been put in place throughout Europe to bar the entry of refugees. A minister of the social democratic government of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Spain rejected an appeal from the captain of the Open Arms to admit the 31 minors aboard the ship as refugees, asserting that the captain had no “juridical standing” or parental authority to make such a request. He further charged that those aboard the Open Arms rescuing refugees were “compromising the reputation of Spain.”

The immigration minister of Norway, whose flag is flown by the Ocean Viking, said that the refugees should be “transported back to Africa” in order to avoid any “extension of the refugee route”.

The European Commission, which issued a call to European Union (EU) member states to coordinate a solution to the plight of the stranded refugees and show solidarity, reported that not a single government had responded. Every European government, with Germany and France in the lead, has collaborated in erecting a “Fortress Europe” with barbed wire and machine guns defending the EU’s borders and a ruthless campaign to end the rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

A key part of this vicious anti-refugee campaign has been contracted out to Libyan militias, which have been recruited and trained as a coast guard dedicated to hunting down refugees trying to reach Europe. They run concentration camps in Libya where those fleeing for their lives from other parts of Africa and the Middle East are subjected to torture, rape, summary execution and being sold into slavery. A civil war that has devastated the country since the 2011 US-NATO war destroyed its government and infrastructure has further placed migrants’ lives at risk. The bombing of a detention center last month killed some 50 refugees.

The campaign against refugees in Europe is mirrored across the Atlantic, where the Trump administration has added to its mass incarceration of children, its turning away of refugees on the Mexican border and its round-up of undocumented workers in factory raids, the imposition of new regulations aimed at barring legal immigration by those without financial resources. Immigrants already in the US are to be targeted for deportation for the “crime” of using social services such as food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies.

Asked by a reporter Tuesday whether the poem of Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” still applied, Ken Cuccinelli, Trump’s acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, responded with his own amended version: “Give me your tired and your poor, who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” While hardly poetry, the meaning is clear enough: working class immigrants and refugees need not apply.

TRUMPER: LADY LIBERTY ABOUT ‘PEOPLE FROM EUROPE’ Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump administration’s acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, reinforced his controversial interpretation of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty ― this time giving it a racist twist. [HuffPost]

The Bill Van Auken article continues:

The war against refugees and the scapegoating of immigrants for deteriorating living standards, unemployment and the destruction of social services under capitalism is a global phenomenon. It is employed by governments and ruling oligarchies the world over as a means of dividing the working class and cultivating neo-fascist elements that can be used to counter the growing wave of social struggles and strikes by the working class in country after country.

These policies are rooted not merely in the criminal and twisted mind of a Donald Trump or the fascistic ideology of a Matteo Salvini, but rather in the crisis of the capitalist system and the irreconcilable contradiction between the global integration of production and the capitalist nation-state system. The sealing of borders with razor wire barricades, the building of concentration camps for refugees and the whipping up of xenophobic and fascist forces echo the darkest days of the 1930s, just as the ships stranded in the Mediterranean recall the fate of the St. Louis.

The turn toward these methods is a sign not of strength, but of weakness and deepening crisis, as capitalist governments in the US, Europe and internationally face mounting opposition from working people that threatens revolutionary social and political explosions.

There are powerful sentiments of solidarity and support for refugees and immigrants within the working class that must be mobilized and armed with a socialist and internationalist program, including the right of all workers to live and work in whatever country they choose with full citizenship rights.

Britain: 3,000+ refugees have been on hunger strike in detention centres since 2015: here.