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Understanding the role of imperialism behind Europe’s migratory tragedies

In 2015, more than 340,000 undocumented immigrants arrived in Europe. In the same period, more than 2,600 people died in the Mediterranean, and hundreds suffocated in truck containers, as occurred in Austria recently.

André Augusto

September 22, 2015
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Original version in Portuguese published on September 4th in Esquerda Diario.

They are women, men and children fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as northern and central Africa, from countries troubled by war and severe social crisis: consequences of imperialist intervention in the region.

But where the role of imperialism in migratory flows is found, we can also see a formidable factor for social transformation and the creation of a multinational and multicultural working class.

Source: The Independent

As shown in the graph above, the largest sources of immigration to Europe are precisely the countries that suffered imperialist oppression in recent decades. Below, we will provide a brief historical background of these countries.

In this graph, we can see the paths taken by immigrants arriving to Europe, on increasingly dangerous roads to scale the wall of capitalist xenophobia.


Below, we examine the countries that host refugees, often for use as more “flexible” or precarious labor to lower wages and cut backs to workers’ rights, with Germany at the head of them all.

Source: The Independent


Amazingly, the largest number of asylum applications in 2015 comes from Kosovo. There are 48,875 immigrants from the region. This territory located in the Balkan Peninsula, once part of the Roman and Ottoman Empires and then the former Yugoslavia, is today disputed by Albania and Serbia. Between March and June 1999 it was hit by the Kosovo War, in which NATO’s armed forces devastated the region in the bombing against Slobodan Milosevic‘s Yugoslavia. The outcome of the war and the subsequent conflict between Albanians and Serbs led to a massive exodus of 978,000 refugees, exiled in Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia and Macedonia, according to UNHCR (United Nations Agency for Refugees).

Source: The Independent

The German government took part in the massacre along with the US and NATO, disintegrating the Balkans nations incapable of maintaining themselves economically, yet today denies asylum to Kosovo refugees and others from the entire Balkan region. According to Chancellor Merkel, “they are no longer politically persecuted, so there is no reason to accept them,” differentiating them from “legal immigrants.”

(Photo from the wreckage in Kosovo after the 1999 bombing)
Photo: The Independent

Serbia provides 6,335 refugees to Western Europe.


One in five immigrants in the world is Syrian. The US and European powers’ bombing against the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad and his dictatorial army’s attacks have left the economy devastated with an inflation rate of 600%, and suffering from shortages, including a lack of medical supplies. The cost of the bloodbath in which the thug Assad plunged the country is difficult to quantify.

(March of Syrian refugees in the province of Yarmouk, in 2011)
Photo: The Independent

The result of these imperialist interventions to defeat the Arab Spring, with the assistance of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel in the financing of jihadists, was the collapse of moderate Islam and the rise of ISIS. Its reactionary regime of terror intensified the persecution of Sunnis and Shiites in Syria and Iraq, a conflict that has claimed the lives of 230,000 people and caused the flight of 11 million people from their homes, according to the UNHCR.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq

On October 7, 2001, international forces led by the United States began bombing Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda a little less than a month earlier, on September 11. Iraq was then invaded in 2003. The same Islamic fundamentalism trained and funded by the Pentagon in the 1980s to serve as a “green belt” against the advance of the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and Central Asia, was now the stated target of the “war on terror” to ensure control of oil and gas reserves of the Middle East to the United States.

(Image taken by US soldiers in Afghanistan, bearing the symbols of the “SS” – Schutzstaffel, Nazi storm troopers)
Photo: The Independent

The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan have left almost 150,000 soldiers and civilians dead since 2001. Another 162,000 were injured. Afghanistan is also responsible for the largest number of refugees in the world, and neighboring Pakistan is the country that is home to the largest portion of them, with about 1.6 million Afghani citizens. Iraq, in permanent civil war and practically a “failed state,” also provides 7,295 refugees to Europe.


Closely linked to Kosovo and affected by the NATO attacks in 1999, Albania is also an extremely poor country, with a GDP of just 12 billion euros, having lost part of its territory in several raids and wars since the First Balkan War in 1912. In 1997, Germany and Italy invaded the country to quell a popular uprising against the government that had left the population in economic misery. This crisis would lead to them creation of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army, which burst in the Kosovo war two years later. Over 8,200 Albanians are seeking asylum in Western Europe.


The clashes unleashed with the removal of former president Viktor Yanukovych, with the United States and Germany on one side (which despite their differences, have a common desire to remove Ukraine from Russia’s zone of political influence) and the reactionary Putin regime in Russia on the other, tremendously deteriorated the economic situation of Eastern Ukraine, particularly the provinces of Donetsky and Lugansk, where much of Ukraine’s energy and coal industry lies. The country lost more than 25% of its GDP since the beginning of the civil war in 2014. The number of people displaced by the conflict in Ukraine has now reached the milestone of 1.1 million while the total number of refugees reached 700,000, including 542,000 who fled to Russia and 80,000 who went to Belarus.

(Picture of combat in Debaltsev, the region of conflict between the Ukrainian government and the eastern provinces)
Photo: The Independent


Libya caused the greatest migratory tragedies in the Mediterranean since 2011 with the outbreak of civil war, resulting in the fall of dictator Gaddafi through the NATO bombings. Soon after, Italy, France and England split the spoils of oil between themselves and installed their monopolies on top of the massacre of 50,000 people.

Every day hundreds of Libyan Africans are buried in the coastal waters of Italy, near the island of Lampedusa. In April, a boat which sank with 700 people on board came from Libya. The practical absence of rule in Libya, with two governments located in Tobruk and Tripoli, facilitated the expansion of mafias trafficking immigrants, especially sub-Saharan Africans. About 1,100 Libyans—those who managed to cross the Mediterranean tomb –confront the migratory inferno in Europe.


Not to mention the centuries of Anglo-French colonialism in Africa, since 2011, the United Kingdom is the main ally in US bombings of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan, Republic Central African and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In, The Second Cold War, the Brazilian author Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira describes the long history of British army occupations, which include South Sudan during a bloody civil war between local government and seven militias. It also shows how the French government is not far behind: France is the country with the most coordinated military attacks in Africa in recent years, participating in raids in Mali, Niger, the Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia and Sudan.

Mali, invaded by France in 2012, provides about 2,000 immigrants to Europe.
From these maps and data, it is clear that the migratory phenomenon and its daily tragedies are almost mirrored continuity of the militarist policy of the US and European governments (including Russia) in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Native-born and immigrant: the same working class! Full rights for immigrants and refugees, down with racism and xenophobia.

For a working class that, as the Italian researcher Pietro Basso says, is increasingly international in its composition and reach, and that during the global crisis sees the working conditions and lives between natives and immigrants identifying themselves more and more, the bourgeoisie imposes an institutional racism that seeks to constantly add to the old class and gender inequalities, new inequalities of ethnic, national and religious basis in order to weaken the common struggle for the emancipation of workers.

On the contrary, when workers confront the capitalist mechanism of pitting workers of different nationalities against each other, to join together to fight for social and political rights, against xenophobia and racism and Islamaphobia, against all kinds of oppression of working women immigrants, for decent work, it strengthens the whole working class against the capitalists from across Europe.

Opposing the increase in xenophobia and reactionary policies to strengthen national boundaries and divide the workers, it is necessary to emphasize the content of internationalism that inseparably links the defense of full social and political rights for immigrants to the anti-imperialist struggle of the European working class against the capitalist nation-states and their borders.

The bourgeoisie uses divisions between national borders to stir up antagonism between native and immigrant workers, including immigrant workers from different countries and even between the same nationalities. When a native worker blames an immigrant worker for unemployment or low wages, the only one who benefits from this is the capitalist.
This is because, despite the reactionary anti-immigration speech, the intention is not to stop immigration: the capitalist states cannot do without a certain amount of immigrant labor, ultra-flexible temporary workers who, constrained by their own situation, are obliged to accept any sacrifice and the super-exploitation of their labor.

The important actions in solidarity with refugees and immigrants in Europe, such as the march of 20,000 people in Vienna, the demonstration of 10,000 people in Dresden (the capital of the neo-Nazi movement in Germany), and the tens of thousands of people in Iceland who offered their homes to refugees against government prohibition are big steps for an international campaign that merges the interests of workers across borders and ethnicities against European imperialism.

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