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Crisis in Lampedusa: Down with Fortress Europe, Open the Borders!

The way out of the immigration crisis is through the struggle against imperialism. This is a declaration from the European organizations of the Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International.

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Migrants from Northern Africa sit in lines on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The increase in migrant landings on the shores of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa has opened not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a political crisis for the Italian government and for the EU. European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen responded on Sunday with a 10-point plan. But the EU measures seek only to contain the ongoing crisis, without at all touching the imperialist and racist policies of Fortress Europe. It is these policies that drive thousands of people to risk their lives to escape wars, the climate crisis, and famine in Africa and elsewhere. When they arrive in Europe, they are met with police repression, huge refugee camps in Greece, cages in Bulgaria, express deportations at the Italian or Spanish borders, and floating prisons as in the United Kingdom — a walled Europe that denies the most minimal rights to migrants.

The Lampedusa Crisis and the Racist Policies of the EU

In 24 hours, 6,000 people landed on the island of Lampedusa from the African coast. In the following days, a total of 11,000 migrants arrived. This created a serious social crisis on the island, with thousands of people sleeping on the ground, without food or water. The images coming from Lampedusa show the social barbarism generated by capitalism, racism, and the cruelty on which Europe’s borders are based.

The European agency in charge of border control, Frontex, reports that in the first eight months of 2023, there has been an 18 percent increase in “irregular” border crossings compared to the previous year, amounting to 232,350 people — the highest since 2016. Although still far from 2015, which saw the biggest migration crisis since World War II, these numbers represent a very significant increase. North Africa is the main origin of these migratory flows. From there, thousands of people try to cross the Mediterranean towards the European coasts. The number of migrants attempting the “Italian route” has doubled since last year.

Faced with the crisis in Lampedusa, European governments are focusing on the need to slow down or stop the flow of migrants, with apocalyptic speeches in the case of the Far Right, as if the continent were being “invaded.” This rhetoric is hypocritical and reactionary, and makes migrants the target of racist attacks. The current crisis has also exacerbated tensions between the imperialist states, as none of them want to take charge of granting refuge to thousands of people.

Far-right currents have risen in several countries — including in the governments of Italy, Hungary, and Poland; supporting coalition governments in Finland and Sweden; and as leading opposition forces in Germany, France, and other countries. This has meant increased pressure to tighten migration policies. But even “progressive” regimes defend these xenophobic, repressive policies, such as Pedro Sanchez of the Spanish government, who has indicated that he is in “harmony” with Giorgia Meloni on immigration.

Last June, European governments agreed on new immigration policies. With “The New Pact on Migration and Asylum,” the central countries will be able to transfer up to 30,000 immigrants to other nations considered “transit countries,” such as Tunisia. Those fleeing misery and wars are considered by the imperialist countries as mere parcels to be transferred around. The agreement included 105 million euros (US$ 112 million) to finance maritime operations and border reinforcement. It also included 600 million euros (US$642 million) for migration control investments in Tunisia. 

The Tunisian government, meanwhile, has been denounced by human rights organizations for its repressive and brutal treatment of migrants. Let us recall that shortly after signing the pact with the EU, the Tunisian government abandoned hundreds of migrants to die in the desert. That is just a tip of the iceberg of this government’s brutal and xenophobic policies towards migrants. It is an “externalization” of border violence which the EU cedes to authoritarian governments like Tunisia, the murderous monarchy of Morocco, and the authoritarian Erdogan regime in Turkey.

A Crisis of the Italian Government… that Calls for a Firmer Hand

On Sunday, Meloni asked the EU to speed up the implementation of the agreement with Tunisia. The Italian prime minister is demanding that migrants be prevented from leaving the African coasts, strengthening repressive mechanisms there. And she asked for a naval blockade if necessary, in agreement with the North African authorities, to stop the departure of the barges, verify in Africa who is entitled or not to asylum, and to welcome in Europe only those who have permission to be there. 

Meloni has also proposed increasing the period of “detention” (i.e., prison detention) for migrants who have crossed into Italy to 18 months — the maximum allowed by European laws — before they must be repatriated to their home countries. The prime minister is also proposing to increase the number of detention centers in each Italian region. She is under pressure from her own government partners, starting with Matteo Salvini’s Lega, which has been denouncing that none of Meloni’s campaign promises have been fulfilled.

For its part, the government of Emmanuel Macron in France has a xenophobic and racist agenda that is the envy of Marine Le Pen’s Far Right. For the start of the school year, it has launched an Islamophobic campaign against young girls wearing the abaya, while it is preparing an anti-immigration law that will toughen the repression of undocumented workers. This latter measure is a clear response to the mobilizations of the last months against the pension reform and the police violence: the regime is trying to divide the popular sectors that fought together. 

Faced with the situation in Lampedusa, Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin has adapted his attitude to pressure from the Right and the Far Right, in front of which he does not want to appear “lax.” After initially saying that France “would help Italy secure its borders,” he clarified that France would not receive any immigrants coming from Lampedusa, insisting on the need for a “firm” response. Darmamin argued that it would be wrong for migrants to be immediately distributed throughout Europe and towards France once they arrive. Darmamin emphasized the need to protect the EU’s external borders. 

EU governments are attempting to separate refugees into those who are persecuted for “political reasons” and those for whom they do not recognize any right to asylum. Darmamin claimed that 60 percent of the arriving migrants do not have the right to seek refuge, coming from countries such as “Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Gambia,” where “there is no humanitarian issue.” The EU wants to proceed to a selection of migrants according to the needs of the bloc’s employers, ensuring that migrant and racialized workers are exploited in the hardest and most precarious labor sectors.

This is peak imperialist cynicism. Many of the migrants arriving in Europe are from countries that are former French colonies and, still today, remain subject to imperialist plunder of their resources and natural commons, chronic impoverishment, and to the exploitation of their populations. The spread of terrible economic and social conditions, widespread misery and unemployment, the corruption of pro-Western regimes in Africa and their authoritarian policies, and the growing global climate catastrophe are all phenomena related to the legacy of imperialist plunder in the region. These factors show that the distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” migrants is false. 

That is why we say: Open the borders, legal status and papers for all, no more imperialist plunder, and European imperialism out of Africa!

For the Unity of the Working Class with the Peoples Oppressed by Imperialism, against Racism and Xenophobia

Faced with the rise of reactionary, racist, and xenophobic currents, the “progressive” European governments offer no alternative. From the right-wing Meloni to the “progressive” Sanchez, Macron, and the German “traffic light” government, they all defend the worst violence against migrants, all while increasing their military budgets and participating in NATO’s war offensive in Ukraine.

Against this barbarism, it is necessary to defend solidarity among all people. The working class in Europe is made up of millions of people, from different generations, from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Migrants continue to occupy the most precarious and worst-paid jobs, and are the first to be laid off in times of crisis. The police and racist control of the borders allows the capitalists to count on an industrial reserve army, and to push down the working conditions of the entire working class. Therefore, the struggle against racism and for the opening of the borders should be taken up by the unions and all the social movements, and we must fight for mobilizations and strikes to be called.

The signatories of this declaration — socialist and revolutionary organizations of Spain, France, Germany, and Italy — repudiate the repressive and racist policies of the EU towards migrants. Against the plan of Von Der Leyen, Meloni, Macron, Sanchez, and Scholz, we also need a plan of struggle against a policy that makes the working class, migrants, and youth pay the costs of the crises. This struggle must include strikes and mobilizations of the big trade unions and social organizations. The recognition of the rights of migrants and their freedom to cross the borders of Europe clashes with the interests of the imperialists; that is why we need an internationalist and anti-imperialist policy.

In this sense, we demand:

No to the Von Der Leyen plan! Open the borders of Europe to all migrants!

Full freedom of movement for migrants! Close all detention centers for migrants, no more deals with regimes that imprison migrants!

Legal status and papers for all! Full civil and political rights for those living in Europe!

No more imperialist plunder! European imperialism out of Africa! Cancel the foreign debt of the former colonies of Europe! Nationalization without compensation and workers’ and popular control of the European multinationals abroad!

Originally published in Spanish on September 20 in IzquierdaDiaro.es.

Translation by Otto Fors

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Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International

The Fracción Trotskista—Cuarta Internacional (FT-CI) / Trotskyist Fraction—Fourth International (TF-FI) is an international tendency of revolutionary organizations.

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