Refugees pose no threat. They are simply people seeking refuge from wars, poverty, exploitation and/or dangerous climate change. Many come for a better life, for themselves and their families.
The rich countries, and the imperialist system of war and exploitation over which they preside, create refugees. Yet instead of helping those forced to seek asylum, they criminalise them.
There is no such thing as “illegal” refugees. The 1951 United Nations refugee convention states that no asylum seeker should be discriminated against, whether they have the wrong papers or no papers, or on the basis of their method of arrival.
Despite this, governments subject refugees arriving in Australia to mandatory detention, punitive and cruel “temporary protection”, and a near relentless tirade of racism.
Australian governments — Coalition and Labor — demonise, imprison and isolate them from the rest of the community. Refugees are accused of lying and/or being terrorists. All this actually costs far more than letting them live in the community.
The impacts of climate change will force many people to seek refuge in different countries. Current climate change predictions indicate that hundreds of millions of people will die from drought, floods, fires and heat. Hundreds of millions more will become climate refugees.
In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment predicted an estimated 150 million environmental refugees worldwide by the middle of the century.
The increasing severity of extreme weather patterns, melting glaciers, rising sea-levels, spreading deserts, drought, fires and heat means large areas of the planet will rapidly become unsuitable for human life.
This is already a devastating reality for many. The people of Pacific and Indian Ocean island nations — such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Carteret Islands — are being forced from their homelands due to rising sea levels and the consequent loss of land, crops and freshwater supplies.
They will be unable to stay where they are and — unless the rich countries reverse their racist policies — they will have nowhere to go.
This acute and immediate impact of global warming has been largely ignored. Australia — the biggest per person greenhouse gas polluter in the world and a major exporter of coal — is part of the rich-world indifference that is punishing those least responsible yet worst affected by climate change.
No international treaties recognise people displaced by climate change as refugees. So, not only do First World governments demonise, isolate and imprison refugees, they also deny the existence of refugees fleeing the impacts of climate change.
Why do First World governments treat refugees this way?
To help maintain the capitalist multinationals’ control of the markets, resources and labour of the Third World, the governments of the wealthy countries aim to influence the movement of Third World people: to trap them in places where they must do extremely exploitative work to survive by erecting legal “fortresses” that bar all but a select few from moving to live in the rich countries.
First World capitalists, enriched by this super-exploitation of the majority in the Third World, are able to grant relatively privileged living conditions to most First World workers (higher wages, better welfare provisions, etc).
The relative prosperity of the majority of working people in the First World “buys” the capitalists a degree of political stability and “class peace” that’s not often available to their Third World counterparts.
Imperialist governments appeal to and foster racism and nationalism to increase support among their own populations for these fortress-style policies.
For example, whipping up fear and distrust of asylum seekers who arrive without “appropriate” documentation reduces the possibility of “Australians” developing bonds of understanding and solidarity with people from the Third World, and consequently supporting their struggles for national liberation, or against imperialist wars of occupation, or for serious action by the West, or for workers’ rights in their countries, and so on.
Socialists support open borders and the free movement of all people, particularly refugees.
[This article first appeared in the pamphlet What Resistance Stands For. To order the pamphlet, email email@example.com .]