Statement of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party (DIP) of Turkey on the refugee/migrant question
This statement was put out by DIP in early September 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. Hence the dated nature of the figures and facts mentioned. However, we believe that the characterisation of the problem and the measures proposed for moving forward are as valid now as they were then. It was distributed in English both at the workshop “Crises and Victims: A Workshop on Refugees, Migrants, and Anti-Refugee Discourses in a New Way,” organized jointly by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the Karl Polanyi Center for Global Social Studies, and Eszmélet journal, held in Budapest on February 26-27, 2016 and at the “Eastern and Central Europe Social Forum”, held in Wroclaw, Poland, on 11-13 March 2016. The text wastranslated into English from the Turkish original by Ayşegül Bahcıvan.
The drowning of three-year-old Alan Kurdi in the Mediterranean as his family attempted to reach Greece in an inflatable boat, and pictures of his lifeless little body washing up on the shores of Bodrum on the Turkish Mediterranean coast finally awakened millions, those with any remaining trace of humanity. Yet, if this emotional reaction is not reinforced with a lasting struggle and if the social sensitivity is not transformed into organising and action, the awakening will rapidly wear down, racism and nationalism will arise once again and the plight of migrants and those seeking the right to refuge will once again be papered over.
Migration is a social phenomenon that has prevailed across all continents throughout history. The migration of tribes has changed the constitution of populations in all geographical regions at various historical stages. In the past, migration arose out of the efforts of tribes to search for more suitable regions to sustain their livelihood due to insufficient production in their own lands. The ideologists of capitalism, the mode of production that has marked the world for the past 250 years, frequently speak of the dazzling wealth created by this mode of production. However, migration has continued to be an on-going phenomenon as a result of hunger, poverty and social tremor in modern capitalist societies as well. Because, while capitalism creates wealth at one pole, it causes dispossession, poverty, unemployment and misery at the opposite pole. Arising under these conditions, wars aggravate both migration and waves of political refuge. The tragedy we witness in the Mediterranean is the disgrace of capitalist civilisation!
Today, large-scale and uninterrupted waves of migration are observed across the globe with people flowing from Latin America to the US, from South Asia to oil-rich Gulf countries, from the former Soviet republics to Europe and from the poorest countries of Sub-Saharan Africa to countries such as South Africa or Nigeria, which themselves are struck by hunger and misery but whose income levels are above average because of their natural resources (oil, precious mines etc.).
The migration we see in the Mediterranean region from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe is a fundamental part of this general phenomenon. The year 2015 was a time when this wave of migration and refuge erupted into a crisis. The number of people migrating and seeking refuge from the Mediterranean region to the European Union (EU) has already reached 300 thousand. The figure was 219 thousand for the entire previous year. Thousands who wish to migrate and seek refuge are obliged to give in to human smugglers because of the policy of the European Union to stop these population movements. Entire families and children are broken as they embark on their journey to hope in ramshackle road and sea vehicles reminiscent of images from the era of slave trade. The waters of the Mediterranean have become a graveyard to these people. The number of people who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean this past summer has already exceeded 20 thousand! People trying to flee the wars provoked by the EU imperialists in countries impoverished as a result of their exploitation policies such as Afghanistan, Syria and Libya now face the obstacles created by the very same imperialists who are taking their lives as they attempt to seek refuge in Europe!
Today, there are various tendencies amongst EU governments. While Germany and Austria are welcoming refugees to some extent, Eastern European countries (Hungary, Slovakia etc.) and even some countries that are traditionally open to refugees, such as France, are adopting extremely harsh measures. The most important reason behind this tendency is the power of fascist and proto-fascist (i.e. movements that carry the seeds of fascism though they cannot yet be regarded as fascist), retrogressive, nationalist and migrant-hostile movements. As they insist on their stance, the remaining powers adopt an even more reactionary position. The National Front (FN) headed by Marine Le Pen in France is an outstanding instance of such political movements. Germany, on the other hand is making an effort to both rebuild the reputation it lost during the Greek crisis and to create an industrial reserve army to put downward pressure on the overall level of wages.
Today, one must place no trust whatsoever in the services delivered to refugees by the charities or the project-driven organisations that call themselves NGOs in Austria and Germany. Nor should one trust the calls made by the Pope for every church parish across Europe to host a refugee family. The working class should take the issue in its own hands.
The crimes of the AKP government
Attempts by Tayyip Erdoğan and Ahmet Davutoğlu to put the blame on Europe and redeem themselves are unacceptable. The AKP governments bear the primary culpability in the drama witnessed today. The support they gave to the policies of imperialism in Afghanistan and Libya pale compared to the crimes they have committed in Syria. Since 2011, Turkey has been at the forefront of states which have driven Syria to a bloody civil war, by arming sectarian and takfiri groups, in particular ISIS and Al Nusra, by providing them a safe haven in their war against Assad, by channelling monetary aid originating from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and providing safe transit to Syria and Iraq for militants who came from all corners of the globe to behead their opponents. Five million of Syria’s total population, 23 million before the war, are now living outside their country. One should also add to that the hordes of people who have been internally displaced. The policy of the AKP government is the primary factor causing the total destruction of the social fabric of Syria. The AKP is as responsible for the death of baby Alan as imperialism!
Two million Syrians who have fled their country are now in Turkey. The laws of our country are almost as racist as an apartheid system in terms of refugees. Turkey does not grant refugee status to anyone other than those who come from Europe. This arises from the geographical limitation Turkey has placed on the 1951 Geneva Convention at the time it was being revised. Those who foolishly boast of our kindness to our ‘religious brethren’ day in, day out, have not even granted the rights given to Westerners to those seeking refuge from countries with a Muslim majority, such as those coming from the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus. In the past, these people had no status whatsoever. Performing the prayer at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, a feat Tayyip Erdoğan yearned for, required winning the hearts of Syrians. Those from Syria who were seeking the right to refugee status, were first called ‘guests’. Today, they benefit from a ‘temporary protection’ regime. Out of two million people, 250 thousand are living in camps. At least their minimum needs are met. The vast majority outside the camps cannot find a roof to call shelter, a school to send their children, a hospital to treat their elders or even a loaf of bread to call dinner.
Of course, the refugee problem is also a class issue. There are also the rich who have sold their property when the war climaxed in an effort to preserve their wealth. There are even those who have come and founded businesses to accumulate more wealth. Private schools are opened for their children and their education is continued. It is easy for them to be treated at private hospitals. A significant portion of these people are paying thousands of Euros to human smugglers to go to Europe. Soon, only the poorest will be left behind. The remaining Syrians are obliged to work in agriculture, construction, seasonal work, textiles and all other sectors as informal and cheap labour. Even if you were to open schools for their children, they would not be able to attend. Even the youngest child has to work because families cannot earn enough to fill their stomachs. The daily wage for the average Syrian worker is around 30 Liras, a fraction of the minimum wage in Turkey corresponding to 7 or 8 euro at the current rate of exchange, and a portion of this paltry sum is paid to middlemen. The capitalists of Turkey are abusing the plight of Syrians to make more profit.
No end to the civil war in Syria is in sight. Some of these refugees have now been in Turkey for four years. Going back is difficult. A large majority of these people are here to stay. The working class of Turkey has been late in developing their stance in the face of this new social group as well as other migrants and refugees.
From urgent measures to the real solution: from class struggle towards workers’ power
With the awareness that poverty and misery created by imperialist exploitation mechanisms and the phenomena of migration and refuge arising from wars provoked by imperialism are here to stay as long as imperialist capitalism remains, the Revolutionary Workers’ Party (DIP) declares that this problem will be brought to an end only with the international victory of socialism, which will establish equality throughout the world and put an end to the exploitation of poor countries.
However, a series of concrete urgent measures and demands on the path to the victory of socialism should be formulated by establishing ever closer links to workers’ power progressively. This effort must culminate in a concrete and integrated action plan, which can only be fully formulated at the international level. The Revolutionary Workers’ Party (DIP) is proposing a preliminary program covering the dimensions relevant to the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) and Turkey, to be discussed and further developed by the international workers’ movement in an integrated manner.
· Delivery by the workers’ movement of a given country under the name Labour Solidarity of humanitarian, of legal and political support to asylum seekers headed towards Europe and transiting that country. Leaving the task to charities, NGOs and the church means abandoning the refugees and migrant masses to the hands of the bourgeois state. Bourgeois states will act more liberally when there is a shortage in the work force but will inevitably adopt preventive policies when they have no use for these people. The workers’ movement should unite with the migrant and refugee masses to create a common front against the bourgeoisie and its state.
· Creation of an organised movement in Turkey under this name with the joint efforts of organisations such as labour unions, professional chambers, bar associations and human rights organisations to work independently of the state and focus on the needs for work, accommodation, health and education of Syrian migrants in particular. Turkey is now a destination country for migrants. The labouring strata of the two million refuge-seekers from Syria are here to stay. The workers’ movement must come to terms with this reality. Those who ask “Are we to provide jobs and homes to Syrians when our own citizens are in need?” are acting against the interests of both Turkish and Syrian workers. As long as Syrians are left out in the cold without food or shelter, they will be obliged to work for longer hours and for lower wages. They will become a bigger competitive factor for the workers of Turkey and cause a further decrease in wages. As more ownership is shown by the workers’ movement of Turkey with respect to the rights of Syrians, the two components of the class will further join forces and enhance their opportunities to struggle against capital together.
· Allocation of the one million excess housing units in Turkey to Syrian families who are obliged to take shelter in derelict shops, tin shacks and places resembling coves, as well as to the poor people with housing problems in Turkey.
· Bringing about a wholesale change in the refugee policy of the Turkish state and granting refugee status to people seeking asylum from the countries of the East. Both Syrians and refugees from other countries have no guaranteed status and constitute a completely vulnerable community. Their fate is in the hands of the Turkish government. Struggling against this horrid state of affairs will not only contribute to ensuring a decent life for Syrians but will also create conditions to the benefit of the working class of Turkey. As a rule, the weaker the status of the migrant labour force, the more exploitable and competitive they will be vis-à-vis the local working class.
· The creation of a Middle East and North Africa Migration and Refugee Fund; the allocation of a portion of the national income of all countries in the region to the fund; and the distribution of the fund to each country by the Labour Solidarity Movement in accordance with the number of refugees and asylum seekers with a focus on priorities. Today, all Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, where war has shattered the fabric of the society, are home to between 4 to 5 million Syrians. The only exceptions are the kingdoms, sheikhdoms and emirates of the Gulf, which are among the richest countries in the world! There are no Syrian refugees in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. These countries are not even party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Yet, these countries have a per capita income incomparable to any other country in the region. If they refuse to admit refugees, they must be forced to provide economic support.
· Ending the support given by imperialist countries and the Saudi-Qatar-Turkey trio to the Syrian opposition; closing all bases and withdrawing forces and advisors of imperialism from the region. Providing jobs, homes, education and health services to refugees is only a temporary solution. The real solution is ending the civil war in Syria. Otherwise, the current insurmountable refugee crisis will deepen. It is estimated that eight million additional people will become refugees (Alevis, Christians, Kurds, the Druze and pro-Assad Sunnis) if the M5 motorway connecting Damascus to Aleppo and the west of the country falls to ISIS. Therefore, reactionary forces must be undermined, imperialism must be kicked out and the Syrian war must be ended.
· The building of a front uniting the movements of workers’-labourers’ organisations, the struggle of oppressed nations, women’s organisations, oppressed religious groups (Alevis, Yazidis, the Druze, the Copts etc.) against sectarian and oil wars across the Middle East and North Africa. The Middle East is being pushed into a sectarian war destined to take the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. The Shiite and Sunni camps, led by the Iranian mullahs and Wahhabi Saudis respectively, are making an effort to secure the support of all countries and powers affiliated to them. Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP are playing an active role in this provocation to instate the ‘Rais’ (Chief), a title Erdoğan has donned himself, coveting as he does the position of supreme leader of the region. The Syrian war is a part of this war drive. Only a front to be formed by the working class, the toiling peasantry, the oppressed nations and other oppressed groups can stand up to this calamity.
· Salvaging the oil and natural gas wealth of the sheikhdoms from the plunder of sheikhs and emirs and opening them for joint use by the workers, labourers and the poor of the Middle East and North Africa to meet their needs. The Middle Eastern revolution can only support itself and vanquish the reactionary forces of the Gulf if the land rent from oil and natural gas can be used for the salvation of the poor by means of dispossessing kings, sheikhs and emirs in the Gulf.
· Forward to the Socialist Federation of the Middle East, embracing both a free Kurdistan and Palestine and serving as a home for all Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Iranians and Jews living in fraternity!
Revolutionary Workers’ Party (DIP)
11 September 2015