The grey reality of the 21st century migration — described as one of the biggest in the recent history of civilisation — are the roadblocks impeding the wanderers’ progress. A controversial agreement between the European Union and Turkey — a non-member state— to control the surge of nearly one million people migrating from Asia and Africa to Europe has earned the outrage of the international human rights fraternity and the spectators of social evolution, who see in the move a stagnation of cultural and demographic progression. Movement, it has often been extolled, has been the trigger for the spread of human civilisation since the early primates evolved into the walking species and eventually the hunter-gatherers’ community— foraging for survival on the pristine planet in foot.
Migration as a notion of reality was born in the imagination of the early hunter-gatherer, who wandered around the habitation pockets looking for food and land — or rather caves — to pitch for their survival. Their movement across the global topography did not translate into this complex nuance of the present-day migration prompted by a gamut of contemporary realities and diversities like politics, strife, hunger, social dislocations, calamities and a yearning to explore uncharted pastures. Hence, the idea of migration initially flourished as a concept of necessity, fluxing with time to take on more complex colours— nourished by man’s nascent powers to imagine new homes across different terrains through they moved.
Historically, migration has been a tool of subversion — appearing in early history as a weapon to crush rooted cultural identities with alien aspirations to power and empire building. After the foragers settled down in their fledgling village states, they began to eye the world just beyond the periphery of their hearths, hovels and granaries. The invention of fire spurred the wheel in motion — the ploughshare, the forge and the cart. Migration ceased to be an exercise on foot; the carts were ready to ferry the early wayfarers on. In the middle ages, the wheel was a catalyst to wars that brought in its course mass movements across geography to fight and to subjugate.
The war led to explosion of economics — new livelihoods — and slavery. The victorious sought the services of the vanquished resulting in forced movements of people from the annexed dominions to the seats of power to serve their new masters. Since the last 5,000 years in recorded history, the Afro-Eurasian continental mass has witnessed large shifts of people westward to work as serfs. The slave surges across geographies are often treated as the beginning of the modern-day migration — powered by extraneous factors like economic inequities, forced bondages, exploitation, destitution and changing allegiances.
The zeal to cover more ground — or territorial expansion — and power mongering — lust for ownership — have been the threads underlining migration down the millennia. The slave trade, which sparked the biggest and the most prolonged exodus in the history of human civilisation, is still the catalyst of people’s movement even in this century. New forces such as the great wars, economic meltdowns, civil unrests and insurgencies have forced the developing world to seek affluence — peace and right to security of existence away from their troubled native turfs. The fundamental premise is a safe asylum where one is free to pursue the right to life, The 21st century migration is similar to the migration revealed in the testaments — where the children of the Hebrew god were forced out of their shelters by followers of an Islamic prophet to seek a promised land, a country they could call their own. The exodus bequeathed to the world a Zionist homeland — Israel — on the periphery of Islamic consciousness of the Arab world. The contemporary movements of people from the strife-torn nations of West Asia to the shores of the occident is grounded in this divergence of religious belief to a large extent and the schism that ensued more than 2,000 years ago, around 1,500 BCE.
Just as the Jews or the Hebrews were hunted down like animals and hounded out of their homes by oligarchs of another faith, the migration from war-ravaged Syria, Iraq, north African countries and Afghanistan has been abetted by the idea of an Islamic caliphate, which seeks to impose its writ on the moderate followers of the faith. The conflict of faith in today’s West Asia has redefined itself through politics — where Islam is at war against Islam riven by sectarian divides and power-mongering regimes, The resulting zenophobia is changing the demographic dynamics of West Asia — prompting a rush driven by an insane fear of dislocation that is not always an imminent reality. The war in Syria, from where nearly 9 million people have fled so far and 11 million rendered homeless, is not merely a civil war. It has raged for five years, factoring in new nations bordering as far as the Islamic north Africa and sweeping across the region.
This war has numerous hues, whose subtexts span a range of issues bearing on politics, crisis of faiths, sectarian wars between Shia and Sunni Islam, backwardness, power tussles and a new cold war between the United States and those opposed to its intervention in the troubled region from the other end – led by Russia. Experts describe it as a sociological crisis — exponential and unparalleled in scope that is partially man-made and to some extent a natural corollary of strife-induced ousters (like in the great wars of the early and mid-20th century). The genesis of this zenophobic migration from Asia and the rims of Africa can be traced to the Iraq War that led to the consolidation of militias like the Islamic State and the Kurdish armies. , After the ouster of Saddam Hussain, the militias which extended covert and tactical heft to the United States led allied forces had to keep themselves afloat in another turbulent geopolitics — a post war scenario where the rule of the mob became a lip service for democracy and armed rebels could bend this frenzy to their whims. The Islamic State, fearing irrelevance and disenchantment among votaries stricken by a miasma in the aftermath of the war, moved outside Iraq to Syria, Turkey and a few other countries in the region.The organisation came to be synonymous with disruptions, dislocations and guerrilla style civil wars. A hardline Wahabi sect of insurrectionists, the Islamic State is at war with President Bashar Al-Assad’s Shitte Alawite sect in Syria. The war in Syria that began with clashes in Derra in 2011 when the anti-establishment forces picked up arms against the ruling dispensation alleging “suppression of a school of thought” and attempt at grabbing more power at the cost of formidable rival groups — inimical to al-Assad’s relatively liberal but wily regime — soon degenerated into a sectarian war between the armed Islamic hawks and the doves drawing new entities like the Kurdish militias from neighbouring Turkey and northern Iraq into a fractured anti-and proAssad frontlines. The war raged on five years —battering Syria’s fragile economy and social matrix.
Estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees cite that more than 320,000 people crossed the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015 to escape the excesses of cuvil war — a rate that is being billed as twice as high as during 2014 and eight times as high as 2013. While the bulk of the migrants ventured out from the battle-ravaged topographies of Syria, the surge comprised refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan as well who mingled with the millions of Syrian migrants. Almost all of them were in quest of peace and life – away from the glare of gun-fires in their homelands
A report by the Siege Watch released by the Netherlands-based aid group, PAX, which has been monitoring the war in Syria, says 1.09 million people are living in 46 besieged communities in Syria – and they are in need of succour. The report which challenges the findings of the United Nations hints that more people are looking for ways out of the country — a fact corroborated by the statistics of migration to Europe last year. “The majority of migrants cross borders in search of better economic and social opportunities,” the UN says. “Others are forced to flee crises – the current mass movement of refugees and displaced persons has given rise to xenophobia and calls for tightening borders. Internal migration within countries is also on the rise.”
Europe, consequently, is in the midst of this transformation. The socio-ethno mosaic of an essentially affluent Christian society and seats of classical cultures are under siege — threatened by hundreds of thousands of Islamic migrants, whose roots are mired in mists, whose kitties are stripped of sustenance and who are powered by religious and emotional vendettas, fuelling violent zenophobia in the entrenched—and to a large measure complacent — civil societies of Europe used to peaceful and progressive realpolitik and upwardly mobile lifestyles.
The hungry and the penniless throngs— according to economists — who are flocking to the shores of Greece and its adjoining Aegean islands, Turkey, the Balkans and finally to Germany which has opened its heart to the human tide in a rare gesture of compassion — are gnawing at the individual penny purses of the average European deepening the inequities and social fault-lines into distinct economic groups of “haves” and the “have-nots”, unheard of for a long time in the developed European Union economies, since the great wars. Coupled with these fissures is a subtle conflict of faith — a situation in which the European Christian is forced to look upon the new-arrival owing allegiance to Islam, with suspicion. The fear of anything “Islamic” is bordering on paranoia with the hit-and-run terror strikes across the power hubs like London and France — bulk of whose perpetrators have been identified as Islamic migrants, tracing their antecedents to the Syrian war and the expansionist ambitions of the hardline Wahabi “insurrectionists” or the Caliphate soldiers.
Observers say the geopolitics of Europe is straining to break away from its existing framework. The idea of a unified and integrated Europe – or the European Union — is disintegrating. The economies have been in a state of chaos since the Balkan members have clamped down on the open borders to stem the flood of refugees from the strife-torn areas of west Asia, north Africa and the Afghanistan. The “schengen” zone of an integrated Europe — specifically meant to facilitate borderless tourist and business traffic — have been abused at random by the immigrants, who sailed across the Aegean to walk, ride and even break through barbed wire boundaries to find a new homes on the European soil. More than 100,000 have perished on seas in heir crossings aboard “ramshackle” dhow boats, fishing trawlers and over-crowded dinghies.
The quest for an adopted homeland has been fraught with pitfalls— leading to a macabre spike in the extras-judicial trade of human trafficking by a caucus of unscrupulous smugglers, criminals and migrants, who have been trading dollars for lives in high-risk odysseys. Such has been the frenzy since 2013-2014 to flee the battlefields of the developing world that Europe and the United Nations have pressed government and military resources into service to ensure safe passages and mount mega-rescue operations to “save” the victims of an unprecedented socio-political crisis.
The hemisphere divide has never been more perceptible than as it is now in Europe. The spectre of a neo-Fascism looms over the relatively liberal skies of Germany, France and even Great Britain.. The far-right is making a slow comeback piggy-riding on anti-migrant crest.
Reports in the media said in Germany, the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany won 13.2 per cent of the votes in a local election in the state of Hesse. In the little town of Leun, barely 50 miles north of Frankfurt, the neo-Nazi NPD Party wrested 17 percent of the votes. The Pegida, a far right movement that was founded in Dresden in 2014 has widened its support base in a dramatic subscription of hardline political capital — on the strength of the local residents who have taken on the immigrants, alleging pilferage of economic opportunities, breakdown in law and order and social unrest. The anti-migrant vitriol sweeping through the middle or classical Europe, epicentered in Germany, threatens to regress the heaving European Union into a pre-World War scenario of Nazism and Fascism. The rise of the far right has fanned the revival of neo-Nazi cults, accused of arson and violence against the migrants.
A liberal Europe that had exorcised Fascism in an arduous endeavour post-war is perched on the threshold of an abyss of a political time warp that might facilitate the right wing to take roots in the demographic chaos of migration. Observers say if the politics of Europe changes colour irrevocably, the European Union will crash like a house of cards — taking down with it the single window of finance, trade and cultural solidarity. One of the key pillars of the integrated European entity — Britain— is debating its association with the Union in a referendum scheduled for 23 June. British Prime Minister David Cameron in an European Union summit in February had wangled a “series of concessions” from the “V4” nations and other members of the 28-member bloc that would leash the slew of benefits which migrants in Britain could enjoy — including child support which became a sensitive humanitarian issue. The East European countries, reluctant to Britain’s proposal gave in on the last day of the summit — a marginal victory that Prime Minister David Cameron prepared to ride on his home turf, polarised on “migration” and the volume of unchecked “entry of immigrants” through France and eastern Europe.
The Independent says Brexit – as Britain’s exit from the European Union as is being described in the media — would help Moscow take over the reins of the European economy. In an article, writer Ben Judah contends that “Moscow’s first weapon is the Syrian refugee”. Nato’s supreme commander in Europe, Philip Breedlove warns that Russia, together with the al- Assad’s regime in Syria :is “weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve”. Right now “Russian planes are bombing civilian areas, turning northern Syria into a refugee factory. By pushing them to Germany, Russia hopes, will force Berlin to lift sanctions, will it be for the refugees to stop. Russia’s second weapon is the European fascist, Judah points out. “The old sponsor of the far-Left, Kremlin, is now Europe’s sponsor of the far right. In France, this is out in the open with reports of Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic National Front being funded by Russian banks”. The writer says “in central Europe, in a dark mirroring of EU democracy promotion efforts in the former USSR, Russian intelligence is seed funding the far right underground.”
The European Union has been looking to Turkey as a buffer to “contain the deluge” from Asia in transit camps in a deal that contravenes several international statues protecting the rights of the migrants under the EU laws”.
Under the new agreement March 18, 2016, “any migrant who has crossed over to Greece will be sent back to camps in Turkey to wait for registration”. In a discriminating rider, the deal states that for every unmarked Syrian immigrant returned to Turkey, a refugee ‘whose documents have been processed’ will be allowed to enter European Union from the Turkish camps. This could lead to a “mass return of Syrian migrants to their battle-scarred country” if Turkey decides so —a prospect which goes against the basic grain of the Eurasian and African migration. The right to a safe life.
European Union bosses justify the deal as the only way to save “schengen” zone of open borders – an integrated European Union. Turkey has been paid to look after the “homeless” squatting along its shores. Once the seat of Ottoman power, gateway Turkey is now the key to the existence of an unified Europe. The nation’s encounters with unchecked migration from Asia has accorded it a “new face” — it has become the theatre of unprecedented human suffering and the soil that plays host to the dead. Migration culled its first commercial “grace” from the coast of Turkey last year when a three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi was washed ashore from one of the numerous sunken trawlers crossing the Mediterranean, packed with migrants from Syria.
The United Nation estimates that more than five thousand people have died on their way to safer homelands outside Syria on the high seas last year. Kurdi, who little carcass sprawled face down on the beach went viral on the media — with another iconic photograph of a policeman cradling the lifeless form. They were the catalysts for “serious action” to tackle the crisis. The heads of the European Union members states sat up, wide awake to the scope of tragedy unravelling on European soil. Turkey was turning a blind eye to the throng, moving northward to Italy, Germany and France, without leashes. Kurdi became the “poster dead”, Europe bandied his “image” as the essence of a catastrophe threatening the continent— and the growing magnitude of human smuggling— a crime perpetrated by humans against its own kind. The refrain since has been of a cap on migration and “equal sharing of the human burden under the Dublin pact which stipulates the Union to a collective pitch”.
As peace in Syria becomes a prospect shrouded in diplomatic confusion — with Russia’s partial pullout from the battle zone and President Assad’s reluctance to kowtow to primary agenda of Geneva talks — a democratic transition of power, more people are expected to flee the scarred nation. The circumstances point to conspiracy— according to analysts a deep-rooted one grounded in politics of faith, terror and territorial expansion. A clash of civilisation hangs like a dark cloud billowing out of the ghettos of Brussels, France, Germany and London, where the refugees huddle like human cargo desperate to break through the cultural and economic barricades and militias like the Islamic State dig deeper roots in their zeal to acquire more space.
Europe is retreating into its shell, fearing onslaughts of change in the rush for better life .The serial terror strikes in Brussels on 22 March which killed more than 35 are a precursor to that societal upheaval that ensues in the battle over ceding territory to the “new”. Transformation tagged with safety — when the Afr0-Asian migration to Europe is assessed in this context, the movements of pre-history appear almost sobre compared to the new march of civilisation across continents where safety is at a premium.
Editorial Consultant/Foreign Affairs incharge of The Statesman, Kolkata