Europe's Refugee Crisis

 Wien_-_Westbahnhof__Migranten_am_5_Sep_2015.jpg
Refugees wait at an Austrian railway station for a train to Germany. Credit: wikipedia.org

By Marc Silberman

In December I spent three weeks in Berlin. Upon arriving I had expected to see refugees in the streets. To my surprise this was not the case, and as became clear rather quickly, the reason was not that there weren’t tens of thousands of new refugees in Berlin but rather that their mobility is restricted. They are restricted by lack of money (how do you use public transportation without money for a ticket?). They are restricted by the onerous registration procedures that lead to waiting in long lines, repeatedly, at a few isolated agency buildings to where they are brought and then picked up by chartered busses. They are restricted by security measures at their temporary housing in quickly refurbished buildings, former barracks and school gymnasia, often located in remote parts of the city.

I was not surprised by the reactions of friends and acquaintances. I tend to move in a circle of educated Berliners on the left spectrum, so maybe this is to be expected, and Berlin historically has been a welcoming city going back to the Huguenots in the 17th century. The people I know were all positive, even enthusiastic about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s gesture of opening Germany’s borders in early September when she “rescued” the bottled-up refugees stranded in Budapest. I was moved too when, after theater and concert performances I attended, the actors and musicians would come on stage and appeal for contributions to support local action groups helping with the flood of refugees in the city and then stand at the exits to collect coins and bills. For someone like me, who for 40 years has been trying to explain to young Americans how the ruptures and violence of German culture happened in the past century, this was meaningful, a tangible sign that Germans have learned a thing or two. But there are problems, and the situation shifts from week to week, not for the better.

There have been, for example, regular and large protests against refugees articulating xenophobic, racist sentiments against Muslims that resemble nativist and white supremacist attitudes we have been hearing in the U.S.A recently. There have also been violent actions, including unmotivated attacks against individual refugees and fire bombings of local refugee housing centers. A new right-wing party, Alternative for Germany, which was founded in 2013 and seemed to have lost its momentum by early 2015 when it was riddled by leadership squabbles and neo-Nazi infiltration, is again rising in the polls in anticipation of state elections on March 13, 2016. Like the Front National in France and even the Tea Party in the United States, this is a populist, anti-establishment, and anti-European Union (EU) party that speaks to anxieties about globalization and democratic tolerance. 

It is estimated that there are over 60 million refugees currently on the move around the world; that is more than after WWII ended. Half of those are under 18 years of age, and most flee to neighboring countries. Only a small percentage of the world’s refugees set out for and actually make it to Europe. Germany, a wealthy country about 85 percent the size of California, has a population of 80+ million. The number of refugees in Germany prior to 2015 was actually diminishing, after reaching over 1 million in the 1990s (following the Balkan wars). Only in 2015 has the number once again increased, with over 1 million entering the country from the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Northern Africa.

The refugee crisis in Europe caught the European Union off guard, a situation that in hindsight could and should have been obvious to the leaders in Brussels. Already in 2014, human rights agencies and the United Nations offices were sending out warnings about the deteriorating conditions at refugee destinations in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, but the EU leadership, including, famously, Angela Merkel, focused their attention on Greece’s political and economic crisis that was destabilizing the Euro currency.

Although the EU guarantees that asylum is a fundamental right and recognizes an international obligation to protect refugees, the implementation in practice has not maintained these high-minded standards. In the last weeks a corrosive pessimism has been spreading in view of the EU’s inability to control its borders and manage the crisis, while the populists rejoice at the public humiliation caused by the various states’ refusal to participate in relocating refugees bottled up in Greece, Italy, and elsewhere. Even if relocation were to function as some policy initiatives propose, essentially it would make Greece into a huge refugee camp where new arrivals would be registered and unqualified asylum seekers (that is, economic migrants) somehow turned back. And as we know, Greece is seriously challenged socially, politically, and economically owing to the harsh austerity measures it accepted under German pressure in 2015.

Most recently Merkel and other EU leaders seem to be moving toward the “Fortress Europe” model, that is, keeping the refugee crisis beyond the EU’s borders by involving more actively Frontex (the underfunded EU border control agency) and NATO on the Mediterranean coast and by paying billions of Euros to stop smugglers and to house refugees in Turkey. Now Austria and Macedonia have closed their southern borders, blocking the “Balkan route” to Northern Europe, and the EU has limited the countries of origin from which it will accept asylum seekers. In other words, Merkel and other European leaders seem to be shifting to a position of strengthening the EU’s borders in order to maintain the EU’s inner unity. Already the newly closed borders and passport controls are having consequences on mobility, cross-border traffic (tourism, employment), and commercial trade, with estimated long-term losses in the billions of Euros. It is not clear that this shift is actually going to solve the crisis. 

There are other solutions: what about ending Germany’s weapons exports that support wars and dictators throughout the world? What about taking a more prominent lead in diplomacy rather than agreeing to military interventions? What about changing the dynamics of exploitation of the southern by the northern hemisphere? Stay tuned, because this is a problem that is not going to disappear!

DSA member Marc Silberman is professor of German at the University of Wisconsin˗Madison.

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Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 77 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

July 06, 2017
· 17 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

July 09, 2017
· 3 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

Running for the National Political Committee

July 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join this call to hear a presentation and ask questions about the role, duties and time commitment of a member of DSA's National Political Committee. In the meantime, check out the information already on our website about the NPC.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 11 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.