Those forced to Europe are mostly Regime Change Refugees

By Thalif Deen | ( Inter Press Service) | – –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.

“[European leaders] stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.” — James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum

Last week, an unnamed official of a former Eastern European country, now an integral part of the 28-nation European Union (EU), was constrained to ask: “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”
This reaction could have come from any of the former Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Latvia – all of them now members of the EU, which has an open-door policy for transiting migrants and refugees.

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

Official discourse in Europe frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which they have no responsibility, Paul said.

“They stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.”

The origins of the refugees make the case clearly: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are major sources, he pointed out.

Also many refugees come from the Balkans where the wars of the 1990s, again involving European complicity, shredded those societies and led to the present economic and social collapse, he noted.

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, and the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, told IPS the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention was dated.

He said the Covenant “was written up for the time of the Cold War – when those who were fleeing the so-called Unfree World were to be welcomed to the Free World”.

He said many Third World states refused this covenant because of the horrid ideology behind it.

“We need a new Covenant,” he said, one that specifically takes into consideration economic refugees (driven by the International Monetary Fund) and political (war) refugees.

At the same time, he said, the international community should also recognize “climate change refugees, regime change refugees and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] refugees.”

The 1951 Convention guarantees refugee status if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asked about the Eastern European reaction, Prashad said: “I agree entirely. But of course one didn’t hear such a sentiment from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and others – who also welcomed refugees in large numbers. Why say, ‘Why should we take [them]?’ Why not say, ‘Why are they [Western Europe and the U.S.] not doing more?’” he asked.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – none of which invaded any of the countries from where most of the refugees are originating.

Paul told IPS the huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in many recipient countries, especially Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily, while fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment.

The public have been horrified by refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families caught on the open seas, facing border fences and mobilized security forces.

Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money, Paul said.

“But the refugee flow is increasing rapidly, with no end in sight. Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes.”

He said a few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem.

“Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability.”

Paul said some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favour of military intervention in these troubled lands on their periphery as a way of doing something.

Overthrowing Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libyan leader Gaddafi was a short time ago, or how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels, he declared.

Paul also said “the aggressive nationalist beast in the rich country establishments is not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions.”

“This is why we need to look closely at the ‘regime change’ angle and to mobilize the public understanding that this was a crisis that was largely ‘Made in Europe’ – with the active connivance of Washington, of course,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related Video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV: “Europe Refugee Crisis: Final day of EU FMs’ meeting in Luxembourg”

13 Responses

  1. I recently read that the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons are Palestinians. It’s good that Syrian refugees are at last eliciting some measure of international sympathy, but how sad that Palestinians are not getting a mention in any of the articles I read.

    • I returned last month from Lebanon. The Palestinians head to Palestinian-only refugee camps. These are controlled by the PLO and neither NGOs nor Lebanese government officials are allowed in. The PLO also refuses to say how many are there. Not saying the Palestinians have a good deal, but the camps for the non-Palestinians are hell on earth.

  2. I fully agree that the actual refugees crisis is a consequence of the “regime change politics”. However the roots of that politic lies mainly in the U.S. it is the result of the “New Middle East politic that was undertaken by GW Bush when he first invaded Afghanistan and the Iraq. Only the Brits went hand in hand with the U.S. for the Iraq invasion; the others joined afterward as “peace keeper”. The two biggest EU countries (France and Germany) were strongly opposed. Spain got out of it quickly after the left came to power. The former East Europeans countries meanwhile were happy to help the U.S. The French have suffered of difficult relationships with the U.S. for as long as they opposed the U.S. Middle East policy (remember the French fries episode which were renamed freedom fries ? After all that mobbing and after a political change which brought Sarkosy to power, the French changed their foreign policy and begun to follow the U.S. Middle East policy too, pushing to demonstrate that she was now a good ally of the U.S. A similar political change brought Merkel to power in Germany.. So now yes, alas, most EU countries have followed the U.S. in that “New Middle East policy”. But at the basis, it is a U.S. policy mainly for which the EU countries are taking the hit. And contrary to what the firmer East Europeans countries are saying now, they contributed to the creation of the problem too : they were very eager to send forces to Iraq to help out the U.S. The Poles fir instance were the third force after the U.S. and the Britts.)

    So yes, the West has a big part in the making of that crisis, the U.S. designed it and the actual EU leaders were dumb enough to follow suits.

  3. Abechar

    There is no free lunch. You reap what you sow. [European leaders] stay silent about military intervention and regime change in ME.

  4. sanjay kapoor

    @GhoshAmitav they are not just Syrian refugees, but plenty from Afghanistan and even Pakistan. Regime change in Syria- Yes, but …

  5. I recently listened to a talk on the topic from a german analyst, Michael Lüders. link to

    He more or less concludes that the opposition in Libya and Syria simply never had the political power to control their country.

    In Libya Gaddafi would still be in power, it was the western bombs who did him in. But the opposition is way too weak to fill the power vacuum he left behind, the result is chaos and civil war.

    In Syria the opposition has never been able to be a serious challange to Assad, who has simply fortified his position by retreating to the core regions and left hard to controll places alone. This has led to unpredecented chaos and allowed the socalled islamic state to gain a foothold.

    In his talk, Lüders critizices the downright foolish decesion by western politicians (and here mostly us-american politicians) to start wars in places they know nothing about, based only on a rather naive world view (good guys vs bad guys).

    He argues the socalled islamic state is mostly an iraqi organisation and in order to deal with it, sunnis would have to get their share of the power.
    Also Assad will not go away, his people will support him, come what may, since they know, they will be butchered if they lose the grip on power. Thus, attempts to overthrow him will most likely continue to fail.

    Lüders argues only a drastic change in western politics has any chance to stop the mass exodus.

    • I haven’t read the guy, but at least parts of the in-country secular resistance in Syria, the Local Coordinating Councils, opposed both foreign intervention and arming civilian demonstrators, saying it wouldl ‘change the nature of the fight’. This was August, 2011, when ‘only’ 2300 Syrians had been killed in the war. Obama may have rightly kept the US out of this mess, but he tacitly approved S. Arabia, TUrkey, etc picking factions and arming them. Reading the history of revolution and national liberation during the 20th century might have educated the Administration that fundamental shifts in government institutions take decades of organizing people to resist. In that sense, he was as ignorant as G.W.

  6. The views of different European countries are going to vary but it is not correct to say they all showed a similar involvement in the interventions of recent years and so should all help deal with the consequences.

    They did all help in Afghanistan, there were periods between 2004-08 when there were more European troops in Afghanistan than US troops. However they would allmost all take the view they were doing it to support the U.S. Post 9/11 so if there are consequences they may help the U.S. Deal with them but it should be primarily a U.S. problem.

    That becomes even more the case with Iraq, importantly France Germany and several other Western European countries actively opposed the intervention, lots, of the Easten European nations did send troops to Iraq post invasion to support the U.S. As they saw it. In 2003 you had Cheney playing on the old Europe New Europe divide, but post the reality of the invasion some of the others in Western Europe participated for a period in 2004-10.

    Libya was different again with France and to a lesser extent Britain leading the charge, some others in Western Europe participating but importantly Germany actively opposed and most of Eastern Europe either opposed or absent.

    We now have Germany accepting the biggest share of refugees getting to Europe while it was actively opposed to both Iraq and Libya.

  7. anik_suman

    @GhoshAmitav wht does he mean by “regime change”refugees!These r normal ppl ,want to live a normal life,sandwiched by powerful!

  8. anik_suman

    @GhoshAmitav I disagree that they have any political adherence, caught by fire,flushed out by strong players.

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