Migrants wait to disembark in Pozzallo, Sicily. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP Migrants wait to disembark in Pozzallo, Sicily. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

We must end a foreign policy that is causing mayhem and misery across vast swathes of the globe

Military aggression appears to have become the only foreign policy response Western governments can conceive of. Millions of people around the world have been appalled by the endless deaths of innocents in the Mediterranean.

What was the answer the EU governments came up with at their emergency summit in Brussels on Monday? To declare war on the migrants.

When Katie Hopkins suggested ‘burning their boats’ people were shocked. But this is one of the main policies proposed as a response by the EU leaders. On Monday it announced  ‘a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers.’

The model for the operation is not disaster relief but the military operation to stop piracy off the Somali Coast.

Other elements include strengthening the Frontex Naval patrols to stop the migrants entering Europe, and working with Libya’s neighbours, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Niger, not to alleviate conditions there – heaven forbid – but to attempt to ‘close down the migratory routes.’

The summit revealed a shocking lack of humanity amongst Europe’s leaders. There was apparently no appetite for considering a programme of relocating more than a few thousand of the migrants around Europe. None of the ten points discussed even touched on the causes of the massive surge in attempts to escape into Europe.  

So far the line remains essentially that of David Cameron and Theresa May, that cutting last year’s more effective search and rescue programme was right because such humanitarian measures become a ‘pull factor’, attracting migrants to Europe.

Apart from being almost inconceivably heartless, this is obvious nonsense. It is only total desperation that could drive so many thousands of people to risk their lives to escape their countries.

As one Eritrean refugee in Libya explained to a journalist,

“It is not our choice to penetrate the sea, if we got some help from the Libyan government, from UNHCR, we would try something else. But if the government won’t help us, if UNHCR won’t help us, if no one can help us, then the only option is to go to the smugglers. We are suspended in the air.”

Western inhumanity towards Africans is nothing new. But the atrocious response to the migrant crisis is a result of the growing militarisation of European foreign policy over the last few decades on the one hand, and  the Europe-wide effort to blame migrants for the depredations of a failed economic order. 

A glance at the balance sheets gives some idea of our government’s priorities. The monthly budget of the year-long ‘Mare Nostrum’ search and rescue operation that was scrapped last year as extravagant was nine million Euros. Compare that to the 200 million pounds spent by Britain alone, each month of the six month bombing of Libya in 2011, that tipped the country into a cataclysmic downward spiral.


All this points to why no one in the EU wants to address the real causes of the current catastrophe. It is the West’s export of war and neoliberal economics that is creating the conditions driving the mass exodus in the first place. Syrians and Eritreans topped the list of migrants trying to make the crossing into Europe last year. Somalis, Afghans and Palestinians were not far behind. 

We must protest now to demand that Europe institutes an emergency plan to rescue and resettle all those fleeing war and poverty. But we must also redouble our efforts to end a foreign policy that is causing mayhem and misery across vast swathes of the globe.

Migrant Lives Matter: Protest at European Union HQ
Saturday 25 April • 1-2pm
European Commission in the UK
32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU


Figures by Military expert Francis Tusa quoted in the Guardian estimate a cost to Britain of £1.25 Billion for 25 weeks of military intervention in Libya. Figures for the cost of Mare Nostra also from the Guardian

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.