We cannot allow treatment of refugees to be dependent on which states the ruling class considers legitimate, argues Kevin Ovenden
War means uprooted people and refugees. That is so even in wars of liberation, as when Algeria achieved independence from French colonialism. It is even more so in this time of wars, or proxy wars, between hugely armed imperialist powers which usually are not marked by liberation but by the advance of one or other tyrannical setup.
Just as there is a class difference in the response to crises in everyday life, so there is when it comes to the victims of war. Big sociological studies continue to show that working-class people offer the most aid either through formal charities and appeals or through direct action when there is a humanitarian tragedy.
Think of the residents around Grenfell Tower over five years ago. The government and state did not move to help. People with next to nothing and on a prepayment gas meter did. They brought relief.
The same now. All the indications in Britain are of a huge sense of solidarity and offering practical help for those displaced from Ukraine and forced to seek refuge.
That ought to remind us that while there is xenophobia or embittered selfishness in public opinion, it is not true that this is driven from the mass of people. But it is unfortunately also the case that those in power and their extensions into the media will seek to manipulate the best feelings of the mass of people.
So we have the fanatically anti-refugee Daily Mail on Tuesday proclaiming as if it were responsible for "44,000 households" offering a place in Britain for Ukrainian refugees.
Two cabinet ministers, Michael Gove and Grant Shapps, parade as considering or in fact opening their extensive houses to Ukrainian refugees.
People who only yesterday said that the "boat is full" and "we must control our borders" today say there is "no limit" on accepting those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
There should be no limit. Just as there should be none upon others fleeing other conflicts, climate catastrophe or economic breakdown.
The contrast between the hypocrites wrapping themselves in the suffering in Ukraine and the reality of their own treatment of other refugees is stark and is, it seems, becoming increasingly remarked upon.
A 350 pound payment is offered to British households hosting a Ukrainian refugee. But not for a Syrian refugee. Or an Afghan. Do you remember the Afghan "issue"? The need to rescue the dogs and cats? But now... to be forgotten.
This is a staggering contrast between the good, collective feelings of the mass of people and the cynical manipulation of those at the top. And that cynicism will become directed against arrivals from Ukraine just as it was against those from Kosovo and from Afghanistan 20 years ago.
Depending on how this escalating war turns out in the short term it will probably be something like this:
We took you in, but now there is something we declare a peace - no matter how desolate that is - we are deporting you back. This is what happened in Britain and throughout the EU over Afghanistan.
And we are not to mention that or any of the other refugee crises.
We should say no to that and fight to change it.
This weekend sees anti-racist and anti-fascist demonstrations in a number of countries. In supporting them we should be very clear:
We will not allow one refugee tragedy to be used against all the others, depending upon which refugees our state declares legitimate according to its latest foreign policy.
We shall point out the truth that it is the big powers and capitalist competition that drive all of these crises.
And we are going to fight for letting all the refugees in, that means confronting the powers that be at home, not giving them a free pass as they wrap themselves in a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.
The pressure on every activist and upon every worker trying to fight for their interests right now is to fall behind the most enormous propaganda offensive I've seen.
We should reject it: for ordinary people in Ukraine and in Russia, for all those having to uproot and flee wherever they are, and for ourselves.
March against Racism 2022 takes place this Saturday in London, Glasgow and Cardiff. For details of this and other demos, click on this link
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Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.
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