Wednesday, 4 July 2018
European Council: Statements
Another week, another European deal on migration that treats the relatively small number of desperate, traumatised refugees who are trying to get to Europe as some kind of marauding, overwhelming army that has to be kept at bay at all costs. Let us remember why we sit here. Over the weekend and into Monday, 200 migrants died in the Mediterranean. During the first six months of this year, fewer than 40,000 undocumented migrants made it to Europe, yet we call it a refugee crisis. That is not a crisis in anyone's book. An excellent article in The Guardian made the point last week that what European politicians called a migration crisis had nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with politics. Mainstream and fringe politicians are using the desperation of people fleeing the wars that Europe happily engaged in and stoked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria to distract attention from the real problems at home. Civilians whose lives have been destroyed by war are paying the price for the rescue of the European banking system in 2010. That is the grubby, despicable reality of geopolitics. For those who call themselves liberals, it is not a place where morality is given much quarter.
In 1917, Kafka wrote a short story, The Great Wall of China, anticipating fortress Europe and the lies that would hold it together for a century. He described the construction of a great wall to keep out all the foreign marauders and the creation of myths by the leadership to make these people seem terrifying. I will not quote him because I do not have the time. The majority of us who speak about these people have never visited the lands from which they are fleeing. The dearest hope of Europe's racist hierarchy is that the people will, as Kafka wrote, "lose themselves in empty air" between those lands and Europe. Why else push them into the sea or detention camps run by armed militias in failed states like Libya?
As Deputy Wallace stated, we spent the past week with some of our colleagues in Syria. It was not the first time we went there. For the record, we paid for ourselves, went where we liked and talked to whom we liked. We would defy anyone to say that the children we met on the roads and the people we met on the streets who waved at and welcomed us and told us their stories were somehow paid by some regime. These were Syrian citizens. We met businessmen in Aleppo. I laughed as we sat there, as one of them would have been at home in Fine Gael. He was tailor-made - a businessman who wanted to make money. He came from one of the oldest families in Syria. He traded in textiles and olive oil until 2010 when he suddenly started getting leaflets. Civil movements had erupted and people had taken to the streets to challenge Assad following the Arab Spring. Many participated genuinely in those demonstrations. Six years on, not a single area that has been taken over by the rebels has any form of democratic control. These areas are run by religious courts and jihadi, bearded men primarily from other countries. People's freedoms disappeared. The people of Aleppo who stayed out of the war and were just making a living suddenly found their factories surrounded and leaflets coming in telling them to get out or die. Some of them were assassinated and their factories taken over or destroyed.
In his constituency, we made representations to the Tánaiste about discussing Aleppo with a genuine and reputable documentary maker who had gone there last November. I lay down a challenge to the Government to issue a visa to Fares Al-Shehabi, who is from a distinguished Syrian family, is not a member of the Ba'ath Party and is a Member of the Syrian Parliament, so that he might come to Ireland as a businessman and Sunni Muslim who believes in secular values and talk about what has happened in Syria.
Deputy Boyd Barrett can talk about the crimes that Russia perpetrated in Syria, but I defy him to travel there and ask the people what they think about the Russians. In many cases, they think the Russians are heroes.