In the past decade, Europe has faced its biggest migration crisis since World War II. It escalated significantly in the autumn of 2015, when the flow of refugees and irregular migrants from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia into the European Union increased dramatically and the EU was unprepared to receive and distribute them.
More recently, in 2021, the European media has carried the story of the maritime border between Morocco and Spain, through which thousands of illegal refugees from North Africa streamed into Europe despite the deadly dangers. The peak of this migration flow was then tried to be explained as the result of artificial tension between Spain and Morocco over Madrid’s support for the Polisario front fighting for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco. And The Economist even pointed out that King Mohammed VI of Morocco had thus allegedly “made migration a weapon”.
In fact, however, it was not only the Spanish enclaves that saw a dramatic influx of refugees from Africa; caravans of shabby boats were actively transporting Africans (mainly Libyans) from Tunisia to the Italian island of Lampedusa. More than 17,000 refugees died or went missing in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea en route to Europe between 2015 and 2020, according to the UN. They tried to flee Africa and the Middle East in panic, escaping the wars unleashed by the West in recent years and hopeless poverty, seeking a peaceful and prosperous Europe at great risk and showing willingness to live in tent camps for half a year while waiting for their cherished refugee status.
But if in the past, these hardships were compensated to a certain extent by the willingness of Europeans to accept and help them, since late February this year the situation has deteriorated because of the sharp influx of refugees from Ukraine, which has become a springboard for the West to implement its Russophobic policy and unleash an armed conflict with Russia. Hundreds of thousands of the first refugees from Ukraine were given in EU countries, as part of their Russophobic attitude, a warm welcome that was not shown to migrants from the Middle East and Africa, which clearly illustrated the existence of racism in Europe. And this changed attitude towards the new “European” wave of migrants was distinctly confirmed to journalists at the end of February this year by former Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. “These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people… This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists… In other words, there is not a single European country now which is afraid of the current wave of refugees,” K. Petkov stated.
Syrian journalist Okba Mohammad told the CBC that the Bulgarian politician’s speech contained a mixture of racism and Islamophobia. “A refugee is a refugee, whether European, African or Asian,” Mohammad said. However, European authorities do not seem to think so, demonstrating the difference in their attitude towards migrants from Ukraine and Africa/Middle East countries. States, which in the past had expressed some of the most extreme anti-migration views in the EU bloc, have moved from a “let no one in” strategy to a “let everyone in” one, as far as refugees from Ukraine are concerned. And in this context it is impossible not to reflect on the deep-rooted racism in European migration policy, where the inequality in the treatment of migrants from different countries is evident.
However, the “warm welcome” came to an end rather quickly, especially after EU countries began to argue about how to share the responsibility and costs of supporting Ukrainian refugees. Germany and a number of other European countries have begun to impose a moratorium on admitting refugees from Ukraine due to exceeding the quota for those who can receive welfare benefits. The move is explained by the need to protect local schools, kindergartens and health and public facilities. Meanwhile, the influx of Ukrainian refugees led to a significant increase in unemployment in many EU countries in July. According to the German Federal Employment Agency, there are now almost 2.5 million unemployed in the country, 107,000 more than in June.
In the meantime, experts note that in Europe as a whole, support for Ukrainian refugees has recently decreased. Today, many EU countries have already stated that they are not ready to accept refugees from Ukraine and that the humanitarian program, which has provided accommodation for Ukrainians in hotels and tourist or recreational areas, has come to an end. And the tourism industry, which represents a significant percentage of GDP in many European countries, has taken a proactive role in this, demanding that all hotels occupied free of charge be vacated.
The current debate in this regard shows that the decisions to welcome Ukrainian refugees so warmly in Europe were taken in a political frenzy, influenced above all by instructions from Washington to support Ukraine and put pressure on Russia with sanctions. At the same time, no thought was given to what the long-term prospects of this assistance might be, and no reflection was initially given to whom to consider refugees from Ukraine, given that Ukrainians have the right to freely enter and leave EU territory. Nor did anyone in the EU expect that it would take so long to help Ukraine, thinking it would be a one-off action that would quickly end when Russia retreated under pressure from Western sanctions, and the refugees would return home triumphantly. Meanwhile, EU politicians and those countries that had received Ukrainian refugees expected that they would be perceived as saviors, especially in the current US-initiated wave of general Russophobia. But the situation took an entirely different turn, and as a result the “saviors” got an extra load of dependent “salvable” they did not need in the current conditions of a general economic crisis. And in these conditions, the “overpopulation” of Europe by Ukrainians has already threatened the European countries themselves with social and economic explosions.
In addition, in Europe there is a growing awareness that the influx of Ukrainian refugees could exacerbate the criminal situation in the EU, as those who have been members of various Nazi formations and outright bandit organizations in Ukraine are fleeing the conflict zones. And where they emerge, channels are established for the supply of weapons from the war zone, including Western-made ones, and other components of the criminal world are pulled in.
However, as long as the United States serves as the EU’s governing center, a significant change in European refugee policy is unlikely to be forthcoming. After all, Europe is expendable for Washington, and the migration crisis has long been a tool for the US to pressure rival Europe by imposing unthinkable costs on it to curb migration in the past and now. In addition, a large part of the current European elite are individuals directly dependent on the US, who will not defy the US, even if it harms their own countries. Therefore, such well-known European officials will continue to buy US weapons with European money to deliver to Ukraine or to other zones of armed conflict favorable to the United States, maintaining the growing flows of illegal migrants because of this. And the spreading social and economic contradictions in the EU due to such policies will continue to be used by Washington to replace undesirable political representatives in Europe with its new puppets.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.