Assad's war creates refugee crisis in Syria, Europe
BY EMMA JOHNSON
As tens of thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere arrive in Europe, capitalist rulers across the continent are imposing document controls, deploying soldiers, building fences and threatening to end passport-free passage within the European Union.
At the same time millions of refugees driven from their homes by the brutal assaults of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain in Syria and surrounding countries, including the most impoverished workers and farmers.
After some 40,000 refugees arrived in Germany over the Sept. 12-13 weekend, Berlin started imposing document checks. Before rail traffic between Austria and Germany closed, Austrian officials said 500 people arrived every hour at its main crossing with Hungary.
Berlin's decision to impose controls produced a chain reaction. The next day officials in Austria and Slovakia announced they would follow suit. Both governments have sent troops to reinforce their borders. Hungary has built a 108-mile razor-wire fence and sent 4,300 troops to its border with Serbia. On Sept. 14 the government declared a state of emergency in the border regions.
While Berlin said the border controls are temporary to deal with an emergency situation, "This measure is also a signal to Europe," Interior Minister Tomas de Maizière told the media in a thinly veiled threat to other governments that if they don't accept more refugees, the free movement of people within the EU might not be allowed to continue.
The influx of refugees further deepens the divisions built into the EU from its founding between northern and southern member states, most recently expressed around the debt crisis in Greece.
Some workers in Europe sympathize with the refugees. Rallies took place in London, Copenhagen, Denmark, and elsewhere in solidarity over the Sept. 12-13 weekend.
Arab Spring failed
The roots of the Syrian crisis lie in the decades-long brutality of the Assad regime. A broad popular movement in 2011, similar to the "Arab Spring" in Egypt, demanding political rights and an end to government repression, failed to oust Assad. The ensuing conflict is now in its fifth year.
As the regime lost control of large parts of the country, it lashed out against the population. Backed by Moscow and Tehran, Assad has used chemical weapons, ballistic missiles and deadly shrapnel-filled barrel bombs against the population, killing 250,000.
Of Syria's prewar population of 23 million, 7.6 million are internally displaced and 4 million have fled the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency. More than half are under the age of 18. There are roughly 2 million in Turkey, more than 1 million in Lebanon and hundreds of thousands in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
Most of these refugees are unable to work legally and live in extreme poverty. The World Food Program has halved its assistance to the neediest in Lebanon to $13.50 per person per month.
Most leaving for Europe are those with more education and resources, often with friends or family already there. The majority are young men in good health.
Syrians seeking refuge or a place to organize to struggle in the region face increasing obstacles. Lebanon has demanded visas since January. Jordan allows only 40 to 50 people a day to enter. The Turkish border was relatively open until recently, but is now a fortified strip of land guarded by trenches, miles of barbed wire fence and armed troops.
Assad's murderous war
Washington and other imperialist governments have let the Syrian people bleed. President Barack Obama increasingly banks on an agreement — what he calls a "reset"— with Moscow and new relations with the regime in Tehran to stabilize the region, offering protection for the interests of U.S. imperialism.
Because of the vacuum of revolutionary leadership, the brutal and reactionary army of Islamic State, with military leadership from former commanders in the army of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, stepped in and seized hunks of territory, both in Syria and Iraq. Workers and farmers bore the brunt of IS thuggery.
While the focus of the U.S. media coverage on the Mideast has been the grisly beheadings and other violence carried out by Islamic State, the Assad regime is responsible for the vast majority of those killed in Syria.
Assad's regime is based on a narrow layer of capitalist families, mostly from the Alawite Muslim minority, a branch of Shiite Islam comprising some 10 percent of the population.
The Russian government has flown in tanks, equipment and personnel to beef up the regime and keep the western, most populated coastal regions of the country under Assad's control.
Moscow has indicated it seeks a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Obama during the upcoming United Nations sessions to discuss their mutual interests in the area, including working together in the fight against Islamic State. Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said he thought the meeting was likely to occur, the New York Times reported Sept. 15.
The one place the masses have produced a capable fighting force is in the Kurdish-dominated areas, where they have beaten back Assad's army and Islamic State alike.
The advances made by the Kurdish struggle for national rights are threatened after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with Washington's backing, recently launched airstrikes and military raids and imposed curfews in the country's Kurdish southeast under the guise of fighting terrorism.