Tag: eritrea

Useless Mouths

Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its ‘involuntary euthanasia’ program. Theorists argued that certain categories of people were nothing but a burden on society and therefore had no ‘right’ to life.   These ideas were a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories, which adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest to describe relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.

Of course there was nothing ‘natural’ about these ideas, or the malignant ways that the Nazis made use of them.   In Nazi ideology, the state killing of the disabled, the sick and the mentally-ill was the beginning of a conveyor belt that led to the wholesale extermination of the Jews and ‘inferior races’ Slavic races during World War II.

Nazism may have been a unique political evil, but the influence of Social Darwinism should remind us that not all of its ideas were entirely original, and that Nazi Germany was not the only country to categorize certain peoples according to strictly utilitarian notions of their perceived usefulness to society.

Consider our own government.  This week it was revealed that nearly 4,000 people died within weeks of being declared fit for work by the DWP.  This ought to be a cause of massive, sustained outrage and disgust, and should certainly be enough to bring down the minister responsible.   Instead Iain Duncan Smith – the sneering face of Tory cruelty –announced new plans to force disabled people into work. Why?  Because Duncan Smith wants ‘to ensure everyone has the opportunity to transform their lives by getting into work’ – even if that transformation only applies to the few days or weeks before they die.

The fact that these deaths have caused very little outcry is a disturbing indication of how low UK society and its political class have sunk these last years.   Quietly, effortlessly, and with very little opposition, Britain has become a society in which certain categories of people are regarded in practice if not in principle, as ‘useless mouths’ whose value to society is measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on ‘the taxpayer’.

The government, with the feeble cooperation of a supine opposition, with the help of its tabloid allies and the shameful depravity of TV companies engaging in poverty porn, has been able to characterize people receiving state benefitsas ‘scroungers’  and parasites, rather than people who need the same help from the state that current taxpayers may one day need themselves.

This ideological assault has been so successful that even providing state assistance to the sick and the disabled is regarded as an unnecessary and unfair burden on the taxpayer, and the ability to work is treated as the sole benchmark of social usefulness. Once you begin to accept these parameters, it becomes very easy to force sick people to work, even though their deaths make it clear that they were are so ill that they should not be working at all.

Now some of you ought there might still be naive or sentimental enough to fell a little revulsion at the notion that sick and terminally-ill people should be put through the stress of having to look for work, or losing their state support in the last weeks of their lives.  But you are not getting the point: in the view of this government only people who work have any social value and the state should not be obliged to support the ‘useless mouths’ who don’t work.  Come on now, it’s not rocket science.

I’m not suggesting that we are ruled by Nazis.  Our government doesn’t deliberately kill the people it regards as useless.   Most of the time it merely torments them, and creates a situation in which death becomes more likely.   But its fanatical obsession with measuring usefulness solely in terms of the perceived benefits to ‘the taxpayer’ has created a society in which suffering and death can be regarded with complete indifference and produce nothing more than a collective shrug of the shoulders and a weary shake of the head.

The same ideology also applies to the scroungers who call themselves refugees or asylum seekers, who the government regards as nothing more than ‘health tourists’ and another unjustified burden on ‘the taxpayer’.   That’s why we have just passed a law which will reduce ‘failed’ asylum seekers and their children to destitution and hunger even if they can’t return to their countries of origin.   It’s why the Home Office has declared Eritrea a safe country on the basis of a discredited report by the Danish government.  It’s why we have allowed less than 200 Syrian refugees into the country.

If you enforce restrictions like these, there is always the possibility that people will die trying to evade them.  Our government knew that last year, when it argued against search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean on the grounds that such operations would increase the ‘pull factors’ that brought migrants here.   The unspoken corollary of this argument is an acceptance of death and suffering as a necessary consequence of border enforcement and immigration restrictions.

If you believe, as the government has again and again invited the public to believe, that the men, women and children who are coming to Europe have no other objective or motivation except to take advantage of our ‘generous’ benefits system – another burden on the taxpayer – then it becomes possible to accept any level of death, pain and injury with a sense of tragic equanimity, as though such deaths were the result of a natural disaster or force majeur.

Of course, the government doesn’t want migrants to die.   But like the European Union and so many European governments, it has helped create a situation in which death is likely and almost certain to occur.  In order to justify this,  it has relentlessly dehumanized and caricatured stateless people to the point when they are regarded as ‘surplus people’ whose lives have less value or significance than ours and who somehow threaten us.

This summer we have seen enough unnecessary death to make us sick.  In the last two months eighteen people have died in Calais trying to ‘break into Britain’.   Only this week nearly 200 people drowned in the Mediterranean, some 50 of whom may have suffocated to death in the hold of the boat they were travelling on, and another  71 men, women and children have suffocated to death in the back of a lorry.

In the face of these horrors, the German government has called on European countries to accept quotas of refugees in response to the gravest refugee crisis since World War II.   The British government has not budged, and there is very little possibility that it will budge without serious domestic pressure.

That requires a transformation in the way that migration is perceived.  But for such a transformation to occur we need to reject the neo-liberal variant of Social Darwinism practiced by this government that is turning Britain into something cruel and monstrous, and remember that our society will be defined by the way we treat those who need our help, whether they come from inside our borders or beyond them.

The above article was originally posted on Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine

Is The UK Government Deliberately Putting The Lives Of Eritrean’s At Risk?

2014AFR_Ertirea_Immigration

Life in one of the biggest migrant settlement camps in Western Europe in the Calais jungle exemplifies our dysfunctional world, A miniature city of makeshift tents dot the landscape. Men and women of various nationalities undertake their basic day to day activities the best they can while they dream of a better life on the other side of the razor wire fences.

In many ways, the scenes at the settlements conform to many of the dystopian fantasies that permeate the popular culture of many of those, who by nothing more than a simple twist of existential fate, happened to have been born into relative privilege.

These are citizens who, through either business or leisure activities, are able to move freely from the one line of demarcation to the other. Occasionally this might involve confronting the “other” due to the fact that many of their migrant counterparts will be moving in the opposite direction.

As Matt Carr, who travelled from the UK to France recently, eloquently put it:

“There we can find a city that has become a perfect mirror of our dysfunctional world, a place where men and women fuelled by the promise of sanctuary or the hope of a different life collide with the UK’s pitiless and implacable borders, and intersect with the dreams of the citizens of one of the richest countries on earth, heading for their holidays or returning from them.”

The sad reality for the refuges who stay in the camp more than a few days is that they are likely to remain their for the foreseeable future.The Guardian did a very good photo essay of life in the camps which can be seen here. These are the “forgotten” migrants, the poorest of the poor who are near the bottom of the migration food chain because they don’t have neither the sufficient funds to pay the gangs nor the contacts.

The media narrative tends to focus on the migrants who are able to pay the gangs between £1,000 and £4,000 to be put on to lorries bound for the UK hundreds of miles before they reach Calais. If justice prevailed, many of the “forgotten” at the bottom would be at the top, but it doesn’t so they aren’t. The migrants from the horn of Africa country, Eritrea, have a particularly strong case for the top status.

These are people that are fleeing political repression in their home country. A recent UN report outlined systematic human rights violations in Eritrea including torture, imprisonment and forced labour. Many Eritreans come to the UK seeking asylum but there has been a drastic decline in those given refugee status because of a recent change in government guidelines.

Government statistics show that between January and March 2015, 743 Eritrean applications for asylum were made of which 543 were granted. That’s an approval rate of 73%. However, since government guidelines changed in March, the approval rate had dropped to just 34%.

Eritrean’s are the only group, apart from Syrian’s, eligible for re-location from the EU’s bordering states’ because, according to The European Commission, they are deemed “persons in a clear need of international protection.”

So why does the British government appear to be paving the way to send them back to an almost certain death?

It would seem that the government has revised its guidelines on Eritrea based on a report commissioned by the Danish government which suggests that the Eritrean government is reforming. But in June the UN accused Eritrea of crimes against humanity.

According to Dr Lisa Doyle of the Refugee Council,:

“The government are currently basing their decisions on a report that is fundamentally flawed and widely criticised. These are life and death decisions and we need to be giving people the protection that they need”.

The nation who was partly responsible for establishing the boundaries of the present-day Eritrea nation state during the Scramble for Africa in 1869 as part of its imperial ambitions, is the same nation who today is denying fundamental human rights to the people it formerly subjugated.

It’s clear that the government is using the plight of the Eritrean people as a political football in an attempt to hit their immigration target, thereby pandering to a right wing electorate fearful of growing rates of net migration which are currently at record levels. The fact that the British government is playing politics with people’s lives in this way is abhorent but not surprising.