Bolivarian Latin America promises help in worldwide refugee crisis

Organizations of the Bolivarian alliance have proposed mechanisms for helping with the refugee crises in Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) and CELAC (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), which together include every single country in the Western Hemisphere except the United States and Canada, are proposing a worldwide emergency response.

The refugee crisis in Southeast Asia mostly involves the Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State in Northern Burma (Myanmar) who have been persecuted in their home country where they are regarded as “illegal aliens” even if their families have lived there for generations. Rohingyas are Muslims in this mostly Buddhist country, which is just emerging from a long period of military dictatorship and isolation.    Recently up to 120,000 Rohingyas have left Burma as refugees.

As the Rohingyas have fled Burma in often unseaworthy boats, they have found themselves barred from landing in other countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. There is an extreme danger of tragedy with thousands of people drowning or perishing from thirst and starvation, while regional governments concentrate entirely on how to keep the desperately poor refugees out of their countries, without regard for humanitarian considerations, let alone dealing with the root causes of the refugee exodus.

The crisis in the Mediterranean involves many thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing from poverty and violence in their home countries, trying to escape to Europe through ports on the coast of Libya. Besides the wars in Syria and Iraq, and the extreme and intractable poverty in Subsaharan Africa, there is huge violence in Northern Nigeria originated with the Boko Haram group, seemingly endless violence in Somalia, and other foci of instability.

The worst problem, however, has arisen in Libya, where destabilization and overthrow of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, by the NATO powers has created a situation of violent chaos, with no effective government and with Islamist militias and criminal refugee smugglers filling the power vacuum.

For several years, these refugees have been landing on the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily, in the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, and in other spots, with many thousands drowning in the Mediterranean. There has been a big uptick in both the migration and in the deaths in recent weeks, which caused the Italian government to appeal to the European Union for help.

But again, the focus has not been on helping the refugees, let alone seeking solutions for the dire situations that set them off on their journeys, but in keeping them out of Europe.  The solution the European countries have come up with consists of stopping migrants by using military force to destroy the smugglers’ boats.

This is strongly objected to by what is left of the Libyan government, as well as by the militias which control vast areas of the country.  We can hope that the European warships will destroy the boats when there are no people on board, but the refugees themselves will be “collateral damage” anyway, as there is little or no regard being paid to the reasons that they flee, or the urgency of their need for refuge.

In our own country, the situation of children and others fleeing poverty and violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and who were the focus of such an uproar last year, is also dire.  Again, absolutely nothing has been done about the situation which is causing people to flee, and the only solution for dealing with the refugees themselves – never called refugees-has been repressive:  Detention in substandard conditions, and mechanisms to help the Mexican government crack down on desperately poor Central Americans passing through its territory to get to jobs and families in the United States.

The left wing “Bolivarian” governments of Latin America and the Caribbean have been working to create innovative and humane responses to their own regional migration patterns.  These involve such things as making work permits more readily available to migrants.

Now they are speaking up about the refugee crises in the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.  On Saturday the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, announced that CELAC is planning to provide substantial humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas who are stranded on the Thai coast.

On Monday, UNASUR called for a “chain of solidarity” to be set up, which would provide relief.

A statement on UNASUR’s website says: “The condition of the Rohingya migrants from Burma and Bangladesh, abandoned to their fate in the middle of the sea without being able to disembark in any country’s port….added to the refugees from Syria and Somalia, constitutes an authentic passive genocide by a world that every day is more insensitive to the suffering of humankind…..

“UNASUR proposes a WORLD SOLIDARITY CHAIN sponsored by the International Red Cross, through which all the countries in the world could make contributions so that the countries of origin, if conditions of stability exist, or of destination of all the forced migrants can assume their humanitarian responsibilities.

“Through this international cooperation economic and social spaces will be opened up so that these millions of [displaced] citizens can find a secure place in which they can settle down or to which they can move with their families.”

Photo: Left governments in Latin America are leading the way in care for Rohingya refugees (pictured, seeking refuge in Thailand).   |   AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.