Removing References to the Arab Spring Facilitates the International Narrative on Migration and Refugees

Ramona Wadi

Foreign intervention – lauded by imperialism as a necessity for “bringing democracy” – has one aspect of so-called collateral damage which is abhorred and manipulated. The invasion of the Middle East and North Africa region, as decided by the White House early on in the “War on Terror” post September 11, has generated a perpetual phenomenon of refugees and forcibly displaced people seeking a semblance of normalcy in Europe.

The European Union, which exalts its purportedly peace-building diplomacy, has also engaged in human rights violations when it comes to refugee rights, in particular people escaping from Libya’s torture camps. The deals to leave the Mediterranean pristine has created a booming business for traffickers and torturers in Libya – the undeclared failed state following the NATO invasion of the country to depose Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called upon the EU to help Greece financially, as Turkey announced it will open its borders for refugees to move towards Europe. “Frankly, instead of bickering about who takes who or rather who doesn’t take whom because that’s the main bickering, states should look at the root causes of this,” Grandi stated.

Is Grandi referring to the institutional dynamics, controlled by world leaders, which have determined the current migration phenomenon? If so, why is Grandi not shifting focus onto the UN and the near global consensus it manufactured to facilitate the destruction of independent countries under the pretence of democracy? Furthermore, does Grandi really want scrutiny of the root causes which created ongoing refugee trajectories? It is just the EU that should be scrutinising the root causes and in what capacity – as observer or participant?

What Grandi is expecting is further collusion between the EU and the UN in maintaining the politics of humanitarian aid. Back in 2011 after Libya was ravaged by NATO with authorisation from the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, then UN Secretary General, had words of praise for the so-called Arab Spring. Failing to distinguish between the people’s legitimate demands for change and the aggression of UN-mandated foreign intervention, Ban credited the Arab Spring with “dramatic and often inspiring changes.” By then, displacement had already become a large-scale problem, however the UN was more concerned with the fable of “building democracy” than with estimating the death toll and humanitarian impact which its glorified wars unleashed upon civilians.

It was only when years had passed, and the Arab Spring was no longer part of mainstream political discourse, that the UN and the EU focused their attention on refugees and border control. The dissociation between foreign intervention and forcibly displaced civilians was complete in terms of political dissonance; hence both entities were free to discuss migration without implicating themselves as culpable for the loss of homeland and lives.

Migration was then linked to financial planning, burden sharing, pushbacks and practicalities which only exacerbated human rights violations, rendering the UN and the EU complicit in torture, death and disappearances of refugees. Protecting borders has eclipsed bringing democracy in terms of popularity. Indeed the latter slogan is now redundant and a reference which the UN and the EU would rather not be reminded of, as they enter a new collaborative phase in which human lives are extinguished to safeguard the purportedly humanitarian project and the borders of Fortress Europe. Greece is now termed as “Europe’s shield” – a shield that keeps out vulnerable refugees from the countries whose governments participated in, or agreed with, foreign intervention as a tool for bringing democracy to Arab nations.

The current root causes which Grandi is referring to are the Arab Spring and Western governments’ complicity, either in their own individual capacity or as part of the international consensus. This in turn requires the UN to reflect on itself and its bloody achievements; in particular when it comes to its collaboration with NATO. International institutions have not facilitated the safeguarding of human rights; they have created an interminable supply of victims unwittingly propping up a political agenda that thrives upon a humanitarian facade to promote perpetual warfare.