By Jonathan Diebold
Putin’s bloody war in Ukraine has unleashed untold hardship on the country’s 44 million people. It has also created Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II and is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world today. Over 5 million have already left the country, with a further 7.7 million displaced internally.
These refugees have been met by a wave of support and solidarity, in Ireland and internationally. Working-class people have opened their homes, and many communities and organisations have organised donation drives.
Racist immigration policies exposed
Even governments throughout Europe, traditionally hostile to refugees, have introduced significant measures to provide refugees with access to essentials like housing, healthcare, and education. Laudable as such actions are on the surface, the creation of a two-tier system for refugees — one tier for those coming from a European country, and another for those coming from places like Syria or Afghanistan — reveals the racist and divisive nature of refugee laws in Europe.
An example of this is the so-called “jewelry law” in Denmark, introduced in 2016, which allows authorities to search refugees and confiscate money and valuables, which has been waived for Ukrainian refugees. In Ireland, Ukrainian refugees have been exempt from the deplorable direct provision system and given numerous supports unavailable to other refugees. Such instances demonstrate that these policies were never necessary in the first place.
Crisis on top of crisis
While these policies are certainly unnecessary, capitalism as an economic system is a poor tool for grappling with crises such as this. Already the government is running up against its limits. Roderic O’Gorman, one of the ministers responsible for the government’s response to the situation, has said that the state has probably reached its limit of hotels for Ukrainian refugees, where the vast majority of the 13,000 refugees currently here are being housed. In other words, they can no longer rely on leveraging the private market to meet their commitments.
In recent days the government has even planned to expand the amount of vacant social housing being brought back into use — a longstanding demand of housing activists. This won’t be enough, however. Ireland is a country that has been devastated by a years-long housing crisis. What’s needed is the construction of massive amounts of public housing, to house both refugees and for those needing home already living in Ireland.
There are other issues too: Justice Minister Helen McEntee, who had offered to house refugees in her own home, has since admitted that this offer is unfeasible considering that she lives in a rural area with no public transport (another glaring failure of her government it must be added). This is not an uncommon situation, with over half of people who made similar offers withdrawing, many citing similar reasonings.
Oppose economic and political exploitation of refugees
Trade unions must ensure that refugees are not exploited as a form of cheap labour. With the current shortage in fields such as hospitality, it’s likely many businesses will see this as an opportunity to make money. Migrants are already overrepresented in low-paid work and refugees are particularly vulnerable to these unscrupulous business practices.
The government, which has stood over the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis, and indeed direct provision, is not housing these refugees out of the goodness of its heart. There is of course huge pressure on the government to support Ukrainian refugees, but it is also cynically attempting to use the invasion of Ukraine to undermine Ireland’s position of military “neutrality” and further its integration into EU military structures — which it knows is opposed by the vast majority of the population.
As well as demanding the government acts urgently on the refugee and general housing crisis — by taking the necessary wealth, land and resources from the super-rich profiteers and vultures — we must oppose their ulterior motives in favour of militarisation.
Wars and the refugee crises that go with them are a by-product of a brutal and oppressive imperialist and capitalist system that dominates are planet. Its rule must be overthrown and replaced with a democratic socialist society, built on equality, justice and solidarity, where society’s wealth and resources, are democratically and publicly owned to meet our needs and safeguard our planet.