By Moses Onyango:
The intransigence of the British Prime Minister on the issue of migrants crossing into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea fails the test of logic. The migrants are not economic ‘swarms’ as Prime Minister David Cameron had previously stated. These migrants are fleeing from political systems that have collapsed. It is important to clearly state from the outset that some western powers, such as the UK, have partly contributed to the collapse of these political systems.
Most of the countries currently troubled by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) menace were relatively stable before the western powers started demanding regime change in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and NATO, western powers doomed the leaders of Libya and Syria, and began to bomb these countries. Significant portions of the migrants currently streaming into Europe are from Syria and Libya.
The UK parliament did not prevent Cameron from unleashing British bombs on the sovereign states of Libya in 2011 (though it did prevent British bombs from going to Syria in 2013), and Sarkozy succeeded in making a case for regime change in Libya. The result is undisputed- Libya was bombed and the consequences of instability of other countries in the region has had ripple effects on migration into Europe we are experiencing today. The wave of instability in this region had already been triggered by the war in Iraq, and destabilisation by former US President George Bush Jr. and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. These countries are currently under the marauding forces of lawlessness and despair.
It is this reality that David Cameron is failing to come to terms with. The desperate refugees trying to cross over into Europe once had homes and families. The states they resided in may have not been peaceful, but were stable to a degree under their ‘dictators’, who kept the latent conflicts in their countries under some control. Ethnic conflicts erupted occasionally but the ‘dictators’ kept them under the lid, there were no unprecedented spillovers abroad. In reality the so-called ‘swarms’, to borrow, David Cameron’s reference to the refugees, would not be had NATO’s illogical ‘regime change policy’ not been implemented.
It is within the UN’s mandate, and its peace-loving member states to prevail upon the British Prime Minister and other NATO member states to take responsibility for their actions in bombing Syria and Libya. We may be dealing with a number of refugees in unprecedented proportions at this time, but let us not forget that this human-made ‘catastrophe’ is a consequence of the failure of the poor policies that NATO member states pursued in Libya and Syria. We need to respond to the plight of these refugees. After all, ‘stopping the scourge of war’ is the true word and spirit within which the UN charter was written and accepted by peace loving nations in San Francisco in 1945.
Although David Cameron may be right about some refugees wanting to enter Europe for economic reasons where some migrants are running away from poor economic conditions in their countries, let us not forget this was not necessarily the case in these countries prior to being bombed by NATO. The real solution is not in protecting national borders from ‘swarms’, but rather in finding durable solutions in the countries whose systems were partly impacted by NATO bombs.
As a temporary measure, refugees should be diligently processed and allowed into Europe, or into any other country that would accept them according to the international convention on refugees. Paying curtails to detain refugees at their exit point into Europe is immoral and an unacceptable abuse of the 1948 Universal Declaration of of Human Rights.
The United Nations Security Council should prevail upon Britain and NATO states, to call for an extraordinary meeting to discuss long-term strategies for the stabilisation and post conflict reconstruction of these countries with the same spirit ‘regime change’ was discussed as a strategy by NATO. The UN Secretary General recently convened a conference to discuss how to reconstruct Ebola affected countries. The political will expressed by member states present was overwhelmingly impressive. A meeting of that kind should be convened for the refugee crisis.
These 21st century challenges cannot be responded to through the old state-centric lenses of pursuing relative gains. The existing national-interests of the 21st century in which information and technology have almost rendered state boundaries insignificant in keeping people safe can only be protected through collaborative efforts keeping absolute gains in mind. This is the reality in which the current international system operates. Although, old ideas may be hard to abandon, the consequences of leaders’ actions shall eventually shape how leaders perceive things.
This analysis may sound idealistic or unrealistic, but the reality is that, while states remain strong in pursuing their national interests collaborative efforts in dealing with trans-boundary issues still remain important, and require absolute gain.
While solutions to the overwhelming intra-state conflicts, that spillover into global problems remain context specific, let us not forget that some of these problems are partly created by global powers’ ill-conceived policies. As such, solutions have to be initiated and driven by them to correct where they may have got it wrong.
Global leaders such as Cameron, and NATO member states’ leaders of like minds, their unchecked illiberal policies abroad, and reverberating undertones of peace loving nations who are liberating people from the abusive dictators’ latches, are the elephants in the room. Refugees are not swarms – let us not focus on the insignificant spaces refugees are occupying in Europe. Lets us deal with the real problem of finding safe haven for these political refugees whose suffering is a consequence of NATO’s failed policies in Libya and Syria.
*Editors note: This article has been amended from its original version to reflect that the UK voted for military action in Libya in 2011, but against it in the case of Syria in 2013.
Moses Onyango is a lecturer at the United States International University – Africa and a current Fellow of the African Leadership Centre, King’s College London.
 Horace, Campbell (2012) NATO’s Failure in Libya, Lessons for Africa, AISA.
 Horace, Campbell (2012) NATO’s Failure in Libya, Lessons for Africa, AISA