Refugee Crisis – The Fruits of NATO aggression

The surge in refugees attempting to reach Europe is dominating the news.

We see pictures of those who have drowned from boats capsized in the Mediterranean, or even from attempting to swim. But the broader reasons behind the influx of refugees is seldom discussed, perhaps because the answer is an uncomfortable one for Irish and European elites; the crisis is the direct result of military interventions by NATO, i.e. the US in conjunction with European powers.

The people that are now drowning in the Mediterranean, or attempting to cross the Channel Tunnel, or poorly-sheltered in refugee camps come from the exact same states that have been devastated by ruthless campaigns to topple governments, with massive devastation of housing, basic infrastructure and people’s lives.


First time EU asylum applications, Jan 2014 - March 2015
First time EU asylum applications, Jan 2014 – March 2015

Where Do Refugees Come From?

EU asylum seekers by country of origin

It is difficult to know precisely the scale of mass migrations of people who are often attempting to evade detection. Further, the scale of migration in internal displacement is generally much greater than refugees fleeing state borders, so the scale of migration to Europe is not representative of the full problem. For example, greater than 500,000 IDP (Internally Displaced Peoples) are present in Afghanistan and over 300,000 in Ukraine. Further many refugees are being hosted in neighbouring countries, which are often poor and least equipped to deal with them, as exemplified by the 1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Despite the difficulty of obtaining statistics on the full extent of the problem, we do have figures on the number of asylum seekers.  While asylum numbers are not an accurate reflection of the full scale of the problem, we can use them to give us an idea of relative scale, and some idea of the countries of origin of migrants.

According to Eurostat, between Q1 2014 (first quarter) and Q1 2015 some 647,045 people have enrolled as first time asylum seekers in the EU. Further, there has been an 85% increase in the number of asylum applications between Q1 2014 and Q1 2015. By looking at the main countries of origin for refugees into the EU, we can clearly see that the current waves of mass migration are closely related to NATO aggression and related economic devastation.

Homs, Syria
Homs, Syria

Syria – In 2011, the US began aiding and funding mainly Islamic rebels in Syria helping to fuel a full-scale civil war. Some 1.6 million Syrians are now refugees in Turkey and over 1 million in Lebanon. According to Eurostat, 131,565 asylum seekers reaching the EU are from Syria, approximately 20% of the EU total.

Serbia and Kosovo – The US and Germany were intent on dismantling Yugoslavia in the wake of the fall of the Eastern Bloc. In 1999, NATO directed the bombing of Yugoslavia, in particular Serbia and Kosovo. Kosovo is now a landlocked republic which was one of the poorest regions of Yugoslavia and as an independent state has suffered severe economic deprivation. It is under an IMF structural adjustment programme, which results in further deprivation. Asylum seekers from Kosovo number 80,520 and are approximately 12.5% of the total. Serbia is also under an IMF surveillance and adjustment programme. 22,095 asylum seekers are from Serbia, 3.5% of the total.

Afghanistan – Since 2001, NATO has carried out a long-term war in Afghanistan, killing over 30,000 civilians. There were 43,340 asylum seekers of Afghan origin, 7% of the EU total. Considering the distance of Afghanistan from Europe, this is an incredible number.

Iraq – In 2003, the US in coalition with the UK, Spain and other NATO member countries invaded Iraq. Estimates vary, but it is likely that more than 500,000 civilians have died as a result of the invasion. There were 19,665 asylum seekers from Iraq,  3% of the total asylum seekers.

Ukraine – In 2014, there was an extra-legal change of government, with the new parliament almost perfectly representing US interests. This lead to a civil war in Ukraine which NATO has been fueling through supply of intelligence, troops, equipment and munitions. 17,385 migrants from Ukraine have applied for asylum in the EU, representing 2.5% of the total. This is a small fraction of the country’s migration crisis, as the the vast majority of the approximately 300,000 refugees are going to Russia rather than the EU.

Mali – With the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya toppling Gaddafi, Tuareg fighters who had been allied to the Libyan Government travelled back to their home territory of Mali and began to destabilise that country. France responded with a military intervention in Mali in 2013, attempting to stop the uprisings. Asylum seekers from Mali number 12,515 representing 2% of the total.

Sudan – Conflict erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 after the US followed a deliberate policy of weakening the Sudanese government and encouraging South Sudan to break away. The result of this encouragement has been a long-term civil war, with 10,000 civilians killed and up to 1.5 million internally displaced. 6,295 Sudanese asylum seekers account for around 1% of the total.

Libya – In 2011, NATO began a bombing campaign in Libya under the euphemistic “no fly zone” policy. In fact it was not a “no fly zone” at all, but rather a series of airstrikes which devastated civilian populations. There are now an estimated 600,000 migrants attempting to leave Libya. There were 3680 asylum seekers from Libya, 0.5% of the total. The smaller numbers are due in part to deliberate NATO threats to stop the flow by bombing refugee boats.


The US and many European countries have been directly or indirectly involved in wars of aggression through NATO and have a humanitarian duty to deal with the consequences of their actions. This means we need to immediately find ways to appropriately and humanely absorb the flow of refugees who flee these wars.

Ireland has a responsibility to refugees fleeing war due to its complicity in allowing Shannon to be used by the US and NATO. Since 2002, over 2.4 million US troops have gone through Shannon Airport and have taken part in numerous campaigns of war.

While migration has benefits such as cosmopolitanism and social diversity, the scale of mass migrations is not easy for societies to absorb, especially capitalist societies which cannot absorb huge numbers of incoming migrants by allocating appropriate employment, housing and amenities. The working class is forced to cope with the brunt of additional pressure on housing and downward wage pressure. The influx of recognisably different workers desperate for virtually any housing or work conditions which are better than the conditions of war, can be seized upon by the right-wing and capitalist class both to divide and conquer and to divert attention from their own anti-working-class economic policies by scapegoating migrants.

We need to point out clearly the results of imperialist policies and demand that the countries involved in creating this mess are forced to deal adequately with the human suffering they have caused. This is, however, not enough. It is important to identify that projects of military intervention and economic devastation have caused this mass migration, and ensure that we take an active stance against any similar efforts, now and in the future.

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1 Comment

  1. September 3, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    I appreciate this article and hope that it will help to connect American and European populations in humanitarian efforts to help refugees. It is an important act of accountability to recognize this situation and be willing to assist. It also helps to make perfectly clear the correlations between NATO activities and population displacements. Thank you.