Left Party Sweden: Combating `Fortress Europe'

Kalle Larsson addresses the Socialist Party (USA) meeting. Photo by David McReynolds.

By Billy Wharton

February 16, 2010 -- To US immigrant rights activists faced with the harsh repression of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids or the outright racism of public officials such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Europe may seem like a kinder, gentler place. Yet, as Kalle Larsson, representative of the Left Party of Sweden, argued during a recent speech organised by the Socialist Party USA (NYC local), Europe is developing its own forms of exclusion and repression for migrants.

Larsson described the changes underway in the European Union (EU) in the treatment of asylum-seeking refugees and people without papers. As the EU moves to “harmonise” various policies employed by member nation-states, what once seemed like a minimum policy to insure a base level of rights has become a ceiling designed to prevent the implementation of more humane policies. This process, Larsson argued, is one part of the larger neoliberal approach being implemented in Brussels.

Larsson described a situation of rising racism and xenophobia throughout much of Europe. Some of this can attributed to the severity of the economic crisis, but there are also clear roots being planted in electoral politics and policy making. Though clear racist parties have mostly failed to enter government, they have been able to influence, and even set, parts of the legislative agenda as large liberal-social democratic parties seek to adapt to the issues raised by these parties. The code words for such adaptation, Larsson suggested, are things like “listening to the concerns people raise”. Practically, such approaches signal an abandonment of relatively liberal principles in favour of the electoral expediency offered by more repressive measures.

EU policies build walls

Clear fault for the rise of discrimination lies also with EU policy. Problems begin with the Dublin Convention, a law that forces asylum seekers to be tried in the first country they enter. Entry most often occurs at the edges of Europe and, consequently, in countries with poor records for granting asylum. Sweden for instance, Larsson stated, granted about 75% of applications for asylum made by Iraqi refugees while a country like Greece, which receives far more applications, has an approval rate of less than 1% of asylum seekers.

The EU has also developed a policy of carrier sanctions: transportation companies caught transporting people without papers face stiff fines. This ensures that transport is conducted covertly. Those able to overcome transport difficulties often face an additional visual screening at transportation hubs. In practice, Larsson argued, this leads to a racial profiling policy with dark-skin travellers being targeted by security forces for credential checks.

The repression of Fortress Europe

Even more disturbing is the rise of the frontier border control police. This armed force has created a “fortress Europe” by aiming to make borders uncrossable. Again, Greece has become a prime site for these conflicts over migration. Asylum seekers from Turkey have been forced to turn their boats around and return to face possible persecution in Turkey. However, Turkish officials often refuse permission for the asylum boats to land. EU border police then dump the asylum seekers into the ocean off the coast in order to resolve the conflict. This brutal act, Larsson emphasised, is not an isolated instance, but has happened on several occasions.

EU officials have also begun to enforce visa controls against asylum seekers. Now, theoretically, a person fleeing from persecution would have to apply to the country persecuting them to issue a travel visa. This is, of course, untenable and has led to a coercive response as the EU has used detention as a means to control the movement of those without the proper credentials.

Migration policies with a human face

Larsson said Sweden's Left Party offers a program to counteract the anti-human trends of the EU. First and foremost, he stressed the need to close the gap in global socioeconomic inequality. This is a prime push factor in migration. Second, begin to tear down the walls being put up around the EU. Key to doing so is a third point that would create legal routes to seek asylum. One of the most powerful points Larsson made was that there is now no practical legal way to migrate to Europe. Asylum seekers necessarily need to break some or all of the laws described above in order to make their journey.

Larsson proposed the creation of a specific visa for asylum seekers that would be tried in the European country they seek to enter. Another strategy being employed is to help those people with status questions already in country to organise. Larsson described weekly meetings held outside of parliament by people without papers. Finally, Larsson emphasised the need to not allow the racist parties to set the agenda for migration.

Overall, Kalle Larsson identified some troubling developments within the EU. Though he only touched briefly on economic issues, the spectacular meltdowns of Iceland and now Greece give testimony to the larger social suffering brought on by capitalist integration. The challenge for the European, left that was brought out in this conversation about migration policies, is to combat the immediate restrictions being implemented while also maintaining and promoting a larger vision for creating a Europe constructed beyond the narrow parameters of capitalism.

[Billy Wharton is the co-chair of the Socialist Party USA and the editor of The Socialist and the Socialist WebZine.]