The beginning of the new millennium has been marked by a succession of crisis; from the 2007- 2008 financial crisis to the Eurozone crisis in 2012. But the refugee crisis, which began in 2011 following the Arab Spring, has probably been the biggest challenge for the European Union. In 2015, the numbers reached their peak with the arrival of over a million migrants. European countries have since had to work together to deal with this situation. From the refugee crisis in Europe to the migrants’ caravans in Latin America, can we ask ourselves if refugee crisis are a consequence of developed countries’ intervention policies?
Is foreign-intervention permitted? What does the international law say?
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 establishes in its Article 1 that “all people have the right to auto-determination and by virtue of this right, they freely establish their political condition and provide for their economic, social and cultural development”. The Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), signed in Bogotá in 1948, also stipulates that “every State has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic and social system, to organize itself in the manner that best suits it, and has the duty to not intervene in the affairs of another State”. Yet, there is also the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine (R2P), a doctrine of humanitarian intervention adopted in 2005 by the UN in response to the 1990’s wars, (e.g. Bosnia and Rwanda) which both saw atrocities defined as genocidal. International law shines light on the essential ambiguity of foreign intervention, when it is accepted, and above all, how can we prevent unwanted outcomes like that of a refugee crisis.
In Europe, when the situation in Syria became unmanageable, ministers in the U.S., U.K. and France pushed for greater intervention “to prevent Syria’s bloodshed”, this was a response to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine (R2P). According to the Guardian newspaper, this doctrine has been referred to “justify the French interventions in Ivory Coast in 2011, in Mali in 2013, and the Nato-led no-fly zone imposed over Libya during the conflict that led to the fall of the Gaddafi regime”. As for the United States, since the beginning of the 19th century, it has carried out multiple interventionist actions around the globe. Its interventionist policy has been based on the alleged struggle for freedom and democracy, while it has some 800 military bases throughout the world. In Latin America, the actions have varied and evolved over the years and have gone from defending economic and political interests to the support of right-wing governments in the region. In Honduras, the U.S. plays a very important role when it comes to foreign-intervention, for example, the Soto Cano Air Base houses between 500-600 U.S. troops. The Air Base was once used as an operations’ base to support its foreign policy objectives in the 1980s. Today, the military base serves as an important link to the U.S. military’s presence in Central America and as a launching point for counter-narcotics missions in the region.
Caravan: change of modus operandi
Miguel Urbán Crespo MEP from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Party stated « For the first time the world observes the invisible, the invisible became visible because it was organized in a caravan of migrants, it is visible because it has decided to make migratory trafficking a protest against injustices, a protest against a precariousness life, violence, a life which is a direct cause of our policies « . Today, migrants sacrifice invisibility for the safety of group travel. The fact that the first caravan migrated from Honduras to Guatemala, then to Mexico, inspired other migrants to organized and travel in large groups. According to César Ríos, director of the Salvadoran Migrant Institute in San Salvador, “what this mobilization does is give visibility to a phenomenon that has been around for a long time but nobody wanted to see ». In fact, migrating in a caravan reverses the long established logic of migration, where the goal has been to travel clandestinely and to avoid detection.
Analogy: Venezuela’s case
The exodus of Venezuelans has been described as “the most important of Latin America in 50 years » and according to the United Nations, 2.3 million Venezuelan refugees have left the country in recent years. They are fleeing the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, characterized by higher inflation than ever before and by shortages of certain foods, medicines and supplies. Nevertheless, the Venezuelan case demonstrates a counterpoint to that of Honduras and Syria. The country currently hosts no U.S. military bases and there has been no actual physical foreign-intervention since late president Hugo Chavez arrived to power. However, in all of these countries mentioned, the citizens have been forced to escape from a precariousness life, insecurity, and political instability.
The reasons are multiple and the situations are different in every country, but these countries share similar contexts. Their citizens are fleeing in caravans with the single goal of survival and to exercise their universal, legal human right to seek asylum. The examples of these countries endeavor to respond to our question but with a different answer: in Honduras as in Syria foreign- intervention is one of the reasons for the refugee crisis. On the other hand, Venezuela’s massive migration flow might be the lack of a deep economic and political transformation. Thus, all of these economic, political and humanitarian tragedies are all reasons to push for political change; yet, a military response is not the answer, on the contrary, is counterproductive.