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Opinion

July 3, 2018

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Where the responsibility lies

Another heart-wrenching story of immigrants, which reflects the plight of people in the developing world, made headlines in several Western newspapers.

On June 29, a boat carrying up to 120 migrants, including children and women, sank off the Libyan coast. The Libyans rescued 16 migrants from the group and found the bodies of three children. The rest went missing. The incident has triggered a debate in the West where leaders are adroitly pandering to the racist and xenophobic sentiments of their highly-charged voters and using them as a pretext to block the entry of desperate and dishevelled creatures of the ‘third world’ who are seeking refuge from the turmoil that has plagued several parts of their countries.

But it seems the death of these migrants in the violent waters of the Mediterranean Sea hasn’t pricked the world’s conscience. More than a thousand people and their families have been engulfed by this giant sea this year alone. It is estimated more than 33,000 people have died at sea while trying to reach Europe since 2000. The International Organization for Migration believes that the fatalities could be higher because a large number of boats sink without rescue crews knowing about these incidents.

The leaders in the advanced capitalist world, especially the West, blame developing countries for this flux of migration while critics in the ‘third world’ hold the West responsible for the plight of migrants along with other problems faced within their societies.

There is no denying the fact that the incompetence of the oligarchs and the ruling elite of poor countries is one factor that contributes to the miseries of the people. For instance, 30 percent of the richest Africans have amassed more than $500 billion while the continent is desperate to secure just $15 billion that could wipe out measles and other diseases.

But it isn’t fair to only blame the ‘third world’. A cursory glance at history and a quick analysis at today’s world can substantiate the claim put forward by intellectuals in the developing world that the advanced capitalist world, particularly the West, accounts for most of the Global South’s problems.

The West not only established the modern settler states of America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia after annihilating more than 20 million indigenous people and decimating four million blacks, it also colonised 35 percent of the world before the industrialisation process began and 85 percent by the end of the Second World War.

Only the British Empire has been accused of pushing more than 35 million people in the lap of death in Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, Ireland and various parts of its vast empire. One million died in the communal violence that ensued during Partition and more than 10 million were uprooted due to the sustained ‘divide and rule’ policy of the empire. London is also believed to be responsible for another four million killings in Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and other parts of the world.

Belgium eliminated between 10 million and 15 million people in Congo between 1885 and 1908. France is blamed for killing three million people in Vietnam and Algeria. Nationalists in the Philippines claim that colonisation of their country by the US killed around three million people. This is just the story of a few colonial masters. If the deaths caused by the usurpation of lands by Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are also added, then your calculator might just stop working.

It can be argued the scramble for colonies, which began in 1492 and culminated in the 1940s, not only pushed 85 percent of the world’s landmass into the hands of Western colonial masters but has also led to more than 280 major and minor conflicts since 1945. It was the hegemonic policies of the West that pushed the world towards the conflagration of 1914-1918 and the catastrophic global war of 1939-1945

The imperialist countries used the soldiers of their colonies as cannon fodder. These soldiers constituted a large part of such armies. For instance, the Punjab regiment is said to be the largest fighting force in the British Imperial Army during World War I and World War II. After both destructive wars, more than six million died in Vietnam and the Korean Peninsula due to Western policies.

Today, the West blames the corrupt leadership of the developing world for all its ills. While this may be partially true, Western democratic countries eliminated popular leaderships in the Global South that were hampering the hegemony of international monopolies called MNCs. This created space for incompetent leaders who collaborated with their Western masters, helping them plunder natural resources. The CIA and its Western allies euphorically celebrated the toppling of Iranian democratic government in 1953; the removal of popular leader Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954; and the ouster of elected Chilean leader Allende in 1973.

The Western capitalist world threw overt and covert support behind more than 100 dictators and authoritarian regimes, besides pampering the racist government of Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa. They supported violent jihadists and drug barons who wreaked havoc across the developing world.

Such policies set off conflicts in the developing world, prompting London, Paris, New York and other Western capitals to, on the one hand, plunder the natural resources of Africa and other parts of the Global South and, on the other, enrich themselves by arming belligerent groups in the warring states.

Even today, the West is stoking insurgencies and fanning conflicts in various parts of the world. It armed Iran, Iraq, India and Pakistan in the past and is currently showering weapons deals on Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The West claims to have pumped billions of dollars into the developing world. The benevolent free world gives $125 billion in aid each year. According to the Global Financial Integrity in 2012, developing countries received $1.3 trillion in aid, investment and income. During the same year, $3.3 trillion flowed out of them. Since the 1980s, the developing world has sent a whopping $16.3 trillion to the Global North, which is roughly equal to the GDP of the US. Of this, the Global South has forked out over $4.2 trillion in interest payments alone during the same period.

The story doesn’t end there. The developing world also suffers heavily because of the unrecorded capital flow, which stands at around $13.4 trillion since the 1980s. Large Western companies have also been accused of ‘invoice faking’ and shifting profits illegally between their own subsidiaries by mutually faking trade invoice prices on both sides. This deprives the developing world of $700 billion each year.

It is true that the unscrupulous leaders of the ‘third world’ embezzle public money, stashing them away in foreign banks. But the havens of such stolen money lie in the hands of the West. In fact, the UK is among the world’s top 20 tax havens – something confirmed in the recent Panama Paper leaks. Africa loses more than $50 billion annually to illicit financial outflows.

So, Western leaders, who are believed to have an impeccable character when it comes to financial matters, should abolish these tax havens. Such money will be invested in developing countries, helping those states to tide over this phenomenon of mass immigration.

If the Western capitals stop triggering wars and conflicts and vow not to supply arms to ‘third world’ countries, the spectre of migration to Europe – that is haunting the far-right and the populists – will evaporate in no time. If they fail to do this, then they shouldn’t be reluctant to take responsibility for the ills of the developing world.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected] gmail.com

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