The economic order established by the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank has given corporations increasing freedom to invest, produce and trade across the globe.
At the same time the freedom of movement of people across borders has been curtailed. This contradiction is most apparent at the US-Mexico border or at the eastern frontiers of the EU, where the military clampdown on illegal migration ensures that reserve pools of cheap labour are preserved on the edges of the affluent US and Europe. But wherever globalisation has been forced on developing economies, the result has been destabilisation, conflict and devastation, and, in turn, forced migration from rural areas to cities, and from poor regions to wealthier ones. And as the media in the West play on fears of huge numbers of migrants arriving on our doorstep, racism and xenophobia leads to the criminalisation of even those refugees who would traditionally have been regarded as genuine political exiles.
The struggle for refugee rights is therefore intimately linked with anti-racist struggles and the struggles against corporate power, although these links are often complex and difficult to highlight. Still, too often in the UK these links are ignored. Not so in Germany, where Die Karawane, a grouping of refugees from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, has been on hunger strike since 4 June. With the recent rightward shift in the Schröder administration for example, watering down the commitment to reforms of the citizenship laws the refugees argue that they occupy a uniquely isolated political position, caught between repressive regimes at home and state racism in Germany.
But, as Viraj Mendis, one of the organisers who is also a veteran of anti-deportation struggles in the UK, points out, this isolated position gives them a unique political perspective. Die Karawane activists are drawn from all over the world, and each brings with them experience of political struggle, whether it be in Sri Lanka, Nigeria or Turkey. Mendis speaks of a ‘new internationalism’ forged through the refugee struggle. ‘The movement in Germany is still young because refugees are completely ghettoised, literally living in the forest in camps. But because the refugees are political people, the potential to make connections between the Third World and anti-racism in the West is much higher.’