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Sarwat Viquar © 2002


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This year's G8 summit, held in Kananaskis, Alberta and the protests held throughout Canada against the G8 are over. It is fitting to look back to see how the "War on Terror", one of the main items on the G8 agenda, continues the work of death and displacement in the global South.

A protest march was held in Ottawa on June 27, the second day of the G8 meetings in Kanaskis which was entitled "No-one is Illegal". We were often asked by the media what this had to do with the G8 and the "war on terrorism". Everything. In addition to doling out death in large doses, through high-altitude bombing, among other ways, the policies and actions of G8 governments cause the displacement of millions upon millions of people in the South every year.

And it does not end there. Displaced people become refugees and migrants, who are then criminalized and marginalized when they seek asylum, especially in G8 countries. The G8's imperialism makes people hostage in their own land, and then refuses any sanctuary to those who can get away.

Afghanistan is a current case in point. Since the military campaign in Afghanistan was declared a "success" there has been talk of repatriating the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Much was written about the plight of Afghan refugees during the first few months of the US-led coalition's attacks on Afghanistan. The coalition is dominated by six of the eight G8 countries. Since the "official" end of the campaign, however, there has been a long silence which is to be expected from the corporate media.

But even during the bombing of Afghanistan, accounts of the condition of refugees rarely focused on the effects of the bombing campaign itself. Humanitarian aid agencies lamented the shortage of funds, the looming crisis, starvation and an inability to keep up with the tide of refugees. They never once questioned what had created the crisis in the first place.

The massive displacement of people was somehow detached from the bombs, death and destruction they were fleeing. The muted criticism of disillusioned and weary aid workers occasionally found voice in the independent media, but no official support from the big aid agencies. And now, we are told that Afghan refugees are returning to Afghanistan and that all is well. During the past months the UNHCR claims to have repatriated one million Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan from Pakistan. They call it voluntary repatriation. Is it possible to voluntarily repatriate one million people in one month?

Reports from Amnesty International tell how most refugees are taking one look at conditions in Afghanistan and turning back. The recent killings of scores of Afghan civilians, who were celebrating a wedding, by deadly US bombers, hardly create the ideal conditions for Afghans to return to their homeland.

It seems that now the presence of refugees in Pakistan has become a huge inconvenience to the "War on Terror". The US has decided that the entire Al-Qaeda/Taliban leadership is now in Pakistan and they will "walk across the country" (US commander of ground forces in Afghanistan, Franklin Hagenbach), and, if they have to, "to hunt them down", I guess. Recent reports from Pakistan say how the refugees are being shifted from place to place, bringing them closer and closer to the border, in order to make way for British special forces and the Pakistani army, acting as a US proxy now, to continue their "hunting".

Having undergone the ordeal of US attack, the displaced Afghan population also faces discrimination and harassment by Pakistani authorities, under orders and increasing pressure by the US to control and contain the crisis, the complacent and uncaring attitude of the international aid agencies, and the silence of the western media in presenting their plight.

The reason for all three lies in a denial and suppression of the illegality and inhumanity of the bombing campaign itself, as well as the present negligence the refugees are being subjected to. An acknowledgment of the human crisis unleashed by first, the threat and fear of the bombing, and then the bombing itself, would mean a questioning of the act itself. This is the only reason I can think of why international aid agencies, while calling for aid and responding to a 'humanitarian disaster' never questioned the causes and conditions which led to the disaster in the first place. And still do.

Although the rhetoric of the need for "human security" is invoked again and again, it is the interests of "national security" which are finally the determining factor in who gets bombed and who gets saved, and this seems to be unquestioningly accepted. This is also illustrated by the western / corporate media's lack of attention and silence on documenting the effects of the bombing campaign and the sheer scale of the refugee crisis. This has been a major contributing factor to the sense of complacency and arrogance among the western public.

The military campaign was a "success" and now they can benevolently go in and rebuild Afghanistan and make it a haven of democracy. That haven of democracy has now become a very conducive environment for the laying out of massive gas and oil pipelines through Afghanistan. But what is conducive for the transport of gas and oil is not necessarily so for the people, who have become expendable pawns in this game, but in whose name all actions are justified.

The reduction of massive numbers of people to mere numbers and statistics, and the use of terms like "invisibles" and "undocumented" is how the crisis of displacement is made palatable to the rest of the world, or the world from which the true nature of the tragedy must be hidden, namely the western public.

The "No one is Illegal" campaign, launched by activists in cities across Canada, addresses the injustices that displaced and migrant people are subjected to, in which Afghanistan is one on a long list. The movement highlights how governments of the G8, while contributing to the creation of massive instability and insecurity in the South, then tighten their own borders to deny sanctuary to refugees from these regions.

This is done by first marginalizing the crisis and trauma of death and displacement and then criminalizing those affected by it by labelling them "illegal" or "non-status". Defending the rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers is central to a questioning of the globalizing policies which create displacement.

At the same time, activists and organizers of the current protests are also realizing the urgent and imperative need to address the rights of the colonized, indigenous peoples of the Americas and colonial Settler states like Australia and New Zealand. The "No one is Illegal" march was unique in that it succeeded in bringing together people directly affected by the G8's war policies in the South, their immigration policies at home and their long history of oppression of native peoples within their own created borders.




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