The Snowpiercer Train Around Europe’s Border
By Vanessa Ladhar
Prior to the apocalypse, a wealthy scientist constructed a train that could travel around the globe and withstand the harshness of the ice age. It has everything needed for comfort – healthcare and education, synthetic ‘farmland,’ and luxurious living quarters. However, to get onto the train, one must buy or be presented a ticket. The means to survival are purposefully gated off to the elite and those with a skillset. Thus, knowing that this is the only haven left, the abandoned must clamber onto the train, fighting against a barrage of bullets and each other. They are then confined to the bottom of the train, living in squalor, disease and abused by law-enforcers. This is a metaphor for contemporary society, specifically how it functions around refugees.
It’s clear there is a prevalent ‘ticket’ system. The way Western colonial powers dictate who to give humanitarian aid and refuge to has killed and will continue to kill thousands, with non-European refugees being the casualties. It must be made clear that tragedies cannot be inherently compared- suffering is suffering. However, what Europe does in response (or how they try to ‘intervene,’ in the name of ‘humanitarianism’) can extend the grievances and suffering of migrants.
For example, at the time of writing this, (2 weeks and 5 days ago) Russia invaded Ukraine and started militaristic attacks on the country, demolishing homes, killing hundreds, and ultimately causing a throng of Ukrainian refugees. Poland has accepted roughly 1.7 million refugees, Hungary with 225,000, and Romania with 85,000, with the UN stating that 304,000 Ukrainians have fled to other European countries. In these 2 weeks, the UK has issued more than 3,000 visas for Ukrainians with British relatives, with no cap on numbers. British hosts for Ukrainian refugees will receive £350 each month, who are then entitled to live and work in the UK for 3 years with access to healthcare, welfare, and education. Although this is limited compared other European nations, the fact that the historically anti-immigrant Britain is organising help is eyebrow-raising. And so, Europe has embraced Ukrainian refugees with open arms.
Notice how I keep specifying how they are Ukrainian. Since 2014, Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary have used batons, stun grenades and tear gas on Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugees at borders. Hungary and Croatia have released dogs on refugees and forced them to strip in freezing conditions. The image of armed vigilantes in Hungary and Bulgaria hunting down refugees at their border encapsulates how Europe treats non-European asylum-seekers- how disturbing! This is the same country that accepted 225,000 Ukrainian refugees easily. After the encounter on the Channel where 27 migrants died, the UK has devised plans to patrol the coast and drive back small boats that could potentially carry migrants, breaching international law. They will also offshore refugees to remote detention camps in places like the mid-Atlantic. Britain will breach the 1951 Refugee Convention, international law, and basic morality to keep non-European refugees out, whilst greeting Ukrainian refugees with a somewhat welcome. This, alongside politicians and media commenting on how Ukrainian is somehow more deserving of aid than the Middle East (“they are educated people,” “relatively civilised,” “Christian,” “White,” “blue eyes and blonde hair,”), is expected when we consider the colonial history of Europe.
It’s fundamental to realise that there would be no Middle Eastern refugees if the USA and Europe didn’t exploit, use, and create the conflict initially. Under colonial rule, European powers “carved up, ruled, and plundered (the Middle East) to enrich themselves.” To do this, European powers systematically created ethnic tensions in the Middle East to delay calls for independence and nation-building, then stopped institutions to govern all together.With Europe never fully evacuating this region, they are joined with the new superpower, the USA. Thus, we can quickly see how modern events came about from this, with these powers propping up dictators in the Middle East to carry out their bidding of local control and oil resources. This colonial history means that the West have empathy and a shared identity with each other, whilst seeing former colonies or sources of exploitation as second-class.
The Middle East has been annihilated and refused the right to live by the West. With enforced sanctions and blockades, food, medical and oil scarcity, and the systematic airstrikes of schools, towns and hospitals, the death toll has reached a magnitude. The post-9/11 wars have displaced 38 million people from the Middle East. It leaves a bitter taste knowing that the same European powers that abuse, kill, and dehumanise Middle Eastern refugees are the same ones destroying their homes, causing them to flee initially. It creates an even bitter taste when you realise that these European powers save their pity for people who look like them, behave like them, and think like them- instead of just people who need urgent help. The Snowpiercer train continues to drive, but I wonder when it will derail.