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Saskia Sassen, the author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, says it is astounding that Europe and the US have missed opportunities to intervene and prevent this crisis

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Over 1 million refugees have entered Europe in the past year. EU leaders are scrambling to deal wit the large influx of refugees. On Wednesday the European Union announced that it will be allocating 700 million euros in emergency aid over the next three years to countries receiving the largest number of refugees, such as Greece. This comes after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, deployed warships to the Aegean Sea to deal with stopping the migrant smuggling networks. NATO is claiming that their sole mission is to prevent crime and not turn back people who are trying to cross into Europe, but critics say that they are indeed targeting refugees by militarizing the coast and routes from Turkey. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was encouraged by the deployment of these ships, and said that all 28 EU member states want to stop illegal immigration. And now a severe drought has struck Syria, which NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies has called the worst such drought in 900 years, and they link the drought to climate change. Now joining us from London to talk about all of this is Saskia Sassen. She is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and she co-chairs the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. She is the author of “Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy.” Saskia, thank you so much for joining us today. SASKIA SASSEN: I’m glad to be here. PERIES: Saskia, smugglers have provided a pipeline for more than 1 million migrants who entered the European Union in the last year, setting off, of course, a humanitarian and political crisis. Isn’t the best way to deal with the illegal smuggling networks to provide legal and safe ways for people to leave horrendous conditions of war? Now, this has been historically the responsibility of UN agencies like UNHCR, but what do you make of unleashing NATO to protect refugees? SASSEN: I am basically an admirer of the European Union with, you know, some limitations. I have been astounded since this crisis started really in November 2014, well over a year, that the European countries, the main countries, have always been behind the curve. They have missed opportunity after opportunity to intervene and prevent a disaster. I would say that this last move is once again a desperate move that is not taking into account the consequences, number one, of this, just at the human level. The notion of deploying armed ships to stop migrants is just, it just blows my mind. It just really should not, this should not be happening. But, secondly, they are not addressing the more foundational issues that we see, you know, at work in these movements, and this is something that we are going to have to deal with. On the one hand we have refugees, a well-established regime that demands from countries that they be accepted, and most of those coming now to Europe are refugees. On the other hand, we have a bunch of people who are basically being expelled from their lands by land grabs, by mining expansions, by the fact of expanding cities and fancy office parks, and we have no regime for that. So instead of deploying armed ships, what the European Union should be leadering, and it, and the United States should be there, Australia should be there, all those other countries, and that is what is not happening. We should be figuring out, how do we establish a regime that frees up the migrants who are coming, not directly related to war, to at least be considered in terms of them also being pushed out of their countries, if you want? And, I think, on both regimes now we’re failing: The refugee regime is not functioning well enough, and the second one is, doesn’t exist. So what we have is armed ships stopping migrants. It’s a horror. PERIES: And give us a sense of how, historically, refugees have been handled and managed when it comes to Europe, and is there some lessons there we can learn from? SASSEN: Well, I mean, Europe, after World War II, Europe was overwhelmed with refugee flows from the eastern lands, so to say. Many of those refugees went onwards. In the late 1800s in Europe they had massive refugee flows, due to all kinds of issues, including famines, and, again, most of them left Europe. Europe has been very enabling refugees to leave Europe. Europe has not been so good at understanding how to govern refugee flows that came to Europe and that wanted to stay in Europe. The say thing, I would say, with migrants, because we really are dealing with two different subjects. The ones come from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, they are truly refugees. But there are people who are coming from other refugees where you cannot quite say that they are truly refugees. There is a mix there of elements. They are refugees from conditions that are not linked to war, necessarily. They’re linked to other things, as I was mentioning. So, in that sense, I think Europe has a learning curve. At the same time, Europe is doing by itself what should include all these other countries. I think that is a critical point. We need to recognize that the United States’ bombing of Iraq started a lot of this disaster. Now we have Russia in this picture. That’s yet another, you know, how to bring them to the table? That’s not clear to me. PERIES: Now, Saskia, if you had the opportunity to advise the European Union in terms of how to deal with the flow of refugees coming across and how best to deal with the crisis, what would you be saying? SASSEN: Well, I think number one you have to respect the existing [other] regime, which they have to some extent, which is the refugee regime. The UNHCR, et cetera. Number two, you’ve got to insist that the other countries who have produced these wars, and notably here, notable is America, clearly. The United States. They’ve got to set up tent. That the United States has not been called on more forcefully is something that just blows my mind. The United States should be receiving far larger numbers. It doesn’t matter what the politicians say or want. What matters is an established, international regime that the United States should adhere to. Number three, we need to develop regimes to handle these flows of people. I think what we’re seeing right now is the tip of a massive iceberg, or two icebergs. One is: Syria alone has 12 million displaced people, internally and externally. Iraq has 3 million recognized, displaced people. Afghanistan has 2.5 million recognized. I mean, we’re dealing with massive numbers. This is the tip of the iceberg. Number two, the other aspect of this tip of the iceberg, is the fact that we have whole new migrations, and I think of those, and I’ve started to write about this, as: They are experiencing a massive loss of habitat due to climate change, waters rising, [decertification], but also to the vast expansion of mining, partly due to the electronics revolution which demands all kinds of new types of elements, the vast land grabs: hundreds of millions of hectares of land in the last few years alone that have been basically taken away from small holders from agriculture. So these people go where? To cities, and then they become migrants. So we need to respect an existing regime, the United States should be part of it. And secondly, we need to develop new regimes that recognize that many of these migrants are being expelled from their countries by big mine companies, by land grabs, by climate change, and we’ve got to develop a regime. And this should be a global operation, really, but certainly for now, visibly what is happening right now in Europe, it should be Europe, United States, Australia, and a few other such countries. PERIES: Give us some clarity on that, what you were just referring to in terms of climate change. Now a recent report by the NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies indicated that Syria is a bout to face the worst drought conditions in 900 years, and that this will bolster, of course, the crisis of the refugees and displaced people within the country as well. Give us a sense of what you meant by linking it to environmental disasters. SASSEN: Yeah. I mean, I think we’re dealing–It’s not just environmental disasters. There is drought and there is flood. Remember, both are going to happen, but in different parts of the world. But then there is very active mining activity that has eliminated a lot of agricultural land, you know, small holder farmers, et cetera. And where do they–They have to leave. They’re expelled. Then we have the land grabs, the hundreds of millions of hectares of land that have been bought by governments or by corporations in order to plant whatever they want to plant and basically export it back to their home countries or put it on the global market. So we have multiple factors that are producing this one sort of overarching outcome, something that I think of, that I like to name a massive loss of habitat. And for that we have no regime. We need regimes to govern the mining operations. We need regimes to govern land grabs. We need regimes to govern, basically, all these, every year millions of people who are being expelled from their, where they are living, where they are working. Mostly rural areas we’re speaking about, but also the edges of cities now. So that is sort of what I’m thinking about. We have to make new law. We have to make new regimes to capture this. So right now, if you don’t have a regime like you have for the refugees, the full responsibility of justification of being accepted by another country falls on the shoulders of these migrants. They can’t invoke the mines that poison their land. They can’t invoke the land grabbers: the United States, all the others, China, that took away their land. They can’t invoke that nobody will listen to them. We need a regime for that. That is on the agenda. I don’t think that the migrations that we will be seeing in the future are going to be particularly similar to the migrations we have had in the past. It really is a new world. It’s a new scenario that is being constructed, by war and by the abuse of land by mining, by land grabs, plus, of course, climate change. Put all of that together, we are confronting massive transformations and massive expulsions of people. PERIES: Saskia, thank you so much for joining us today, and we hope you keep us abreast of what’s going on in Europe and appear again on the Real News Network very soon. SASSEN: Delighted. Bye, bye. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chairs The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University. Her recent books are Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton University Press 2008), A Sociology of Globalization (W.W.Norton 2007), and the 4th fully updated edition of Cities in a World Economy (Sage 2011). Her books are translated into twenty-one languages. She is currently working on When Territory Exits Existing Frameworks (Under contract with Harvard University Press). She contributes regularly to Open Democracy and Huffington Post