(A shameful twelve minute read)
We got it all wrong when it comes to helping Refugees.
They are not invisible people.
Camps are the wrong way to help today’s refugees.
We cannot turn our backs on the ten million people who have been forced to flee their homes. Every decent society knows this and knows that it’s our moral duty to come up with a workable way of helping the refugees.
So here’s the crucial question: what, beyond safety itself, are the critical elements of normality for any refugee?
The entire international refugee support system has presumed that the answer is food and shelter.
But is this really the right response in 2017?
The system was designed to cope with the displaced of post-war central Europe, many of them Germans who had fled the Russians, or Jews freed from the concentration camps.
Refugees nowadays do not have the luxury of a short-term solution. The problems they are fleeing are likely to last for a very long time. Imagine yourself in their position, displaced with your family. Would you really resign yourself to years in a refugee camp, living off food tokens, housed in a converted container?
UNHCR, and its penumbra of similar organisations, are designed for care.
Like all welfare programmes, theirs treats people as passive recipients. Inadvertently, it infantilises.
That so many refugees forgo this care, preferring the struggle of earning a living beneath the official radar of regulations that prohibit it, is testimony to the heroism of the human spirit. We shouldn’t, even with the best intentions, crush that spirit. We should do what we can to make autonomy less grim.
The key confusion has been to conflate refugees with migrants.
Refugees, by definition, are people who didn’t choose to be migrants: they wanted to live at home but their home became unsafe. Migrants are people who seek a better life. Migrants go to honeypots — dream locations can readily be ranked by their desirability.
Refugees do not go to dream locations; they are seeking proximate havens. All of the top ten destinations for refugees are themselves countries of emigration. All are poor countries in disorderly neighborhoods.
So this is the real answer for refugees, not tents and food but autonomy and community. It’s what you would want in their position.
In asking the development agencies to scale-up and integrate the new mechanisms for generating jobs for refugees with those for speeding post-conflict recovery, it would at last become possible to meet our true international duty of rescue. In the process we should free ourselves from the lazy trap of fitting the present into the past.
But try telling that to the current wave of some 65.6 million people around the world that have been forced from home from today’s wars and conflict zones. 65.3 million people on the run – most are now crammed into often squalid and unsafe camps as they wait in increasing desperation for a home, somewhere.
65.6 million is according to the UNHCR the latest figures (which should be taken with a dose of salt as many nations are not equipped with refugee registers or effective data collection procedures. It excluded people who were displaced by natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, which separately uprooted at least 19 million people in 2015.
To put this number into perspective, one in about every 113 people in the world is currently a refugee. This means that of the 7 billion people on earth, over 65 million of them are living as refugees –– forced to leave their homes. The numbers are so breathtaking that they take a while to settle into the mind. This is the largest number ever recorded – and a testament to massive failures of both the international community and the United States in dealing with this crisis.
(There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.)
I say the US, because it is the worst offender. It led the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without a legitimate casus belli. It set in motion the events that produced the Arab Spring resulting in immense forcible displacement in the region.
Just compare this 65 million with one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history — when a shattered Europe at the end of the Second World War had to resettle a staggering 16 million displaced persons.
A horrifying number certainly, but only a third as many as we have now.
The fact that the average amount of time people worldwide are living in displacement is now a staggering 17 years suggest that something is going terribly wrong in how we’re dealing with this issue.
In this climate, it is not surprising that there is animosity towards refugees by so many people. There has been a perceptible rise in racist and xenophobic acts in many nations, sometimes fueled by politicians and the media. The political reality suggests most countries will remain reluctant to house all but a very small minority of those displaced by violence.
We now live in a world where nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute and we have seen anything yet. Wait till uninhabitable regions due to climate change then we will have millions turning into billions.
Combined this with the violence in the Middle East and North Africa, with nine civil wars now going on in Islamic countries between Pakistan and Nigeria and half of the 23 million population of Syria been forced from their homes, plus 2.6 million Iraqis displaced by Islamic State – Isis – and 1.5 million people displaced in South Sudan.
Religious, ethnic and separatist conflicts are tearing countries apart.
Nationalism and socialism no longer provide the ideological glue to hold together secular states or to motivate people to fight.
Wars are currently being waged in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, south-east Turkey,Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and north-east Nigeria and none of them show any sign of ending.
Europeans were jolted by pictures of the little drowned body of Alyan Kurdi lying on a beach in Turkey and half-starved Syrians crammed into Hungarian trains.
What is to be done to stop these horrors? Perhaps the first question is how we can prevent them from getting worse, keeping in mind that five out of the nine wars have begun since 2011.
Let me begin by attempting to demonstrate why the refugee question must be addressed:
The waves of refugees now are just the leading edge of a global catastrophe, just watch as global warming takes its toll in the coming years.
The core problem remains the amount of violence we have in too many areas of the world. Until we figure out how to isolate wars and cut off their oxygen — as was done eventually in the Balkans in the 1990s — we will only delude ourselves in thinking our era grows less violent.
There is a danger that by attributing mass flight to too many diverse causes, including climate change, political leaders responsible for these disasters get off the hook and are free of public pressure to act effectively to bring them to an end.
Not an easy delusion to maintain as 48 million people call out to us from refugee camps that now seem as much prisons as safe havens.
It is better first to be informed and draw an opinion, rather than only to be opinionated. Half of refugees worldwide are children.
But why has this topic been so often ignored, or if mentioned, referred to as a “taboo”?
The fact is that world media in all its forms is dissenting us all to the point that refugees from war-torn countries are considered collateral damage, making good news footage.
World leaders can no longer watch passively as so many lives are needlessly lost.
We must be smart about finding solutions to help refugees.
We must find humane and dignified means to ensure refugees don’t risk their lives and those of their families by resorting to ruthless traffickers.
We must open designated channels of entry and offer tagged shelter under repatriation once its is safe to do so.
We must stop the world media spreading a climate of xenophobia.”
We must stop the growing resistance from nations to providing asylum for refugees.
We must stop spreading (due to political rhetoric) painting refugees as terrorists or beggars. “Refugees… don’t bring danger” but “flee from dangerous places.
The world governments will resist doing anything until such time as it is profitable to do so. This will be too late.
One of the more comforting claims in recent years is that the world is a less violent place than the blood-soaked centuries gone by. Bull shit.
The modicum of UNHCR support before abandonment, puts a spotlight of Shame on our world!
I have this awful feeling of deja vu. One begging UN resolution after another.
However there are the beginnings of an awakening about all this. In October the World Bank approved its first refugee loan — for job generation for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Perhaps if the top five Tech Conglomerations were to charge a cent on all like clicks, on all shared photos, on all sales, all up loads, on all searches, on all tweets, on all e mails, on all Skype calls, they could save the world from melt down. This combined with a 0.05% world aid commission,( See previous posts) would create a perpetual fund of trillions to address inequality that leads to all our troubles.
In just a single minute on the web 216,000 photos are shared on Instagram, a total of £54,000 ($83,000) sales take place on Amazon, there are 1.8 million likes on Facebook and three days worth of video is uploaded to YouTube.
All suggestions and comments appreciated. All like click chucked in the bin till they are chargeable.