Sunday, July 31, 2011

Remembering Refugees

The UN Convention for Refugees was signed on 28 July 1951.

The UN says there are now 43 million people who are forcibly displaced through persecution or conflict, the highest since the mid-1990s. Several million are displaced through natural disasters and 27 million by conflict in their own countries. They are the "internally displaced people". The world's major refugee populations include Palestinians (4.8 million), Afghans (2.9 million), Iraqis (1.8 million), Somalis (700,000), Congolese (456,000), Burmese (407,000), Colombians (390,000) and Sudanese (370,000). Children make up around 41 per cent of the world's total, with women making up about half of all refugees. Around two-thirds have been in exile for more than five years.

The UK currently takes in about 4 per cent of the world's refugees out of 14 million worldwide. However, only 4,175 people were granted official refugee status in the UK last year. The Refugee Council faces 62 per cent cuts to support services for asylum seekers. A survey of Britons earlier this year revealed that two-thirds are sympathetic to refugees coming to the UK. The Refugee Council poll found three-quarters of women and 61 per cent of men were sympathetic to those fleeing persecution. But the poll also revealed widespread ignorance about refugees: more than four in 10 believe 100,000 or more refugees were accepted by the UK in 2009. While many people surveyed confused workers from Poland and Eastern Europe with refugees.

Asylum-seekers have been blamed for the shortage of jobs and public housing, but a cursory look at the figures reveal that this problem already existed. Politicians have concentrated on nauseating nit-picking about refugees not staying in the “first safe country” they reach, accusing them of seeing Britain as a “soft touch”. Apart from the fact that no country is “safe” from capitalism, just as this economic system became global because that was beneficial to capital, so too has there been economic pressure for one global language to facilitate efficiency in the markets. And since America has been, and remains the dominant economic power — along with other significant economies also having English as their principal language — governments and astute parents in other countries with different native tongues have felt impelled to teach children to speak English in order to be able to compete. Hence, migrants with even a smattering of English, and a desire to work for a bearable living standard or to pay off debts to people-traffickers, choose countries like Britain. Or Australia, a country ironically founded by boatloads of undesirables, where the government panders to apparently widespread racist sentiment.

Sadly, under capitalism, artificial lines on maps divide the world into different camps, which enable those who own the earth to defend their bit of it and to make claims on other bits. A sensible society would have no concept of refugeehood or any of the other states of oppression so movingly described here. The answer to people fleeing conflict, deprivation and brutal regimes is to remove the root causes of such nastiness — minority ownership and control of resources which generates rivalry. It is this exclusive possession and control of resources that also divides the world into separate competing countries, and the need for associated borders to prevent others from attempting to acquire these valuable assets. And since these means of production responsible are possessed and run by ruling classes in all countries worldwide, worldwide socialism is the only solution. Socialists are often reviled for their unrealistic utopianism in opposing national divisions. Yet we will always maintain that workers have no country.

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