Thursday, March 23, 2017

Defending Refugees

We live in a world where nations are prepared to turn back boats of desperate refugees, where nations are prepared to let refugees risk drowning. Thousands have drowned. More refugees are dying than ever before in fleeing war, persecution, poverty. For those refugees who mange to cross borders, they live in squalor and insecurity. For the majority of refugees these are dire times. If refugees are to be imprisoned in  detention centres and trapped in shanty-camps let us then not expect harmony.  Poverty breeds despair and it leads to anger. Child refugees are self-harming and attempting suicide. Children who without family,  their lives broken and ruined irrevocably children are seeking relief in substance abuse – alcohol and drugs– desperate to escape the reality of their existence. Médecins Sans Frontières warns of a “human cost to come” much worse than anything thus far. One report records “The conditions are taking from children their dreams and replaces them with anger, and they turn to harming themselves and others.”

It is inevitable that a handful of people will cynically exploit the global movement of refugees to pursue their own criminal, political, or religious aims on the fringes—either by concealing themselves in the masses to cross borders to commit violent acts abroad, by taking advantage of the political polarisation of migration politics to promote their own agendas, or by extorting these people for their own criminal purposes. Among any population this size, there will be criminal activity here and there, refugee or not.

Today, one in every 122 humans living on the planet is a refugee, an internally displaced person, or an asylum-seeker. In 2014, conflict and persecution forced a staggering 42,500 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, resulting in 59.5 million total refugees worldwide. According to the UN refugee agency’s 2014 Global Trends report (tellingly entitled 'World at War'), developing countries hosted 86% of these refugees. Developed countries, such as the U.S. and those in Europe, host only 14% of the world’s total share of refugees.

 Populist nationalist leaders appeal to public anxieties about refugees as “lazy opportunists,” “burdens,” “criminals,” or “terrorists” and in response the supposedly morre moderat mainstream parties hve begun to echo this rhetoric, with politicians of all stripes calling for increased border controls, detention centres, and the temporary suspension of visa and asylum applications. Importantly, none of these panicky characterizations of refugees is born out by systematic evidence.

Are Refugees Economic Opportunists? The most reliable studies of refugee movements suggest that the primary cause of flight is violence. Refugees are fleeing war in hopes of sanctuary in a safe haven. Surveys bear out this reality in today’s crisis. In Syria, one of the world’s major producers of refugees in the last five years, survey results suggest that most civilians are fleeing because the country has simply become too dangerous to live. And refugees rarely choose their destinations based on economic advantages; instead, 90% of refugees go to a country with a contiguous border (thus explaining the concentration of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon). Those that do not stay in a neighbouring country tend to flee to countries where they have existing social ties. The data suggest that most refugees think about economic opportunity as an afterthought rather than as a motivation for flight. That being said, when they arrive at their destinations, refugees tend to be exceedingly industrious, with cross-national studies suggesting that they are rarely burdensome for national economies. In today’s crisis, “Many of the people arriving by sea in southern Europe, particularly in Greece, come from countries affected by violence and conflict, such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; they are in need of international protection and they are often physically exhausted and psychologically traumatized”.

Who’s Afraid of the “Big Bad Refugee”? In terms of security threats, refugees are far less likely to commit crimes than natural-born citizens. The Wall Street Journal evaluated data on the link between immigration and crime in the United States and calls the correlation a “myth.” Even in Germany, which has absorbed the highest number of refugees since 2011, crime rates by refugees have not increased. Violent attacks on refugees, on the other hand, have doubled. This suggests that refugees do not pose a problem for security; instead, they require protection against violent threats themselves. Moreover, refugees (or those who claim to be refugees) are highly unlikely to plan terror attacks. Moreover, refugee-vetting processes are exceedingly stringent in many countries—with the U.S. having among the most stringent refugee policies in the world—thereby precluding many of the adverse outcomes feared by critics of status quo refugee policies. Although such processes do not guarantee that all potential threats are excluded, they mitigate the risk considerably, as demonstrated by the paucity of violent crimes and terror attacks committed by refugees in the past thirty years.

Given the choice between staying and fighting, staying and dying, or fleeing and surviving, today’s refugees fled—meaning that, by definition, they actively and purposefully chose a non-violent option in the context of mass violence raging all around them. The millions of refugees are people who have chosen the only available non-violent pathway out of their conflict environments. In many respects, today’s 60 million refugees have said no to violence, no to victimization, and no to helplessness at the same time. The decision to flee to strange and often unwelcoming foreign lands as a refugee is not a light one. It involves taking significant risks, including the risk of death. 

In today’s crisis, it is essential to resist the urge to ascribe nefarious motivations to the millions of people seeking safety because of the violent or criminal actions of a few. The latter group does not represent the average refugee, nor do they negate the fact that refugees are generally people who, in the context of truly dislocating violence, made a life-altering, non-violent choice to act for themselves in a way that cast them and their families into uncertain futures. Once they arrive, on average the threat of violence against the refugee is much greater than the threat of violence by the refugee. Shunning them, detaining them as if they were criminals, or deporting them to war-torn environments sends a message that non-violent choices are punished—and that submitting to victimisation or turning to violence are the only choices left. This is a situation that calls for compassion, respect, protection, and welcome—not fear, dehumanisation, exclusion, or revulsion.

People should be able to go to wherever they want to in this world of ours – migration should be the norm. Borders are an idea only and not a fixed reality despite that we are sold nationhood as if inalienable. Borders generate fear and hate – xenophobia. Society needs to be about people. Capitalism exploits humanity. It is so bent on profit for the few that it leaves behind more and more dire circumstance. Capitalism is the maker of abject poverty and billions live utterly dirt-poor. 

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