With Europe being flooded by refugees, and other wealthy countries like the US and Canada hemming and hawing about whether they should take in the displaced ones, and if so, in what numbers, one wonders how this all came to pass. I have some theories and recommendations, but these are mine alone.
Once upon a time, Western Europe was geographically insulated from the hungry hordes in the Third World by the Iron Curtain countries and by a string of dictators in the Middle East and North Africa. And of course North America had the vast Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as buffers, and the US even recently built a giant wall to keep the Mexicans out. Then the Berlin Wall collapsed and the aging population of Western Europe determined that in a globalized world it needed to replenish its labour pool with younger workers from the poorer former-Communist Bloc, so a second tier of EU membership was created, and suddenly Poles were serving in restaurants and bars in England. Then chinks in the larger barrier gave way: dictators were ousted in Libya and Iraq and another was sent into a bunker in Syria. The walls began leaking big-time, transforming this easy conduit for cheap labour into an uncontrollable flood, threatening the protected way of life of the incumbents.
Switch scenes for a moment to the human smuggling industry. Once upon a time, it was called slavery but that term went out of fashion after the American Civil War. “Economic Immigrant” became the new word. And economic immigration has been happening since time immemorial. It is a human imperative of survival to seek a better environment for one’s self and one’s progeny, and it applies to both master and slave. In recent memory, we have witnessed the boat people from Vietnam, the Indian migrant ships, Sri Lankan refugees coming over the US border into Canada in the trunks of cars, and Mexicans swimming across the Rio Grande. (Globalization and outsourcing are also forms of economic migration, for the rich and for their money, lest we forget). When you see the recent flood of refugees include people from places such as Gambia and Pakistan, you know that ISIS is not the only cause for this exodus. The marginalized had always been parked outside the gates of the privileged, waiting for a chink in the fence to make a rush for it. These “rushes” are “facilitated” by clever profiteers who extract money, sell dreams and put the vulnerable in life-threatening situations. And these vile merchants of flesh, saw a great opportunity when the walls punctured in Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Let’s also not forget the arms industry. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are export markets for military equipment, brand new or second-hand. And the Western and Middle Eastern allies pitched against rebel groups in these countries are lucrative customers too. These conflicts must continue in Big Guns’ view, despite the collateral damage.
While we can take short term measures to re-settle refugees in the west, despite the hemming and hawing, the real answers lie in six strong initiatives (IMHO):
1) Deal conclusively with barbaric throwbacks like ISIS. We did it with Hitler, why not now? To that bunch we can add all other extremists that fuel hatred. I can think of radical right-wingers and their Trump card—they should be sped onto their self-created isolationism and allowed their own tea party (or gun party), away from the rest of us, where they can pat each other on the back, draw their guns, and self-destruct.
2) Strengthen the war on human trafficking and include all nations in it. Let it not be as ineffective as the war on drugs that only focused on the perpetrators and not on the addicted.
3) Educate people in the developed and developing world in the art of tolerance and of accommodating one’s neighbour. Make them aware that the best chance of a person realizing themselves is in their homeland. And that if people still chose to go west, then teach them that being a good guest and integrating into the host country (that has attracted them with a better economic model) is a wise thing to do. And teach all this to immigrants before they leave, so that they can make an informed decision before they take the big leap.
4) Increase immigration to countries that can absorb newcomers and don’t hypocratize the act by saying that we are doing this only to be generous to refugees. We need young people. Canada’s seniors now outnumber its youth, and we have joined the geriatric club of the rest of the Western world.
5) After #1 and #2 above have been accomplished, dismantle or severely curtail the movements of the arms industry so that they do not facilitate mini wars that create future human exoduses. We did it with Big Tobacco, why not with Big Guns?
6) And face up to our collapsing climate. If not happening already, it will not only be mini-wars that create exoduses in future but droughts, floods and famines, forces that do not respect where they happen, whether in the developing or developed world.
I am sure many more fixes to our global refugee problem are required, but I’ll be content if we can eat the elephant in small bites and if we can crack the above six items for starters.
But now, where are the global politicians with the nerve to take all this on?