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We must not lose our own humanity in addressing the plight of refugees

August 18, 2023 at 12:06 pm

Irregular migrants are seen as an operation is carried out by coastguards teams of the Tunisian National Guard against the migrants who want to reach Europe illegally via the Mediterranean Sea, off the city of Sfax in Tunisia on August 11, 2023 [Yassine Gaidi – Anadolu Agency]

I wonder if it has ever occurred to Home Secretary Suella Braverman that the British government is responsible in part for today’s refugee crisis, and that the solution does not lie with her inhumane “Rwanda project” and other crackpot ideas fuelled by the prospect of a forthcoming General Election. Britain’s foreign policies, and those of its closest allies, are coming back to haunt Westminster, Washington and most of Europe on a daily basis, as flotillas of migrant boats make the perilous Mediterranean Sea and English Channel crossings in dangerous and unseaworthy vessels. Even the prospect of risking life and limb in a cramped, airless, lorry clearly appears preferable to living with little or no hope for the future.

Making life difficult for refugees might play well with right-wing voters who find it impossible to empathise with anyone less well off than themselves, let alone desperate people from “over there”, but the sort of brutal policies being churned out by the Conservative government of which Braverman is a senior member will never produce the sort of results they want.

For a start, many of these policies are, under international law, both illegal and inhumane. It is hard at times to perceive who is more desperate, Braverman or the migrants she is wanting to keep from Britain’s shores. Sadly, the Home Secretary, the daughter of migrants herself, has no shame or compassion. In fact, in terms of ruthlessness I find it hard to separate her from the organised criminal gangs and people traffickers ready to exploit desperate refugees and asylum seekers.

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Keeping people aid dependant in camps is clearly not the answer. I’ve been in enough refugee camps over the years in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Turkiye, Bangladesh, Niger and Sudan to know that once internally displaced people (IDPs) dare to dream of a future for themselves and their children, planning to escape becomes irresistible. Once the basic human instinct to survive is triggered it doesn’t end in a refugee camp, no matter how well established it is.

Walking through such camps I’ve come to realise that security and peace is the priority for most refugees, followed by aid, welfare, health and education. However, sooner or later, they begin to consider the future, and if it is a bleak outlook then the instinct to move on will kick in. 

It should be no surprise that suppressing hope leads to situations such as what has just happened in Ain Al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. I visited the camp some years ago with the heroic British charity Interpal, whose staff worked tirelessly to bring some degree of normality and hope to the darkest recesses of the camp described recently in grim and agonising detail by Soner Tauscher.

There are nearly six million Palestinian refugees under the care of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), all of whom have a legitimate right to return to their homeland. This right under international law is ignored by the state of Israel which maintains a brutal military occupation of Palestine. Although a solution could be found, the will and determination to do so is lacking in the international community, which does nothing to force Israel to act on its responsibilities as a UN member state and end its occupation of the land it continues to steal from the Palestinians.

There are more than 100 million human beings classed as IDPs as a result of persecution, war, violence and human rights violations. According to the latest UN figures, more than one in every 74 people on our planet has been forced to flee their homes, probably never to return.

This is not the fault of refugees and the people traffickers, criminal gangs or other lawbreakers who exploit their dire situation. The fault lies squarely with the most powerful people in the world, notably the democratically-elected leaders in the West whose hegemony is largely unchallenged, although they are worried about China and, still, Russia.

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The chief architects of this chaos are successive US presidents who have assumed the “leadership of the free world” and taken it upon themselves to bomb, invade and interfere in dozens of countries around the not-so-free world. When you see small boats bobbing precariously across the English Channel blame Joe Biden and his predecessors; blame British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and those before him; in fact, blame all of the Western leaders who are responsible for the destruction of Afghanistan and the hope of millions of its people.

Last year, 52 per cent of all refugees and other people in need of international protection came from just three countries: Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan. All have been bombed by or are at war as a result of US and NATO meddling.

I have said it before that if Biden lifted the economic sanctions imposed on Afghanistan, the country would begin to flourish, and be able to offer a secure, long-term future for its citizens. If you offer people peace, stability and fruitful employment the future opens up before their eyes, and suddenly that deadly journey to Europe loses its appeal. Sanctions remain in place for purely ideological reasons, and they punish all Afghans, not only the leadership which is hated so much by so-called democrats in the West.

The simple truth is that most refugees, especially Palestinians, dream about going home. We in the West can use international pressure to make those dreams come true.

I can hear the right-wing sceptics asking who is going to pay for this, and it’s a valid point. However, British taxpayers are already coughing up eye-watering sums so that Sunak, Braverman and their government can look as though they are succeeding in stemming the flow of migrants. The cost of Braverman’s unlawful plan to send migrants to Rwanda, for example, is now more than £200 million.

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And while on the subject of hosting refugees, plaudits are needed for Turkiye, which is host to 3.6m refugees, the largest number worldwide, followed closely by the Islamic Republic of Iran which has opened its doors to 3.4m. Most refugees don’t want to move too far away from home, which is why 70 per cent stay in neighbouring countries. If you listened to some European politicians, though, you’d think that every refugee in the world is clamouring to get into Europe.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of the crocodile tears shed by Western politicians over the plight of refugees who have been thrust into appalling predicaments by wars fuelled by the hypocrites in Westminster, Berlin, Paris and Washington, both directly and indirectly. Whoever they are, however they pray, migrants are human beings with hopes and ambitions just like you and me. In addressing their plight, we must not lose sight of this, nor lose our own humanity in our treatment of fellow human beings who dare to dream of a better life.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.