The world strug­gles to find a refugee so­lu­tion

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY RAFIA ZAKARIA

This past Mon­day was World Refugee Day.

As hap­pens on the days ear­marked for these in­ter­na­tional com­mem­o­ra­tions, a few meet­ings were held, a few ar­ti­cles writ­ten and an in­ter­na­tional mo­ment of lament spared for the world’s most hap­less and un­wanted.

In one pic­ture, a group of African refugees (and they are the lucky ones) were shown break­ing their fast in a refugee camp in Italy; other im­ages showed the strag­gling sur­vivors of one Mediter­ranean boat dis­as­ter — nearly 1,000 died over 10 days in April 2015, be­cause the rich shore of this or that Euro­pean coun­try was un­will­ing to take them.

As also hap­pens af­ter the reg­u­lar dose of out­rage and at­ten­tion is be­stowed on is­sues such as this, the re­al­ity re­mained dire.

An Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­port re­leased a few days ear­lier noted that for the first time since the Sec­ond World War, the num­ber of the world’s refugees had ex­ceeded 50 mil­lion.

Tur­key, Pak­istan and Le­banon each host over a mil­lion refugees each, their own al­ready strug­gling pop­u­la­tions now mixed with wartorn oth­ers who have nowhere to go.

As the United Na­tions has re­peat­edly noted, dur­ing a time when the world is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing such a for­mi­da­ble refugee cri­sis, de­vel­oped na­tions like the Euro­pean Union and the United States have done very lit­tle to ac­com­mo­date refugees even from con­flicts in which they have played a part.

Dy­ing in war, it seems, is far bet­ter than sur­viv­ing a war; be­ing con­demned to the hope­less­ness of camps and the de­ri­sion of those at whose borders, the refugee mil­lions seek refuge.

Refugees are, of course, only one por­tion of the world’s home­less and on the move.

There are mil­lions of eco­nomic mi­grants from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries who regularly risk their lives to make the jour­ney to jobs.

Wealthy coun­tries have, in the past decade, be­come even more adept at re­fus­ing them.

A re­cent doc­u­men­tary fo­cus­ing on Calais, a town where many refugees to France and the United King­dom end up, re­vealed con­di­tions far be­yond ap­palling: bod­ies strewn in filth and men liv­ing in con­di­tions worse than those of an­i­mals, all for the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing per­mit­ted to stay in the coun­tries that are so res­o­lute in want­ing to refuse them.

In 2004, the United King­dom moved its bor­der post into France so that mi­grants ar­riv­ing at the bor­der in Calais would not be able to claim asy­lum when they reached it.

The French author­i­ties have be­gun speak­ing about mak­ing the re­gion a ‘mi­grant-free zone.’

Protests from ac­tivists have pre­vented the planned de­mo­li­tion un­til now, but, given the French state’s in­creas­ingly anti-im­mi­grant pol­i­tics, it is quite likely that this will take place.

The mi­grants who re­main in the makeshift camps con­tinue to hope that they will be able to catch a ride on the trucks leav­ing for the United King­dom.

For most of them, how­ever, the dream of claim­ing asy­lum is un­likely to reach fruition in the pre­vail­ing cir­cum­stances.

Hu­man Rights and Dig­nity

Con­cerned

It has been seen that where re- spect for hu­man rights and dig­nity are con­cerned, the world di­vides it­self into two halves. The Euro­pean na­tions make much of their good record, their ef­forts to pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble, up­lift the mi­nori­ties and en­gage the dis­senters. It is in the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that the mis­eries of abuse, per­se­cu­tion and hu­man ruth­less­ness flower and flour­ish. No is­sue ex­poses the hypocrisy of this belief more than the cur­rent refugee and mi­grant cri­sis that is faced by the world.

Not only have Euro­pean coun­tries — that are the proud sig­na­to­ries to so many in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions and the valiant cru­saders against in­jus­tice — ig­nored the cruel con­di­tions faced by refugees and mi­grants, they have, in fact, cho­sen to trans­form their xeno­pho­bia into po­lit­i­cal gain.

In both France and the United King­dom, and sev­eral other Euro­pean coun­tries, anti-im­mi­grant views run ram­pant and mi­grants are de­mo­nized as usurpers, as in­trin­si­cally lesser peo­ple.

The sit­u­a­tion is so dire that the United Na­tions com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hus­sein, told the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion that he was “shocked and shamed by the fre­quent deion­iza­tion of mi­grants that we see in many coun­tries whose peo­ple ben­e­fit from pros­per­ity, peace and ease.”

His words, of course, mean noth­ing and are un­likely to soften the hard hearts of those who feel that their lives of ease, of long va­ca­tions and of ho­moge­nous pop­u­la­tions, are all threat­ened by the ar­rival of the mi­grants. Euro­peans, for all their cham­pi­oning of hu­man rights, for all their com­ing to­gether af­ter the Sec­ond World War to en­sure that the wartorn were not left to die, seems un­in­ter­ested in prag­ma­tism when it comes to the is­sue of refugees and mi­grants.

The lat­ter would sug­gest that Europe’s so­cial wel­fare state sys­tems can­not sur­vive their cur­rent ag­ing pop­u­la­tions and low birth rates un­less an in­flux of younger work­ers (im­mi­grants) picks up the slack. Such an ar­gu­ment would, of course, re­quire Euro­peans to change their pre­dom­i­nant con­cept of the mi­grant, vi­su­al­ized now as dirty, lazy and un­able to con­trib­ute to their so­ci­ety in any pos­i­tive way.

The ques­tion of the mi­grant and the refugee, then, is per­haps as de­pen­dent on the hu­man ten­dency to hate based on dif­fer­ence — how­ever minis­cule, how­ever in­ci­den­tal.

Pak­istan may not have the riches of Europe to pro­tect, but it does have its home-grown ha­treds and prej­u­dices.

The ar­chi­tec­ture of el­e­vat­ing dif­fer­ence — how­ever slight, how­ever in­con­se­quen­tial — is in this sense uni­ver­sal, mak­ing its home in hearts all around the world.

Eth­nic­ity, lan­guage, skin color, etc can all be put into the ser­vice of this ed­i­fice and its in­stru­ments all man­u­fac­ture the same prod­uct: a ro­bust ha­tred that builds walls of ex­clu­sion in Karachi slums and Calais camps.

No treaty, no in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tion, no day of com­mem­o­ra­tion, it seems, can tear these down and so we re­main, one and all, un­der their un­re­lent­ing shadow. The writer is an at­tor­ney teach­ing con­sti­tu­tional law and po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.

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