The “Refugee” System Will Cause More Harm Than Good
Following the Paris bombings, there has been a lot of discussion regarding how to handle those fleeing war-torn Syria. Locally, Governor Hogan has requested that President Obama ensure appropriate safeguards are in place before accepting anyone from Syria who seeks admittance into our country.
You may have noticed that I didn’t use the term “refugee” in my summary. There is a reason: the term has been horribly distorted from what it originally implied. Instead, the appropriate term for this current situation is diaspora.
What is a Refugee?
It is amazing that there are so many news reports out there that ignore what a refugee is. Our modern definition is derived from the Convention on the Status of Refugees (now part of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees), and it informs us on key aspects of “refugees” that are necessary for our own discussions.
The convention contains provisions on when the status of “refugee” ends:
This Convention shall cease to apply to any person falling under the terms of section A if:
(1) He has voluntarily re-availed himself of the protection of the country of his nationality; or
(2) Having lost his nationality, he has voluntarily re-acquired it; or
(3) He has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality; or
(4) He has voluntarily re-established himself in the country which he left or outside which he remained owing to fear of persecution; or
(5) He can no longer, because the circumstances in connexion with which he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality; Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to a refugee falling under section A(1) of this article who is able to invoke compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution for refusing to avail himself of the protection of the country of nationality
(6) Being a person who has no nationality he is, because of the circumstances in connexion with which he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, able to return to the country of his former habitual residence
Of these, (1), (2), and (4) imply a return to their home, (3) implies the individual became a citizen elsewhere, and (5) and (6) suggest that the original problem (warfare, persecution, etc.) has ceased to take place.
The implication is that the majority of people with refugee status are only refugees for a short time. Refugee status is not permanent, and the expectation is a return to the native territory. Only part (3) implies a permanent status, often called “asylum.”
An asylum seeker is not the same as a refugee. Asylum implies that the individual is seeking protection in another nation that recognizes the original threat. Often, this is through a declaration of war or other legal certification of a dispute. In the modern era, those who fled from Cuba sought asylum based on the rationality of the Cold War, whereas those fleeing from Haiti after the devastating earthquake were refugees. Asylum numbers are kept low, and candidates normally go through a thorough eligibility process. Asylum seekers often cannot return once obtaining asylum because the act itself can ensure danger upon return.
Refugees and asylum seekers have different motivations: refugees are fleeing from a danger and are seeking comfort anywhere, whereas asylum seekers are traveling to a specific entity, most likely connected to a government politically opposed to the group being fled.
By merging the two concepts, those promoting the entrance of huge numbers of Syrians into Western nations use the term “refugee” to retain the open-ended application and gain the positive connotation associated with asylum seekers. They confuse their audience by mixing completely different groups. Thus, the large number of those fleeing from a country (tradition “refugees”) are deemed to provide the same benefits as the small handful that normally seek asylum. Additionally, the refugees are then pushed down a path to permanent residency, normally afforded to the small number of true asylum seekers, instead of repatriation in their country of origin.
What Normally Happens with Refugees?
The picture at the beginning of this article depicts a refugee camp, and most camps are regulated and protected by the United Nations. In Iraq, there are many refugee camps set up to take those fleeing from ISIS (Syrians and Iraqis), including camps in Domiz, Arab, Qushtapa, Basirma, Gawilan, Kawergosk, and Darashakran.
These camps are intended to be temporary and provide for basic provisions and necessities of the refugees. They are funded by the UN and other nations, and many have the support of the Red Cross or similar entities. They normally exist within a reasonable distance from the conflict zone, providing safety and the ability for the refugees to return home. If we want to help the refugees, we can easily support these camps.
By dispersing refugees long distances and to nations of very different cultures, we have effectively created a diaspora. Often ignored, diasporas resettle people in foreign lands, divided from their homes and cultures, and keep them as a second rate class. They are not true citizens or residents of their new land, nor are they citizens of a previous land. They are denied the ability to return home or find a new home.
Forcing the Syrians into a diaspora does very little to ease their struggle; instead, it will cause far, far more harm than the Syrian people currently face. The problems associated with a large diaspora became most apparent leading up to World War 2, where Jews in Germany and Poland were used as scapegoats. Refugees are not immigrants but those who are fleeing out of desperation, and this diaspora is pushing them further from home than what is reasonable, ensuring that they will lack the means to return.
If we are to care about the people of Syria most affected by the warfare, we cannot send them to foreign lands, divide their towns and families, and force them into alien cultures. We need to keep their social networks mostly stable and house them in a location that would allow them to repatriate as soon as possible.
If Syria is to exist in the future, what is the point of splitting men and women, parents and children? Why are towns broken apart and people sent like cattle thousands of miles away? Who would be left to rebuild when people can no longer find each other?
It is inhuman to send refugees hundreds or thousands of miles from their homes. It is illogical to force a situation that will ensure that Syrians never have a chance to rebuild.
What is Happening in Syria?
There are three entities at war in Syria: the Syrian government, the opposition, and ISIS. There are also outside forces attacking each of these three entities. For instance, the United States is attacking both ISIS and the Syrian government while the Russians are attacking both the rebels and ISIS.
The refugees fleeing from Syria are a mix of these three different groups, and they are traveling to nations that will oppose at least two of the three groups. It makes no sense for refugees with Assad sympathies to be relocated in a nation that is bombing Assad, just as it would make no sense for Syrian rebels to be relocated in a nation that supports Assad.
The UN traditional establishes neutral, safe camps that people can equally seek refugee in without having to deal with background checks or political questions. How then can we justify forcing people to walk thousands of miles to seek refuge in a nation that is bombing their own people? Why are we promoting any system other than the traditional refugee camp situation?
Then there is the question of safety.
What Does the UN Say Regarding Safety?
Article 9 of the Convention on Status of Refugees makes it clear that the safety of the country accepting refugees is the most important concern: “Nothing in this Convention shall prevent a Contracting State, in time of war or other grave and exceptional circumstances, from taking provisionally measures which it considers to be essential to the national security in the case of a particular person, pending a determination by the Contracting State that that person is in fact a refugee and that the continuance of such measures is necessary in his case in the interests of national security.”
Our current actions are ensuring a dangerous situation like that in France. We have divided families and communities, which destabilizes the security net the refugees would naturally have and makes them prone to indoctrination of various hate mongers. Additionally, the refugees all have different relationships with the warring parties in Syria, and there is a great chance of taking in those who are on the side of your country’s opposition. There is no way to ensure that someone is not a pro-Assad sympathizer in an anti-Assad country, or an anti-Assad sympathizer in a pro-Assad country, and ISIS can slip into both types of countries.
Even if the Syrians were one homogeneous entity fleeing an enemy, there still would be major problems. The Roman Empire learned the hard way that compassion is a poor justification for allowing in a large population fleeing from an enemy. I have written on the horrible problems that were afflicted on the Romans, and you can read about it here: “What Obama’s America Can Learn From Ancient Rome”.
The acceptance of asylum seekers is a great way to recruit dissenters within our enemy’s population. However, asylum seekers are normally a tiny minority that takes a severe risk in abandoning their native country. We are conflating their heroic flight with refugees who are being forced far from home.
We are also mistaking compassion with logic, and those who are saying that we must act to help the Syrian people are instead those who are creating a new diaspora that Syria will never recover from. This is a misplaced charity, one that does far more harm to all people involved.
If we really want to help the Syrians, and if we really want to show how compassionate we are as a people, we need to set up local refugee camps that provide a local, stable, and secure site that allows for the Syrians to return home as soon as the conflict ends. Right now, we are doing nothing even close to helping these people.