Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Human Tide

Weeping refugee in Kos with his children - the face of the future?
This week has seen yet more appalling news about the deaths of hundreds of refugees trying to flee from fighting in the Middle East to the alleged safety of Europe. While over 200 were feared drowned when yet another over-packed boat sank, 70 were found suffocated to death inside a  small freezer truck in Austria, having been abandoned by Hungarian people smugglers.

Yet in the UK, which has taken barely 200 Syrian refugees compared to Germany's 800,000, our Prime Minister's main concern this was was that he and his wife had been swimming in shit off the coast of Cornwall. Poor Camerons worried that their own Government's failure to dispose of human waste properly might lead to them getting tummy bugs after surfboarding in the sea. At least they made it to shore and when they did the people waiting for them were there to protect rather than arrest or abuse them.

Cameron was a leading proponent of the bombing of Libya in 2011. In a few short weeks, British, French and other NATO jets inflicted some £20 billions of damage as well as helped plunge the country into anarchy. After a quick trip to crow over his work and tout for business for his mates in "reconstructing" the country he had just helped devastate, Dave retreated back behind his English Channel defences. And now, although arguably breaking the law in ordering British military action at present in Syria without parliamentary approval, he has continued to refuse to contemplate the consequences of his actions.

Syrian refugees reach Greece. Ordinary people in extraordinary times.
One in four Syrians is now a refugee, while in Libya, millions have fled one part of the country or another. In both places, ISIS and/or al-Qaeda or their offshoots are growing. Gaddaffi may have been brutal in his own way, but under him we never saw Christians paraded on the shores of Libyan beaches and beheaded; women were not burnt alive for alleged witchcraft and black Africans in the country were accorded some degree of equality - whereas now they are routinely murdered. And similarly, in Syria, while in no way endorsing the corrupt cronyism of the Assad dictatorship, a complex web of different faith groups co-existed in peace until weapons from the West's great ally, Saudi Arabia, flooded into the country and helped fuel the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups.

So having participated in making the world infinitely more dangerous, what is our Government doing? Well, the Prime Minister himelf has mainly spent his time stigmatising a mere 3,000 people in Calais who want to come here as a "swarm" threatening to undermine the very way of life of our country. The only idea on any actual action to date seems to be that the Tories want international agreement to invade Libya solely to destroy boats as opposed to do anything about putting right the mess they helped make. If they indeed have their way, how many fishing communities might be destroyed when the invaders decide to sink their boats as well given that they will, of course, become a target for people traffickers whose own boats have been sunk? How will that help anyone?

The bottom line is that our world is now a world of refugees. Earlier this week, I listened in disbelief as a senior BBC journalist questioned a UNHCR representative with "I can see why young men might board boats to Europe to take the risk, but why would a woman take her young children on board?" He seemed either incapable or unwilling to comprehend what it is that people are fleeing from - in Libya, trapped on the narrow strip of inhabited coastline and facing persecution and death, you have three choices: stay and die; go south into the Sahara Desert or go north across the sea to Europe. Which would you choose if it was you, or your children? Or are Cameron and his coterie seriously saying people should stay or even be sent back to exist in the midst of civil wars or under the black flags of al-Qaeda and ISIS?

Of the 11 million refugees across the world, barely 200,000 are in Britain, where we pride ourselves on alleged tolerance and claimed generosity. The majority are to be found in Iran (just under 1 million), Pakistan (2.6 million), in Lebanon (1.1 million), Jordan (2.4 million) and Turkey (1.6 million) and scores of other states, none of them in Europe. While one in every 319 people in Britain is a refugee, the figure is 1 in 310 in France, 1 in 144 in Germany, 1 in 74 in Iran, 1 in 70 in Pakistan, 1 in 31 in Chad, 1 in 4 in Lebanon and 1 in 3 in Jordan. Full tables here. 

Return her to ISIS?
This is not "Europe's migrant crisis" and even with the large numbers coming, we do not face hordes compared to other countries. But there is a global refugee crisis and it will become much, much worse.

Razor wire, patrol boats, hostile media and populist politicians will not solve this. Refugees move primarily for two reasons - to escape poverty and violence. These are growing and with the developed world's cavalier approach to rapidly increasing inequality and the rapacious destruction of our natural resources, both of which have the greatest impact first on the poorest, the numbers now crossing the sea to Europe from Africa and the Near East will be as a trickle compared to what will come.

And the deluge to follow will not be halted unless we take real action to tackle the causes of flight. For that, we will need new international leadership, unbound by the interests of arms-dealing multinational business and free of the prejudice and bigotry of the Trumps and others who are setting the western political agenda for now.

And as for Cameron, as he sits on a sea of crap without a paddle, may he perhaps take some time to reflect on the consequences of his actions. May he consider that the people grasping onto their drowning children as their own lives fade away are coming in an apparently hopeless bid to appeal to him and others of his ilk for sanctuary in a troubled world. It is unlikely, but we can hope that if he does so, he may just conceivably temper his sociopathic hubris with some small degree of compassion towards not a swarm, but rather a tide - a tide of fragile flesh and blood, a tide of lives broken and hopes lost forever; a tide of humanity.


  1. Wonderful post. But have spotted a typo that needs your attention: "The delugue to follow will only be halted if we do not take real action to tackle the causes of flight." Presumably you meant to say "if we DO take real action..." Love and respect.