Monday, September 14, 2015

Displaced Persons Camps, No. 2: The Middle East

Homeless Refugees

Last week, I posted a video about DP camps in Europe after the Second World War, this post is about a similarly large refugee crisis, or migrant crisis as the media calls it, this time in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The geographical locations might change over the span of decades, but the reasons always remain the same: wars.

DP Camps: “Children play amid garbage at an informal Syrian refugee settlement near Zahle, Lebanon.”
Photo Credit: Sam Tarling for The Washington Post; July 16, 2015

There is yet another large refugee crisis underway, and the numbers are similar to what they were after the end of the Second World War, 70 years ago; then the displaced persons were from Europe. Today, the displaced persons are coming to Europe: Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Libyans—all nations that continue to suffer the effects of war.

Many others are feeling the effects of war, including Somalia, Sudan and Colombia. Today the numbers approach 60 million people worldwide—half of them children—and which includes a large number of what are called internally displaced people (IDPs), says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),

One-third of the world’s refugees come from two nations: Iraq and Syria, which is no surprise. In an opinion piece (“Europe’s multi-layered hypocrisy on refugees; September 4, 2015) in The Washington Post Anne Applebaum writes something so obvious that it is requires saying:
Even now, almost all of the slogans being bandied about as “solutions” are based on false assumptions. Nations should accept real refugees but not economic migrants? For one, it’s rarely easy to tell the difference. More to the point, the number of potentially “legitimate” refugees is staggeringly high. As of July, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had registered more than 4 million Syrian refugees, of whom well over a million are in Turkey and 1.5 million are in Lebanon, a country of only 4.8 million people. That’s not counting Iraqis, Libyans, Afghans and others who have equally suffered political or religious persecution, or even the millions of displaced Syrians still in Syria. Exactly how many of them will Europe take?
In effect, both Turkey and Lebanon have been “housing” large numbers of displaced persons in camps, which are supposed to be temporary places of refuge, Yet, as the photo above shows, such tent cities are terribly lacking in adequate conditions for human habitation. As for Europe’s reluctance or dithering on the matter of human lives, if history is any indication, many of the 28 nations of the European Union will not accept a significant number, nowhere near as much as required to ease the human suffering. It will find reasons for exclusion that prey on the fears of its citizens.

No doubt, reasons are always given, both economic and security, which seem to be the only words that count today for governments who want to “inform the electorate” of the threat mass immigration poses to economic security. But the solution cannot be found in national interests and in building barriers of separation, no matter how practical or political this idea seems. An international approach is required.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, gives similar sentiments; the Vatican, setting an example, has agreed to take in two families:
In front of a crowd of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, the Roman Catholic leader said it was not enough to simply encourage the refugees with calls for courage and patience. Instead, he suggested, tangible demonstrations of help were required.
“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family,” he said.
The comments came as thousands of refugees from Syria arrived in Austria and Germany after an exhausting journey form Hungary, amid an escalating debate within the EU about how to handle the crisis.
Not only European nations, but others, such as Canada, the United States, Australia and the oil-rich nations of the Middle East (like Saudi Arabia), should allow refugees to begin a new life elsewhere. Germany is setting the moral example with its plan to accept 800,000 refugees this year. Canada can do more than the current government’s pledge of resettling 10,000 Syrians by 2017; Rick Hillier, the former Canadian chief of the defence staff, says Canada’s military could bring in 50,000 refugees by Christmas.

The reasons are simple enough to understand; wealthy nations have an obligation to accept these refugees. I cannot emphasize how important this is from a humanitarian point of view, notably, if Canada wants to remain respected around the world for its generosity of spirit and values. The kind of decisions governments make on immigration and refugees go a long ways in defining a nation in the eyes of the international community. Decisions made today will be remembered in the future.

This story, this real-life event of personal tragedy, resonates with me. Seventy years ago, my father was in a DP camp, and only found a home in Canada, six years after the Second World War ended, in 1951. My father was a proud and grateful Canadian. I will share my personal thoughts and reflections on this matter next week in a post.

For more, go to [WashPost]