Some of my in-laws were refugees from Eastern Europe after WW2. They were forced out of their houses and forced to march to…Austria and then Italy. They love Australia. They have raised QCs, doctors and other professionals. One became Managing Director of a major Australian company. For me, they gave me an insight into the many sides of refugees’ lives and the impact on their futures and a perspective on the current refugee crisis.

I hate to admit it but I went from being a supporter of boat refugees to Australia to being reluctantly in favour of ‘stop the boats’, as the number increased dramatically. My belief is that we should not encourage boat or illegal refugees, but we should take in generous quotas of refugees from camps just outside the countries they flee from.

Right now we have a global refugee crisis, not just a Syrian refugee crisis. It is the worst since WW2 and maybe even worse. The Guardian estimates that there are over 200million displaced people seeking new homes. These people come not just from Syria but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and no doubt several other countries. Thomas Friedman says that the world is splitting into two: a world of order and a world of disorder. And being exposed to global communications, people increasingly want to move to the world of order…which includes Australia and probably your country.

A picture that changed the world                        

For months and months we have been shown pictures of refugees drowning at sea – off Australia, off Asian countries, off Italy, off Turkey, off Greece and more. We were mostly upset, but unmoved. Little action followed. Yet recently a picture of one dead child washed up on a beach triggered a massive change in response, particularly in parts of Europe and in some other countries, at the personal level and also for some governments. Suddenly, we are welcoming refugees. We are feeding them, housing them, settling them, collecting money and goods for them. Leading the way, Germany says it will take 800,000 a year. The EU proposes fixed quotas for 120,000. Australia offers to take 12,000 for one year. The US offers to take 5,000.

A longer term view                                                                                                             

But, unfortunately, this is not sustainable in the long run. Even 1-2 million a year will not make a dent in 200 million refugees. Worse, opening borders to refugees motivates even more from the worlds of disorder to try to enter the world of order. What would you do if you were a rational person living in a world of disorder?

The short, short term

And so, in less than 10 days, the open welcome of Germany and Austria for Syrian refugees has become a world of border controls – unheard of in the EU for decades – as the human tide of would be immigrants sweeps in. And Hungary adopts the Australian approach of ‘stop the illegals’ – razor wire fences, helicopters, new laws, dogs, police, arrests, detention, treat illegal immigrants very badly in camps, return them to the country of origin. Meanwhile refugees continue to pour into Italy, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. (Question: why are ‘Syrians’ suddenly in favour compared with refugees from all the other countries?)

What caused this refugee crisis?

So, we want to help. We should help. But our help – our bandaid ‘aid’ – cannot solve any of these problem areas. Much of this refugee wave began when the US and its allies started bombing Iraq in 2001, in retribution for 9/11, and then subsequent bombings and invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and the consequent rise of nationalistic ‘terrorist’ groups (ie groups that oppose our views of the world). Can we even remember al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, now that ISIS and Boko Haram are some of the new ‘enemies’?

Clearly our ‘helpful’ bombing of these countries has done nothing useful for the country or the regions. It has created terror groups that oppose the actions of the West (Remember the Viet Cong??). It has created a vast stream of refugees, which we have no hope of accommodating. (I realise the argument is much more complicated than this simplification, but we will have to leave it at this.)

What to do for the long term?

There’s not much value in talking about this. What long term actions should we take? First, stopping our involvement in any bombing or any interventions in any of these countries would actually be helpful! What have we actually achieved in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria for their citizens? We could better use that bombing/fightingmoney for aid for refugees. Sure, bad things will happen in these countries, but if we look around our own country, many bad things happen here already (eg aboriginal life, domestic violence, sexual violence, ice) and we don’t address them properly.

Second, we should take in more refugees, but on an ordered, quota, fair, spread basis. This country – and others – have benefitted from refugees, when we take a long view. They generally add to the country’s welfare. Even though we treat every new wave with distrust and suspicion, name one country’s immigrants we have received who have not been a benefit to this society in the long run?

Third, we need to control the number of immigrants to those whom we can absorb each year. Interestingly, several major EU countries (Spain, Italy, Germany) have declining populations and work forces. Refugee intakes (perhaps housed in deserted or depleted country towns where infrastructure already exists) are likely to stimulate these economies, and others, in the long term, not be a drain.

Unless the areas of world disorder are reduced and we can discourage enough people from moving to a place perceived to be a great place to live, it seems the era of open borders might be over for Europe and for us. Many people are going to be lucky refugee immigrants to better countries over the next few years, but most refugees are going to be displaced, dissatisfied, frustrated and unable to enter their desired new place to live. And if we don’t stop the root causes of the problem, at their sources, this global tide of refugees will grow bigger, not smaller. My refugee immigrant in-laws – sadly – agree.

What do you think?


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