14. Unwanted Refugees a Global Problem

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on


IN THESE TIMES, 10/14/02
Title: “The World Isn’t Watching – The Forgotten Refugee Crisis”
Author: Daniel Swift

MOTHER JONES, March/2003
Title: “Outback Nightmares and Refugee Dreams”
Author: Charles Bowden

Title: “Neglect is Never Benign”
Author: Bill Frelick
Faculty Evaluators: Richard Zimmer Ph.D., Charlene Tung Ph.D., Diana Grant Ph.D.
Student Researcher: Tara Spreng, Sherry Grant

In the last ten years, the number of displaced people has exploded. Known as refugees, asylum seekers, illegal aliens, or unauthorized economic migrants, many are the indigenous of their region and almost all are the poorest of the poor.

According to the 2002 World Refugee Survey, there are as many as 40 million displaced people throughout the world. 15 million are seeking asylum in other countries. In addition, there at least 22 million “internally displaced” within their country of origin, who are not protected by international law and are therefore at even greater risk of oppression and abuse.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the subsequent war on terrorism launched by the United States and its allies have had a spillover effect on the lives of refugees worldwide.

Failed states, where warlords, gangsters and terrorists can operate with impunity, are producing hopeless and desperate people, who are often a dangerous breeding ground for political and religious fanaticism. Often, the international response to terrorist acts is to blame the refugees, even when they themselves are the victims.

The international community is unwilling to devote necessary resources to help resolve those conflicts, or at least to fully address the social and humanitarian issues.

Living in the margins of unwilling host communities, long-term refugees are victims not only of the war and persecution that forced them from their homes, but of the neglect that denies them hope of political settlements that would resolve the underlying causes of their affliction. Herded into huge refugee camps, where the prospect of emigration is slim, they can be deported at any time.

Corporate profiteers from developed countries are finding ways of benefiting from this global misfortune. Wackenhut, one of the largest operators of for-profit prisons is now setting up, with local subsidies, for-profit internment camps that charge penniless exiles a daily fee and then deport them when they are unable to pay.

The cycle of political upheaval, economic flight and expatriation that leads to international terrorism is unlikely to resolve itself if the people of the rich nations in the world continue the neglect the world’s homeless.

UPDATE BY CHARLES BOWDEN: The story of how Australia has handled refugees (basically prison in Australia and then eventually, contracting incarceration out to Pacific island nations) is neither a story about Australia nor about one group of displaced people. It is a salvo announcing the future. War, poverty, overpopulation and the wrenching change caused by a global economy have hurled millions of people into a void, where they cannot stay put and cannot move without being perceived as illegal interlopers. Australia, one of the most fair minded nations on earth, has become the poster child for barbarism in its harsh reaction to these displaced people, but it is highly unlikely that other nations will react to the same problem with more kindness. I live sixty miles from the Mexican border in a desert where at least two hundred illegal immigrants will die of thirst and heat this summer and where the rest will be hunted like animals by U.S. law enforcement. Technically, they are not refugees, but then the category of refugee is one invented by the powerful to sort out the weak and to dismiss them into a legal limbo.

Since my story was published, Australia has witnessed the collapse of refugees seeking entry as a naval blockade and word of the harsh treatment has staunched the flow. Also, Australia has become a role model for European nations (Great Britain, Italy, Greece and Spain, for example) facing similar invasions of the poor. The movement of people, of course, has increased as war in the Middle East and the global chill in trade has made difficult living conditions lurch toward the impossible.

The mainstream press has reacted to the story with total silence. In part, this is because the war with Iraq has devoured news space. But I think in the main it is because the draconian laws passed by a panicked Congress after September 11, 2001 have made Australia’s policies look too much like our own imprisonment of people without open legal hearings both within the United States and at our base in Cuba. And of course, the folk movement of Mexicans (the largest such migration now occurring on the surface of the earth) cannot be really examined by the U.S. press without acknowledgement of decades of failure including both the 1986 reforms of our immigration laws and the passage of NAFTA.

The key source for anyone pursuing this story, both in Australia and globally is Human Rights Watch.