I note with interest that the media and various government ministers use the term 'migrant' now to cover everyone trying to enter Britain or, for that matter, Europe. Very occasionally the word 'refugees' creeps into a report, but is quickly replaced in all further references by 'migrant'. What's the difference? In my dictionary a 'migrant' is one who leaves one country/town/ or the land and 'migrates' to find work away from his/her roots or origins. Karl Marx argued for the 'right' of workers to do this, saying in effect that it should be the right of a worker to move to where his work will be adequately rewarded.
A 'refugee', by contrast, is one escaping a war, oppression or some other event which may be a 'natural' one such as a volcanic eruption. But herein lies the rub -- if our media and political masters apply the word 'refugee' to the 2 or 3 million people currently in holding camps in various countries in the EU (800,000 in Germany alone), a whole raft of so-called 'International Laws' will kick in and with them the armies of 'Human Rights lawyers' who feed off contesting any and every attempt to remove those who don't qualify for admission anywhere.
Let's also admit that it is also the case that our various bureaucracies are often biased, frequently unfair, and usually so 'rule bound' as to be utterly uncaring, unfeeling and pretty nearly reduce the people they deal with to a point of being no longer 'human', but just cyphers in the system. An article in The Spectator addresses several of these points, but, as ever, attracts comments from those who see only a threat to their own comfort, have never been in a position where they cannot remain in their homes, and who comment from a perspective of ignorance of the realities of the world. Many of those who have commented on the article seem to have missed the author's point completely. Stephano Hatfield makes the telling point that there is a difference between an 'economic migrant' and a 'refugee', yet Theresa May, the current UK Home Secretary, seems to conflate them, linking 'migrants' from other EU States with the refugees pouring in from the failing Islamic States of the Middle and Near East, North Africa and the Civil wars in several West African states with the undoubted groups migrating for economic reasons.
Then there is the hysteria stirred up by the British Press and politicians, about the 'siege' of the Channel Tunnel, and the migrants trying to board trucks, cars and anything else heading for Britain. This is, it must be acknowledged, in part due to the last Labour government's drive to open the immigration doors to all manner of immigrants from cultures which bear no relationship whatever to that of Europe, much less Britain. What gets lost in all this, is that while the UK goes into an almost ludicrous frenzy over fewer than ten thousand 'migrants' trying to enter the UK by these means, Germany is dealing with 800,000, Italy with another 250,000, Greece (remember the ones with the financial problems) over 100,000 and France with numbers approaching those of Germany. Yes, there is unhappiness about it, but they are dealing with it quietly and efficiently. Yes, it is a political football in most countries, but much less so, it seems, than in the UK -- which is dealing with a fraction of the numbers everyone else is coping with.
More worrying is the very point the author of The Spectator article is making with his link to the family of Anne Frank. Vilifying the refugees simply creates an atmosphere in which it becomes easy to isolate them and then turn them into an 'enemy' - which, alarmingly, seems to be happening already if when one reads the UKIP and similar minded parties and their supporters rants and comments. Another Spectator article published today points to the fact that almost 10 million people in Syria are now 'displaced', and trapped because the borders around that benighted land are now closed. The 2 million or so in camps in Jordan are trapped as well. Forbidden to work, families are dependent, children are rebelling and teenagers are defying their parents and sneaking off to join militias 'at home' because that is better than sitting around waiting for the next handout.
To those who argue these folk should have stayed where they were and fought back against the oppression, consider this; if your family home were reduced to a pile of rubble, and the attacker threatens to behead you, your children and rape your wife and daughters - would you 'remain in place'?
We should be concerned at the Home Secretary's deliberate linking of the refugee crisis with the European freedom of movement for workers. The freedom of movement within the EU of workers is NOT the problem, but linking it to the 'migrant/refugee' crisis gives opponents of such movement (and the UK does have a bit of a 'history' there) gives the politicians and the media the chance to whip up antipathy against ALL migrant workers, especially those from EU countries. By calling workers from other EU countries 'migrants' and in the same breath calling those fleeing Africa, the Levant and all the other countries suffering massive conflict or grinding social poverty 'migrants' she is setting them all up to be vilified and hounded out of the UK.
I'm inclined to agree with the latest Spectator article, in that we may have an obligation to 'rescue' people, but we do not have an obligation to house, feed, clothe and employ them here. We do have some responsibility for ensuring they are supported in all efforts to improve the situations which have driven them to flee their homes. In places like parts of Libya and Syria or Iraq, I would suggest there is a need to find ways to make the refugee camps more like functioning societies rather than a 'waiting area'. Why can't the refugees be given employment looking after their own needs in the camps? Why should this be forbidden? Why bring in teachers from the local area, when you have qualified people sitting around idle?
To solve this problem we need to do more to provide something meaningful for those who have escaped, which will encourage them to stay in the camps. We also need to look very carefully at how we can break the cycles of corruption, abuse and conflict which bedevil so many lands and are causing this tide of human misery. Only then can we hope to even begin to deal with it.
Week in review – science and policy research
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