The figures are staggering. 65.3 million are currently forcibly displaced from their homes. Half of them are children. That figure from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the highest since records began and has doubled over the past ten years.
Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants are one of the greatest threats—if not THE greatest threat—to world stability.
On Monday and Tuesday there are two New York summits to address the crisis. The first is chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and the second by President Obama. Neither one will come up with a solution.
The refugee crisis is a massive humanitarian problem. Television pictures of babies drowning in the Mediterranean, struggling to survive in a Greek refugee camp, or marching thousands of miles to reach sanctuary tug at our heartstrings and appeal to our basic humanity.
But that emotion conflicts with fear of growing terrorism, cultural pollution and loss of national identity.
So far, Europe has borne the brunt of the refugee crisis. This is not surprising since three quarters of the refugees come from Africa and the Middle East which share the Mediterranean lake with prosperous Europe. War, famine and disease has forced them out of their homes. They have crossed deserts and seas and suffered torture and rape. Most of them are being contained in refugee camps in appalling conditions. But these camps are flimsy dams holding back a tsunami of increasingly desperate people.
Obama, Ban ki-moon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, want their fellow world leaders to increase spending on the refugee problem by a third from $10 to $15 billion and to spread the load of finding homes across the globe.
Photo – Halil Fidan/Anadolu
The one-third increase is far from generous. It provides an income of $230 a year for each refugee. That is the same as the per capita income of Malawi—the world’s poorest country.
As for the threat of terrorism, well, according to Europol, less than two percent of all of the EU’s terrorist incidents are Jihadist-inspired. The overwhelming majority are instigated by separatist organisations which have plagued the continent for centuries. Europol also estimates that .0003 percent of asylum seekers are disguised terrorists.
In the US, between 9/11 and January 2015, 37 people died at the hands of Islamic terrorists compared to 190,000 run of the mill murders over the same period. Professor Charles Kurzman at the University of North Carolina has called Islamic terrorism “a miniscule threat to public safety.”
That is not, however, the public perception. Their fears are stoked by politicians who prey on the underlying fears of voters and pander to them with lies, distortions and half-truths. Voters in the safe, secure West feel threatened not only by terrorists but also by cultural pollution, loss of nationality identity and a loss of economic security.
Forget the facts. The deep seated fears are too ingrained in national and personal psyches to be dismissed with mere facts. This political fact is a reality which the humanitarian leaders have to address. Liberal politicians are learning that they ignore this new looking glass reality at their peril. Example one, Britain’s Brexit vote in which the fear of immigrants triumphed over common sense. Example two, the rise of Trump on the back of his proposed wall, block on Muslims and deportation of Latinos. Example three, the ridiculous shoot-in-the foot French burkini ban. Example four, a Hungarian fence topped with razor wire and guarded by 10,000 armed police and soldiers to block Muslim refugees.
World leaders gathered in New York cannot allow tens of millions to suffer. But neither can they turn their back on the concerns of a significant proportion of the populations they purport to represent. Somehow they must find a way to balance the hope for millions against the fear of millions.
Tom Arms broadcasts on world affairs for a number of US radio stations including WTKF, all of which can also be heard on LookAhead News. His Weekly Viewpoints discussion programme can be heard at 1830 EST on Wednesdays and his LookAhead at the next week’s main events on Fridays at 1800.
LookAhead Radio World Report for week commencing 19 September: