Confusing arguments about Refugees

Tuesday, 15th September 2015

Some of us are fully aware of the semantic differences between refugees and migrants. A migrant is anyone who moves from one region to another. All people classed as refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, emigrants, settlers, travellers or nomads are migrants. Migration is a wholly neutral term that implies nothing about our motivations or plans or indeed whether we are moving to another continent, country or just another region of the same country. By contrast a refugee is a special category of migrant fleeing persecution, war and/or environmental calamities. A refugee has little choice but to move to a place of safety. Helping refugees is an act of human solidarity, not a business transaction. You don’t help refugees to boost your economy, provide a convenient source of cheap labour or transform your country into a dynamic multicultural mosaic of ethnically diverse communities. You help refugees because you can and because you hope one day your act of human solidarity will be repaid in kind. Yet the mass-migration lobby recycle many of the same arguments used for increased economic migration. Indeed I agree in some circumstances economic migration can benefit the native population, but that has nothing to do with refugees, unless you are prepared only to help those who can enrich you and not those who need your help most.

More important, refugees do not choose to abandon their homeland for selfish economic betterment, but to seek safety until they can return to their homeland. Sometimes this may not be easy, but good samaritans help others to help themselves.

In 1973 Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled Indians as part of his Africanisation programme. Indian Ugandans formed a distinctive business community who did not fully integrate with African Ugandans and were often seen as lackeys of British colonialism. They were caught in a limbo between Britain, whose language they spoke fluently, and India where most had never lived. Some moved to India, but the UK accepted some 30,000 as many recognised the British Empire’s primary responsibility for their plight. This is often cited as an example of successful accommodation of refugees, largely because they were relatively well-educated and had a strong entrepreneurial spirit. However, in most emergencies wealthy Western countries do little to help. Compare and contrast the way the British government welcomed 30,000 Asian Ugandans to the way only a few years earlier it resettled around 2000 Chagos islanders to temporary camps in Mauritius at the behest of the US State Department so they could build a strategic airbase there. To military planners the Chagossians represented little more than an inconvenience that had to be dealt with in the name of progress, a little like rehousing the residents of dwellings demolished to make way for a new motorway. British colonial history is littered with examples of resettlements and ethnic cleansing. Concern about refugees beyond one’s immediate border zones is a very modern phenomenon, facilitated by 24/7 news and easy long-distance travel.

Now the mass-migration lobby have decided to exploit the very real Syrian refugee crisis. The 4 way civil war was caused largely by US and UK military intervention and funding of opposition militias, who later split and joined ISIS. Before the war most Syrians wanted to remain in their home country. Now over half the population has fled. Yet many of the same globalist forces that supported intervention first against the Assad regime and then against ISIS, also want European countries to welcome more refugees. The same is true for Libya. Before the overthrow of Colonel Gadafi, migratory flows from North Africa to Europe were relatively small, because for all his faults Gadafi stemmed the tide by accepting a fair number of Sub-Sarahan African immigrants to work in his oil-rich republic. After his regime fell and rival militias took over, the country has descended into chaos allowing a huge rise in people trafficking.

Migration is all about checks and balances

Until recently we talked mainly in terms of immigrants and emigrants, because before the age of cheap long distance travel such movements tended to be permanent. Europeans would emigrate to the Americas to start a new life and we would assimilate immigrants from other countries, often former colonies. However, many birds regularly migrate, a natural adaptation to seasonal and climatic variations. Common starlings will winter in Iberia or North Africa, but fly north to the British Isles in summer. We call this migration because it involves periodic round trips. We may assume if the Ice Age returned starlings would adapt their migratory patterns accordingly. Likewise some human communities still lead a nomadic lifestyle, especially in sparsely populated regions with inhospitable climates for much of the year. For most of humanity’s existence, we were hunter gatherers organised into tribes who would regularly move within their known habitats. We lived more at one with nature. Our movements would adapt to natural ecological changes, but would usually lead us to familiar territory, unless overriding environmental vicissitudes motivated us to risk life and limb in search of new lands, which often meant traversing hundreds of miles of unchartered territory before discovering a new hospitable habitat. Again this process is correctly called migration because we had no foreknowledge of any human communities that might live in our new homeland. We did not migrate to colonise other people, but to find a new home for our community. Then around fifteen thousand years ago the agrarian revolution led more of us to abandon our nomadic lifestyle in favour of more permanent settlements that would become fiefdoms with armies and eventually lead to the first city states and expansionist empires. When you move from one country to another, you shift your allegiance and adapt to a different set of customs. That’s why we talked of immigration and emigration.

By stressing migration rather than immigration, opinion leaders hoped to shift public perception away from the social and environmental challenges of accommodating more people with different cultural backgrounds into their neighbourhoods to the normalisation of free movement as a fact of post-modern 21st century life. Just as British people holiday in Spain or Turkey and even buy second homes there, others choose to move here for work. This seems fine as long as it’s balanced and, dare I say, sustainable. Unfortunately, opinion leaders have only succeeded in persuading us to say migrants rather than immigrants. They have failed dismally in persuading us that mass movements of people and transient communities with rapidly changing ethnic compositions benefit longstanding native communities. They have merely impoverished the English language by removing important semantic distinctions.

Now the mass-migration lobby wants us to call all migrants refugees. Not only is this factually incorrect, it does a disservice to genuine refugees, who have to compete with economic migrants for access to the more prosperous safe havens.