Archive for September, 2015

How to view today’s refugee crisis

September 20, 2015


  1. There are seven billion people in the world compared with less than two billion in 1900. Some are much better off economically and in other ways than others. The less well off try to improve their circumstances, either where they now live or by moving to better (wealthier) countries.
  2. The world is divided into countries which are artificial entities administered by governments which have established rules for who may reside in a country. They try to get other countries to agree to these rules. Most of them do, but there arise problems of enforcing the rules which deal with things like approved migrants, temporary foreign workers, tourists and refugees.
  3. Enforcement is weakened by a combination of greater information about conditions in different parts of the world (reduced communication costs), reduced travel costs, and the willingness of people to take personal risks which may result in death.
  4. The concept of a sovereign country that can enforce rules about the crossborder movement of persons is being seriously undermined, and may lead to governments attempting to control their borders by force.
  5. The conditions surrounding the present (2015) flow of refugees is sufficiently different from similar past flows that it requires new thinking. Previous empires, Roman, Ottoman and Communist for example, contained the seeds of their own destruction, so capitalism and democracy, as practiced in different parts of the world, may have similar seeds germinating.
  6. One more specific comment on today’s situation in the Middle East. Many point to the causes of unrest as arising from the Sykes-Picot agreement about the establishment of boundaries at the end of WW1 re Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Transjordan. Underlying this agreement was the demise of the Ottoman Empire which had lasted for around 600 years. An excellent BBC documentary (available on the Internet) examines the Ottoman Empire and is worth viewing). Past history and modern conditions appear to me to be causes of the present flows of refugees.



Some thoughts on refugees

September 10, 2015


Conflict taking place in the Middle East has led to a humanitarian crisis involving refugees attempting to reach safer and more peaceful countries, which are often unwilling or at least reluctant to take in the numbers involved. In Canada it has morphed into a 2015 federal election issue as each party tries to appeal to voters by offering more favourable treatment for the refugees. While it is an issue voters understand, I am not sure they are aware of the implications. Note, recent immigrants are often opposed to those who enter illegally or who seek entry due to political conditions taking place abroad.

The immediate conditions which created the crisis is a combination of civil war in Syria and the interaction of various religious groups, Muslim and other in the Middle east extending east into Iran, north into Turkey and south into Egypt and other parts of northern Africa. Refugees who have gone to places like Lebanon and Syria have now chosen to seek refuge in Europe and if possible North America. The latter whose borders are protected by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans do not face the conditions of western European countries to which refugees can travel on foot, by bus and train.

Issues arising from the refugee flow and receiving less attention are:

  1. Where will these persons be located and how will they be integrated into Canadian society? This is not a new concern as Canada is a country of immigrants but excessive numbers could cause political backlash. Most Canadians advocating inflows would probably be less than eager to have these persons camp in their backgarden or neighbouring park. On a smaller scale during WW2 in the UK, city families and sometimes only the children were evacuated to the countryside during the blitz. They were not always eagerly received.
  2. If the numbers are limited, how do you decide who should come and what do you tell those who are left outside in the Middle East refugee camps. Once some are allowed entry, this merely encourages others to try the same.
  3. In Europe, whole residential neighbourhoods, such as suburbs in northern Paris, consist of  foreigners who have arrived illegally as well as legally causing social and political tensions in the country. Most European countries now have and active anti-immigrant party. This may also occur in Germany.
  4. Those seeking refugee status in the west are mainly economic migrants with the funds to pay smugglers, but who would likely go back to their homelands if political stability returned. In such a case the country of refuge is merely a temporary stopover to deal with turmoil elsewhere.

This is not a case for accepting no refugees but recognition that, depending on the numbers, social and economic issues can arise. These get little attention in the debate, perhaps because political parties like to play Santa Claus at election time.







No progress in civilizing behaviour

September 3, 2015

The use of rape as a weapon of war was conscious and emphatic. On every side, proud tales were told of the degradation of enemy women. Thousands of women were abducted, forcibly married to their assailants, and bundled away to the other side of the border. Many never saw their families again. Thousands more were simply used and then thrown back into their villages. There were accounts of women who had been held down while their breasts and arms were cut, tattoed or branded with their rapists’ names and the dates of their attacks. (Indian Summer, 260).

The quotation describes what happened nearly 70 years ago when India and Pakistan became independent states. Nothing much has changed. Similar actions are repeated today by ISIS/ISIL fighters in the Middle East. While Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs attacked each other in 1947, today it is mainly different branches of Muslims fighting each other. When people of other religions get in the way, such as western journalists, they too suffer atrocities.

The rules of war, developed over the past 200 years, mainly apply to states and not to terrorist groups which may operate in or outside a state. Current technology which encourages the use of things like drones, cyber attacks and the use of poison gases facilitate the use of violence by fighters who may deliberately operate within civilian communities. Guerilla warfare is becoming the norm where states are largely impotent to affect what action takes place.

Countries like Canada have in the past offered peace-keepers, but these can do little in non-traditional fighting venues. How countries structure their military/defense budgets will have to be revised.