How to view today’s refugee crisis


  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.



2 Responses to “How to view today’s refugee crisis”

  1. Charles Gordon Says:

    Chris: I think you need to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees. Those coming from Syria are certainly in the latter category, as their country has been rendered uninhabitable by war.

    Also, in terms of the numbers of refugees Canada can accept, I have no doubt that there is a level of immigration that is more than the country can absorb. However, 10,000 is far below that threshold for a country the size of ours. We did a good job of integrating the “boat people” from Vietnam in the late 70’s, and surely we can do the same now. Also, as Germany demonstrates, it is possible for a prosperous country to accept far more than the current government has indicated it is willing to accept.

    If we are willing to drop bombs on Syria (without discernible effect), we should be taking a meaningful number of refugees.

    More broadly, it seems to me that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Western countries, even Canada, to escape the effects of war and instability abroad and that actions we take, however, well intended, that increase instability will have consequences here.

  2. cmaule Says:

    Thanks Charles for your comments. There are many dimensions to the issue of refugees and economic migrants. It is difficult to know where to start.

    How does a country decide what number to accept? What are the limiting factors? Canadians live in metropolitan areas and newcomers naturally want to settle there which often leads to social problems.

    Those who come may be more inclined to move on or back when and if conditions change. They have more potential for mobility than in the past. Is this a consideration? Should it be?

    Almost all European countries have right wing parties which resist further refugees. Will such responses happen here? Does it matter?

    The niqab issue is indirectly related. I think it is misleading to emphasise that it only involves two people. It reflects Canadians attitude to something that is much broader, and this is overwhelmingly the case not only in Quebec. Why do Canadians feel this way?

    These are some disjointed and probably incoherent reactions to what is an important issue. One could list each of the legal, political, social and economic implications, but how you integrate these is beyond my comprehension. The political process will, I suppose, decide.

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