// archives

El Salvador

This tag is associated with 2 posts

The Real Refugee Problem

Every once in a while a photograph of a migrant’s tragic death (usually that of a child) catches the public’s imagination.

The image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, fleeing from the Syrian civil war, dead face down in the surf on a Turkish beach in 2015, triggered a wave of sympathy that ended with Germany opening its borders to 900,000 refugees that year – and Hungary building a border fence to keep them out.

Here we go again. A picture of 23-month-old Valeria Martinez, tucked into her father Oscar’s T-shirt, both dead face down on the banks of the Rio Grande, has unleashed a similar wave of sympathy in the United States, although it certainly hasn’t reached the White House. And once again most of the migrants are claiming to be refugees.

In fact, few of the migrants fit the legal definition of refugees in either case. The Arabs and Afghans trying to get into Europe had fled genuine wars, but they were already in Turkey, which is quite safe. They just wanted to move on to somewhere with better job opportunities and a higher standard of living. That’s understandable, but it doesn’t give you right of asylum as a refugee.

The same applies to the migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe, even though thousands of them are drowning in the attempt. They are fleeing poverty, or dictatorial regimes, or even climate change, but they are not fleeing war.

Neither do they have a “well-founded fear” of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. (My italics.) That is the language of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, so they don’t qualify as refugees. You may feel sorry for them, but there is no legal duty to let them in.

The Refugee Convention was incorporated into US law in the Refugee Act of 1980, so few of the people now seeking entry at the Mexican border qualify either. This matters, because while twenty years ago 98% of the people crossing the border were Mexican young men seeking work, more than half are now entire families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – and most of them claim to be refugees.

They are not, and that (not Donald Trump) is why US courts are rejecting at least three-quarters of the applications for refugee status. You may wish that the law took a more generous and humanitarian view, but it does not. And if you think things are bad now, they will be ten times worse in twenty years’ time.

Global heating is starting to bite. We’re still on the learner slopes, but the droughts and the floods, and the crop failures they cause, are multiplying, especially in the tropics and the sub-tropics where temperatures are already high.

In the worst-hit areas (which include the ‘northern triangle’ of Central America) family farms are failing, some people are going hungry, and the number of people on the move is starting to soar. This is precisely what unpublished, in-house government studies were predicting twenty years ago in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Now it’s here.

As the number of migrants goes up, the willingness of host populations to receive them will inevitably go down.

5% new population in a decade will feel disruptive to some people, especially if there are big cultural differences between the old population and the immigrants, but most people will accept and adapt to it. 10% in a decade is definitely pushing it, even though it’s only 1% a year. And 20% new population in a decade would generate a huge political backlash in almost any country on Earth.

That’s human nature. You may deplore it, but it’s not going to change. And behind uncomfortable considerations of what the politics will permit lies the even starker reality that they can’t all come. Twenty years from now there will be far more people who desperately want to move than the destination countries could possibly accommodate.

So the borders will start slamming shut in the countries, mostly in the temperate zone of the planet, where the climate is still tolerable and there is still enough food to eat. And don’t believe the myth that you cannot really shut a border.

You can do so quite easily if you are willing to kill the people who try to cross it illegally, and the governments of the destination countries will probably end up doing just that. Their military and their civil servants, if not their politicians, were already having grim internal debates about it fifteen years ago.

Sorry to spoil your day.
___________________________________
To shorten to725 words, omit paragraph 12. (“5%…Earth”)

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

Shithole Countries

Poor Donald Trump. He was simply asking for information, and they’re all over him as if he were a racist thug. His choice of words was unfortunate, but the angels rejoice when an ignorant person seeks enlightenment. We should take his question seriously and answer it for him.

What Trump asked last Thursday was: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” From the context – he was meeting with congressmen and senators who were working on immigration issues – it’s clear that by ‘shithole countries’ he meant Central American and African countries. El Salvador and Haiti came in for special mention.

What marks these countries out is that many of them are very poor, and some of them are plagued by war, crime and/or massive corruption. But most of the immigrants to the US have always come from countries like that: people who are safe and prosperous generally don’t abandon the countries they grew up in.

The first wave of Irish who went to the United States in the mid-19th century were driven by famine at home. The German, Polish and Italian immigrants of the same period were fleeing both poverty and political repression; the Russian Jews were also fleeing anti-Semitic violence. They would all have been ‘shithole countries’ at the time.

They are all safer, more prosperous places now, and the sources of the migrant flows have changed – but the motives of the migrants have not. Donald Trump should already have known that, since he grew up in New York City, but maybe he was just too privileged and isolated. At any rate, I’m glad to have cleared it up for him – and now that he understands the process all he has to do is clean up his language.

No, wait a moment. Trump had another question, too. He wanted to know why the United States couldn’t bring in immigrants from non-shithole places like Norway instead. This is a little harder to answer, because it’s a question of definition: the whole concept of a shithole depends heavily on your perspective.

Fom the point of view of Mexicans or Cubans, for example, El Salvador and Haiti are indeed shitholes (although they are far too polite ever to say that out loud). And from the viewpoint of a Norwegian, the United States is….Well, let me leave that question to Dr Christian Christensen, a Norwegian-American currently living and working in Sweden, who tweeted as follows:

“Of course people from Norway would love to move to a country where people are far more likely to get shot, live in poverty, get no healthcare because they are poor, get no paid parental leave or subsidised daycare, and see fewer women in political power. Shithole.” A bit heavy on the sarcasm, but you get the point. Trump will have to make do with immigrants who are – how shall we put this? – darker in hue.

And this brings us to the heart of the matter. Trump is a racist: such a dyed-in-the-wool racist that he is virtually unconscious of it. He openly says that he prefers immigrants from nice, white countries like Norway to brown or black immigrants from ‘shithole countries’.

He was so confident that every American who had ever voted for him or ever might shared his views that he didn’t even deny what he had said right away. It was reported as soon as the meeting finished on Thursday, but the first White House statement just defended his remarks: “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”

It was more than 24 hours later, with the outrage still growing both at home and abroad, that Trump finally put out the usual statement (we’ve heard it on dozens of other occasions) denying that he had said what many people – senior members of Congress, in this case – had heard him saying. It’s the kind of damage control that doesn’t really control the damage.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his audience that Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments were “something that almost every single person in America actually agrees with.” Wrong. What he should have said was “almost every single American who watches Fox News.”

Very few non-white Americans agree with this kind of talk, and a large number of white Americans, maybe as many as half, don’t either. That adds up to a 65-70 percent majority who don’t agree. Trump will not win this argument, and Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, knows it.

“There are, I have to say, a growing number of white Americans who are afraid of and do not want to see the browning of America. They have a picture-perfect 1950s view of mother wearing an apron as dad, in a hat, goes off to work. It looks a lot more like them than it does me, but America is starting to look more like me.”

Michael Steele is an African-American.
____________________________________
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 11. (“He was…damage”)