West failing on the refugee front

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
© Pascal Rossignol
There has been no greater litmus test for Western civilization in recent years than the treatment of refugees who’ve landed in Europe and the US from the Middle East and North Africa. Thus far it is a test the West is failing and failing miserably.

Subjecting the victims of war, societal collapse, and economic chaos to withering assault has to come under a special category of repugnant, especially when it comes from media outlets, newspapers, and voices based in the very countries that have been responsible for destroying the countries and societies concerned.

Anti-refugee sentiment across Europe and the US has never been higher, measured in the political gains made in recent years by parties on the right and far right of the political spectrum such as the National Front in France, the Freedom Party in Austria, and UKIP in Britain. Likewise, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR), the number of refugees in the world has also never been higher, reaching 65 million in 2015.

The dismantling of the controversial ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, northern France, and the forced removal of its 10,000 occupants, has brought the issue of the refugees and their plight to mainstream prominence yet again. Most of its 10,000 occupants are being relocated to camps within France, while some, predominately unoccupied children, are being taken through the Channel Tunnel into the UK. Here the highly publicized call by government minister David Davies for dental checks to be carried out on them as they arrive to ensure they really are children and not young adults or teenagers has only served to inflame passions on both sides of the argument. Davies justified his stance by claiming some of the refugees were “abusing our hospitality.”

Placing to one side the notion that refugees arrive from halfway across the world like invited guests to a dinner party, is it really impossible to understand that in their desperation to seek and be given sanctuary after the hell they’ve been through people might venture a half-truth, even a lie, in the process of doing so? Have we now descended to the stage of denying refuge to human beings who’ve been traumatized by the kind of experiences that we in our most vivid nightmares could not begin on the basis of a dental examination?

The fact that a high proportion of those who’ve been arriving in Europe since the crisis began seem to be young males has also featured heavily in the anti-refugee narrative that has gained prominence across Europe and the West. Firstly, given that it is military age males who are the main victims of war, either in terms of the demographic most likely to be killed or maimed, or either conscripted or coerced into fighting, it should not come as a surprise that many decide to flee. Secondly, the journey required to reach Europe from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is so perilous that it is young men who are most likely and the best equipped to survive it.

But even with these caveats, data compiled by the UNCHR refutes the claim that most of the refugees coming in are young men. They reveal instead that this demographic only accounts for between 15-25 percent of the total number of refugees who’ve arrived from Syria in 2016. In other words, the majority of refugees arriving are not young males, as many voices would have us believe, they are older men, women, and children.

Concerns over security are certainly valid, but again much of those concerns are grounded in ignorance. The raft of terrorist attacks that have taken place across Western Europe were carried out by individuals and groups of people living and educated in the West, in Europe and the US, rather than by people coming into Europe as refugees.

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, concludes in a recent UN report that there is no evidence that ISIS and other terrorist groups operating in the Middle East and North Africa are using the flow of refugees to prepare or carry out attacks in the West.

Regardless, an entire politics has been constructed around the issue of refugees and migrants in recent years, with Brexit in the UK and the rise of Donald Trump in the US its most concrete manifestation.

That being said, it would be a mistake to consider this a new phenomenon, with history revealing that we have been here before. In the mid- nineteenth century the influx of poor Irish migrants into the United States, fleeing famine, fed the emergence of Nativism as a political current. It was based on the same anti-migrant and anti-refugee arguments being bandied about today – namely that these people are a threat to our culture, way of life, security, jobs, livelihoods, etc., etc. Many of the poor and destitute migrants leaving Ireland decided on the much shorter and less perilous journey to the British mainland, where again they were met with the fist of fury rather than the hand of friendship. So, yes, this phenomenon is nothing new, and is largely predicated on a perceived threat to a status quo we feel secure with.

Regardless, blaming the victims of wars and chaos unleashed by our own governments for their plight counts as a grievous injustice. Here, let us not mince words. Much, though by now means all, of the anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiment that has become commonplace in the West is rooted in racism and xenophobia, specifically Islamophobia based on a false conflation between Muslims and terrorism.

Many of the poor and destitute migrants leaving Ireland decided on the much shorter and less perilous journey to the British mainland, where again they were met with the fist of fury rather than the hand of friendship.

This is particularly unjust when we consider that in the struggle against terrorism it is Muslims who are doing most of the fighting and also the dying. Whether it be the Muslims fighting in the Syrian Arab Army, or the Iranians and Lebanese fighting alongside them, or whether it is the Kurds, who is doing more to defeat ISIS, Nusra, and the various other terrorist groups than Muslims?

The focus of the anger of people living in the West and the US should not be on refugees. It should be on their governments whose destabilization of MENA has wrought such cataclysmic results that countless thousands of human beings have been uprooted and compelled to risk their lives and their children’s lives to reach sanctuary.

Offering solidarity rather than hostility to such people is not only right and just, it is an investment in our own humanity.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.