Sunday, October 28, 2018

Nationalism 015: Refugee Options

We have created a grotesquely immoral system with respect to refugees.

In my previous posting, I discussed what counts as a refugee. I am following the convention that a refugee is somebody who must leave his country to find or establish a minimum level of security - security from violence, from thirst or starvation, and from death caused by natural disaster (e.g., rising sea levels).

We have created a system that a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would find unacceptable.

This posting is based substantially on work by Serena Parekh. In 2018, she gave a speech at the Naval Academy that discussed in greater detail the points mentioned below.

Refugees are given three options:

(1) A refugee camp. A refugee who goes to a camp will be assigned a location - a building or tent - and told to stay there and do nothing with their lives until conditions change in their home country and they can go back, or they can be relocated in a host country. The average length of stay in a refugee camp is 17 years. In these camps, refugees (particularly women) are still at risk of violence (particularly sexual violence). It's not much different from a 17 year prison sentence in a massive prison - except, if one has children, one's children will be locked up - and can expect to grow up, reach adulthood, and start a family of their own, within the camp.

(2) Urban centers. Many (most) refugees go to the nearest city where they can disappear into the crowd. However, in this situation, they have no access to food or medical care. Their children have no access to education. Because they are there illegally, they are subject to exploitation by employers or others who can use the threat of deportation against them. The advantage is that, even though they are subject to these risks, they can at least build something of a life. They have options other than sitting in a tent for 17 years.

(3) Smuggling. The refugee pays a smuggler that will get them through the barriers that developed countries have placed around their countries. These smugglers also subject their "cargo" to rape and other forms of violence. Once the smuggler gets paid, they have little use for their "cargo". So, they put their refugees on boats (rubber rafts) that are cheap (since the boat will be confiscated), overcrowded, with too little food and water, and let the refugees take a risk of reaching the shore of the country where they are seeking refugees.

Parekh calls this "institutional injustice". People are causing (are morally responsible for) creating - not just with failing to prevent, but with actually creating - a great deal of harm by creating institutions whereby only harmful (or extremely risky) options are available. We give a person an option: "either cut off your right arm, or cut off your left arm," and then we deny responsibility for the fact that the victim is missing an arm because we say "it was her choice." We give refugees these poor options of lifeless camps, lawless life in an urban center, or human trafficking, and we deny our own moral responsibility because, whichever option they choose, it was their choice.

One of the principles responsible for this condition is that a refugee can not seek refugee status until after they have left the country where they are experiencing the problem. The problem that I am talking about here is a fear of death or other significant harm caused by criminal agents (an oppressive state, armed gangs that the state cannot control), cultural oppression (child marriage, genital manipulation, discrimination that deprives the individual of a meaningful life), or natural disaster (sea level rise, drought). By "problems", I am talking about somebody whose life is at risk of becoming tragic - a massive dose of human suffering.

So, we create rules where we tell these people, "You can only escape this if you can get to a country where people can take care of you", and then we put as many barriers as we can in the way of these people getting to countries where they can find refuge. Nations deny visas to individuals from countries from which they may be wanting to seek refuge. Navies patrol the waters with an intent to actually prevent the rescue of refugees at sea since recuse is a way of reaching the shores of the desired country. We build walls. We send in armies.

This is the rule that is causing the problem. If you can keep the refugee out of your country, you are not responsible for that refugee's fate. You can stand by and watch as they suffer and die, so long as they do not suffer and die on your property. Only then, according to this moral model, are you obligated to help.

The question to ask is whether the person with good desires and lacking bad desires only cares about the people who suffer and die on his property. It would seem difficult to justify this sentiment. If you are suffering and dying one one side of an imaginary line, your suffering and death matters . . . but if you suffer and die ten feet to the left on the other side of an imaginary line, the good person would not care.

We can reduce . . . not eliminate, but certainly reduce . . . many of these problems with one simple rules change.

Allow the refugees within the refugee camps to work and be productive - to earn money.

They do this to some extent anyways. They set up black markets in these refugee camps. However, this is necessarily limited and riddled with crime and corruption. Furthermore, it tends to involve the types of businesses that are not easily controlled - such as prostitution. It is a poor substitute to allowing the refugees to seek honest labor.

The objection here is that they will be taking jobs from the local population.

This objection makes no sense. You have a population where, when they were on the other side of the imaginary line, was making a net contribution to their own society - one in which they are able to take care of their own families out of their own pockets. They built cities that decidedly were not a burden on their neighbors. There is no reason to believe that, just because they moved to the other side of an imaginary line, that they could not make a meaningful contribution to that community as well.

We turn refugees into a burden because we do not allow them to make a contribution. We then promote an attitude of hostility to refugees because they are seen as a burden.


FredT said...

What about these economic/political refugees?

These are man made problems. Does that change our understanding/attitude toward the refugees?

And yet we also know that the world is overpopulated, based on Co2 levels. So what are the choices?
Do nothing?
Self harm by bring more people into a less overpopulated area?
Ignore the problem until it actually impacts us substantially?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I am afraid that I am confused by your comment.

If an innocent person is in reasonable fear for her life, it really does not matter whether the cause is a person or nature itself. It does matter if the threat itself is justified (e.g., chasing down a criminal), but the vast majority of refugees do not fall in this category.

A person with good desires and lacking bad desires would want to help.

As for overpopulation . . . that is a different problem that suggests different solutions. Indeed, the best solution to the overpopulation problem found so far is to increase the economic status of women - to give them options other than having children. This has had significant effects in actually reversing population growth in developed countries. Current evidence suggests that the human population will peak at about 9 to 10 billion and then begin a slow global decline, so long as the rights of women are respected.