Monday, 7 September 2015

The dark, racist flipside to blanket refugee acceptance

It might sound nice that New Zealand is increasing its refugee quota, but there’s a dark flipside no one is talking about.

John Key has been under pressure to increase this country’s refugee quota from 750 per year, where it has been since 1987, to perhaps 1500. After initially rejecting the proposal, Mr Key has confirmed the government will accept an emergency intake of 100 Syrian refugees.

Europe and the United Kingdom are also dealing with pressure to increase the total numbers of refugees accepted per year. Many refugees are entering Europe illegally. There is even talk of rearranging the bloc’s “Schengen Agreement” in response to the crisis to make room for EU countries to tighten their border controls more frequently. Since its implementation in 1995, the Schengen Agreement eliminated border controls between EU signatories and created a common visa policy for 26 countries.

The bloc probably will not end the agreement, but more power and discretion will likely be given to member states to reintroducing border controls in the future. But cancelling the agreement would hamper the free movement of goods – a key pillar in the EU project – bringing the integrity of the union under serious threat.

Most refugees flowing into Europe are escaping conflict zones in North Africa, the Levant and Central Asia. Civil wars, terrorism and environmental degradation are forcing people out of their homelands in these regions. Some are headed southeast towards Australia and New Zealand, however the number is fewer than that headed to Europe. The question of what to do with asylum seekers is a perennial problem, but it appears to have reached boiling point in many developed countries (which should set off propaganda alarm bells, but as always: if you’re seeing it, it’s for you).

But what is a refugee? According to Immigration New Zealand, a refugee is defined by the Refugee Convention (as amended by the 1967 Protocol) as a person who:

·         “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or
·         who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.

Under these definitions, most people would say it is an unalloyed good to protect people from pain and persecution. But the campaign to increase New Zealand’s quota has so far been one of subjective ethics. And while it might be instructive to ponder the arbitrary choice of total asylum numbers (why not 60 refugees, 5000, or 1 million? Why just a few hundred?), it’s far more interesting to ask other questions first.

Let’s say New Zealand admits a total of 1500 people from Syria in 2015. Refugees come from all over the planet, but to keep it simple, I’ll pretend every refugee comes from Syria. The reason these Syrians wish to enter New Zealand is because an internecine war threatens many of their lives, both biologically and economically. Most New Zealanders would want to save a Syrian person’s life, that’s understandable. But what happens when the Syrian war is finished? That’s a question you’re not supposed to ask.

Wouldn’t it make practical sense to send all those Syrians back to their home country once pain and persecution are no more? After all, by Immigration New Zealand’s own definition, a person no longer fits the category of refugee if those conditions are removed. Did you think of this? If not, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Everyone was presented the binary choice of accepting more or fewer refugees. However, the question is often less important than who is asking the question.

Some will reject this idea immediately. This article is for them. Keeping the Syrians in New Zealand after the war has finished, they say, is the right thing to do. But no one is ever clear exactly what the word “right” actually means in this context. For whom is it “right”? Refusing to send people back to their countries once a war is over is a pernicious Western idea packaged up as if it were of the highest ethics. It oozes with humanitarianism and believing that all people are equal. In other words, it is a progressive ideal. That’s fine, but think about what it means. Although many people think it is “right”, this has a flipside: it is “wrong” to send them back.

Let me offer a contrary position, unpalatable but worth considering: refusing to send refugees back to their home country as part of a blanket refugee increase is a racist act. We might think we’re being progressive, but try to comprehend why those 40 year olds didn’t consider moving to New Zealand even once in four decades. The internet gives everyone access to a world map in seconds, so there’s a high likelihood these people knew about New Zealand. They probably also knew about its wonderful vistas, job opportunities and democracy. All of which are perfectly acceptable reasons for anyone to wish to live in New Zealand.

And yet, not once did any of these Syrians seriously attempt to travel to New Zealand. Until the war began, they expected to stay in Syria for the rest of their lives. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume every single refugee desired to apply for asylum in New Zealand specifically. I’ll even allow that they wanted to travel here since childhood. Yet it doesn’t negate the fact that none of them seriously attempted the effort. This is the uncomfortable reality. It’s almost as if those 40 year olds wanted to stay in Syria for the rest of their lives. But for whatever reason, it is impossible for progressives to have this thought. That should concern you.

Accepting these people into New Zealand and refusing to send them back once the crisis is over holds the dark assumption that New Zealand is better than Syria. It is the assumption that Syria has no redeeming qualities at all, that no one would want to live there and sending someone back is tantamount to abuse. Think about what this might mean to a Syrian who hears it. While it’s understandable a New Zealander will consider this country to be the best in the world, why don’t we consider that Syrians also think their country is the greatest? Is it so hard to believe that two people can believe contradictory things and both be correct?

Although I’m open to argument on this, increasing the refugee quota should come with a guarantee of a free aircraft flight back to the person’s home country once a war officially ends. The person may wish to apply to enter New Zealand under standard immigration processes in the future, that’s fine. But they should be subject to every immigration rule New Zealand has. Just as any normal migrant or immigrant would.

Anything else would be racist.

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