Playing Politics Over Refugees – Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Image credit: Reuters
Image credit: Reuters

Politicians like Trump, Wilders and Hanson swear by the free market dogma of free movement of capital across borders but they want nothing to do with its other essential part – the free movement of people. One without the other is incomplete and meaningless. While they fall over themselves for Arab and Asian investments, even a tiny fraction of the wretched of the earth from the global South fleeing genocidal wars, poverty and exploitation is intolerable. If this isn’t hypocrisy, what is?

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED | Caravan Daily

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]o how low can Donald Trump really go? Just when you think the ever engaging freak show that is this US election cannot get any more interesting, the Republican nominee comes up with something more absurd and insensitive to sustain the interest of his growing fan club.

In the latest of his antics, Trump has claimed that he had “predicted” the New York bombing this week, apparently carried out by an Afghan immigrant, and has called for police to begin immediate racial profiling of Muslims.

Accusing President Barack Obama of ‘coddling’ extremists, Trump has once again called for banning all Muslims. Even as Obama was committing the US and European allies to take in more refugees at the UN, Trump came up with the gem: “Refugees from Syria…they’re bringing, in many cases, vicious cancer from within. We’re not winning the war; they’re winning the war.”

To add insult to injury, the Trump campaign posted a newspaper advertisement comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of poisonous candy, Skittles. And his son, Donald Trump Jr., proudly shared the ad on his Twitter account: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem!”

One doesn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry over these shenanigans, considering the epic tragedy of Syria and its people. Even the desperately needed aid cannot get in. The UN has suspended all relief operations after its aid convoy was deliberately bombed by Russian jets on Tuesday, killing 20 people including five medics! Is there no end to the Baathist-Russian bestiality? No wonder the Syrians are fleeing the country in such frantic desperation in their thousands.

Returning to Trump, the fact that such a dangerously paranoid and hallucinating mind is even in the reckoning says something about the hopeless nature of US politics. The realization that Trump is in a close, neck-and-neck race with Hillary Clinton and could very well end up in the most powerful office on the planet with its awesome power is enough to send chills up and down your spine.

That his rival is a diehard supporter of Israel and has supported the last two disastrous US wars in the Middle East and has been pitching for a third one, against Iran, is little comforting.

For all the protestations of people like Trump, the US accepted just about 10,000 refugees last year. This year is not likely to be any different either, notwithstanding Obama’s passionate appeal to the international community to double its efforts to help refugees.

A UN summit hosted by the US President Tuesday garnered pledges from dozens of countries to resettle or allow the “lawful admission” of some 360,000 refugees, doubling the number of slots that were available last year. Yet it is only a fraction of what is needed. According to the UN, some 1.2 million refugees need immediate shelter.

As Obama emphasized at the UN summit, the global refugee crisis is a test of the international community and all nations must share the collective responsibilities. Right now, the vast majority of refugees are hosted by just 10 countries.

It’s not clear how many of these refugees would be admitted by the US. And if, God forbid, Trump becomes the president, we could very well bid farewell to all those lofty commitments.

Across the political spectrum in the US, Europe and Australia, there has been an alarming rise in the fortunes of fanatics like Geert Wilders and Pauline Hanson as they look to cash in on the rising Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria for power

This is why you cannot cheer loudly enough the magnanimity of nations like Germany, which took in more than a million refugees last year and is preparing itself to host more this year.  Other EU countries have also done their bit. Greece despite its economic woes hosts thousands of refugees as the entry point of their European journey.

But nothing beats Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immense courage and dignity in the way she has taken on the challenge at the expense of her own survival and the future of her party. She has rallied her unsure party and people behind her refugee policy with a firm, “Wir schaffen das” (“We can do it”) slogan.

By doing so, she not just reclaimed Germany from its toxic past but may have also saved Europe’s face. She emerged as the single source of hope and inspiration for the whole of Europe and the world. No wonder many rightly thought Merkel deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015.

It’s unfortunate that Merkel is now being made to pay for listening to her conscience. Last week, the Chancellor’s party suffered a severe blow in a regional election, registering its worst defeat in Berlin since the World War II as the anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany, extended its challenge to the establishment.

On the other hand, Trump seems to have directly benefited from his poisonous rhetoric and vicious vacuities against refugees, immigrants and Muslims. He is not just dangerously delusional; he seems to be happily clueless about the complex realities of today’s world.  Not long after declaring his presidential ambitions, the candidate is said to have asked a friend: “Why can’t we use nukes?”

Trump is not an exception of course.  Across the political spectrum in the US, Europe and Australia, there has been an alarming rise in the fortunes of fanatics like Geert Wilders and Pauline Hanson as they look to cash in on the rising Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria for power.

Rescued refugees

This desperate lot of humanity – the real capital – risking their lives daily on high seas and on land so their loved ones could live do not do so because they want to be part of the great American dream or live off EU’s welfare programs. They leave because they really have no choice. No one leaves their homes and land of their birth of their own choice

After the US, the European Union is perhaps the most successful model of laissez-faire economics or capitalism. By doing away with border checks and declaring the entire continent a single market, the EU has allowed a truly unprecedented free movement of people and capital across national borders. Traveling across Europe is a breeze – or used to be until the refugee crisis. Those who have been to the continent would understand what I am talking about.

Politicians like Trump, Wilders and Hanson swear by the free market dogma of free movement of capital across borders but they want nothing to do with its other essential part – the free movement of people. One without the other is incomplete and meaningless.

While they fall over themselves for Arab and Asian investments, even a tiny fraction of the wretched of the earth from the global South fleeing genocidal wars, poverty and exploitation is intolerable. If this isn’t hypocrisy, what is?

This desperate lot of humanity – the real capital – risking their lives daily on high seas and on land so their loved ones could live do not do so because they want to be part of the great American dream or live off EU’s welfare programs. They leave because they really have no choice. No one leaves their homes and land of their birth of their own choice.

And for all those endlessly lecturing Muslim countries to take in these refugees, the answer is this: Muslim nations have already taken on much of this burden. Check out the UN statistics. Being next door, Turkey has taken the lion’s share of this burden, hosting around 3 million Syrian refugees.

There are more than 2.1 million registered Syrian refugees scattered across Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, not to mention more than 2 million Syrians in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled the country over the past five years.  A poor country like Pakistan has hosted more than 2 million Afghan refugees since 1979. This is truly a global humanitarian crisis, demanding urgent global response. What will it take for the world community to show its humanity?

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