If I sit in my office at my Mac and turn my head to the right, I can see a shelf dedicated to tracts and essays on political philosophy. These are relics from my uni days that I can’t quite get rid of. They remind me that once I read these books and understood them. And one of these books has perhaps the most oft quoted (and frequently misquoted) phrase that yet seems somewhat apt in describing the world today.
Thomas Hobbes, in his great work Leviathan (published 1651) looked at the world and statecraft, and concluded that there was a need for a social contract and rule by a strong leader and government. Because without this leader, or sovereign, mankind (yes, he was of his time) lives in a bleak state of nature that consists of
“….continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short…..” Leviathan, Chapter 13.
This great work has, of course, far more to it than just that one phrase, but how relevant that phrase feels to today’s crisis areas.
Last week in London at the Support Syria donor conference Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey spoke of how they could not continue taking refugees from Syria. But just a few days later there are tens of thousands of Syrians at the borders of both Jordan and Turkey waiting to be admitted to those countries, and particularly so on the borders of Turkey with the fighting in Aleppo increasing in its savagery. Indeed, there may be an even higher figure than tens of thousands waiting to enter Turkey.
But what can be done, apart from the blindingly obvious, that the war in Syria needs to stop. Is donating money to neighbouring states and the refugee camps the only thing that concerned states can do to help Syria? It seems that this is how Britain, or let’s put it this way, the Cameron government, sees it.
But the money will take months to filter through, and any jobs that refugees might be allowed to do in these neighbouring countries will also take time to develop. In the meantime the refugees will continue to pour out of Syria – it is an imploding country. It is a place of continual fear and of violent death for many in Syria – they will continue to come.
What to do? First, there are things that could be done other than pouring promises of money onto a sceptical audience. See Patrick Kingsley for his suggestions, which are:
- Europe and the rest of the world need to take more responsibility in resettling and taking refugees. There needs to be defined coherent and credible resettlement so that refugees in the camps can see that they don’t need to come to Greece by sea and risk drowning.
- Europe needs to divide up the numbers of refugees in a more equal fashion rather than nearly all of them going to Germany and Sweden.
- The US could take more refugees and so could Saudi Arabia.
- Other refugees from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq should not be forgotten – they too need resettlement and refuge.
But how about instead of considering how many refugees Europe could take, we look at whether states have a right to exclude?
Is there a right to exclude people? States are bound by obligations: there is both a duty to admit refugees and a duty not to discriminate on grounds of race, gender and religion. But in addition, and perhaps, as a minimum, states have a right to protect key national goods such as: social stability, civil rights, democracy and communal solidarity of the native population. And if a state excludes people/refugees this exclusion has to be, should be, justified otherwise it locks people into violent regimes and limits people’s lives.
But really states do what they damn well please. Some, like Germany and Sweden, take many and some, like Britain, take very few. And still the refugees keep coming. And they keep coming because there is little hope of any life in the refugee camps. And they keep coming because of the barrel bombing and fighting. And they keep coming despite the crumbling of the Schengen agreement (established in 1985 whereby 22 out of the 28 European Union members have abolished passport controls). Now, borders are being fenced and Greece is being told to hold onto and/or push back refugees. The treatment of these people is harsh – I hope the politicians won’t mind being judged on their attitudes at some point.
What to do? It’s important, I think, to not be constantly ruminating on how dark the world is today. There is light. There is hope. And some of this light can be found in the small voluntary groups that have been set up to help the refugees arriving in Greece, and arriving, and then living, in the squalid camps in Calais and Dunkirk – these groups are beacons of hope.
If I were younger I’d be out there in Calais, no doubt, but as I know that’s not for me at my age – have to acknowledge that – I think the answer, for the moment, for those of us who are not swayed by the disgraceful rags of newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail, is that we can support the voluntary work on the borders by joining the various groups such as Calais (UK) http://www.calaid.co.uk or Refuge Aid Miksaliste http://refugeeaidmiksaliste.rs which works in Serbia.
Or Hummingbird Project – Calais and Dunkirk – Aid and Solidarity https://www.facebook.com/Hummingbirduk/
There are many more voluntary groups. I knit scarves for a great little group called Hats, Scarves & Mittens (look it up on Facebook) that sends knitted hats, scarves, socks, mittens and gloves to Syria, Greece and Calais.
And above all, we can advocate, read and defend. Get that correct information out there. Look at, for instance, the New Internationalist, or go to its website.
Be aware. Be mindful. Be responsive. I feel nothing but utter disgust for the Cameron government’s pathetic attempts to appease, I suppose, some genuine concerns about doing more for refugees – really? Do you know what is going on? If not, find out!
And then, light a candle, and knit a sock rather than rage all the time. It’s a waste of energy – but we can do more, we are better than this.
That’s all for now
P.S. Next blog, which won’t be out for some time, will look at Germany and their response to this crisis of our time. And at some point I aim to unpick what exactly is happening in this civil war soup.
P.P.S Please note that the points contained in the paragraph beginning “Is there a right to exclude people?’ have come from notes taken whilst listening to the LSE podcast A Right to Migrate?