Refugees Increasing: No Easy Solutions

Syrian refugees in 2015 are representative of refugee migrations occurring from many countries. An estimated 48 million refugees by 2014 were camped in squalid conditions without rights or privileges. Stewart summarized the appalling development in world affairs: "International organizations give every indication of being overwhelmed, and no wonder. Just compare this 48 million with one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history — when a shattered Europe at the end of the Second World War had to resettle a staggering 16 million displaced persons. A horrifying number certainly, but only a third as many as we have now. To make matters worse, the crisis is happening at a time when ever more countries are putting up new barriers and taking in fewer refugees. The result is that while over eight million newly displaced refugees are being added annually and barely one per cent of those seeking asylum are resettled in any given year. The average amount of time families live in refugee camps is a staggering 17 years." 

Citizens of relatively affluent countries are likely to have some compassion for displaced humans and will want to help individuals that they can identify and know. There are important limitations that constrain compassion.  We have recognized that humans act from self interest and group interest. Helping others in need satisfies a deep instinct for group survival, for mutual protection, food sharing and child care. The desire to help is short-lived and will often end in confusion and despair as newcomers fail to adapt and integrate. Membership in a supportive group is a privilege to be earned and defended. Altruistic acts are conditional and limited in scope and duration.

We have recognized that humans require an external form of behavioral regulation that is ephemeral and must be renewed continuously. The invention and enforcement of rules occurs within hierarchical organizations. Subgroups are always competing for resources and control so that the freedom promised in an ideal democracy cannot be considered stable and enduring. Any large migration of strangers into a community is a threat to the existing order. The preservation of freedom in democracies depends on well educated and culturally compatible humans who can maintain a civil order. Immigrating strangers are not likely to have the prerequisites required by the civil order. Indeed, the most obvious feature of mass migrations is the disruption of civic order. The opportunities are limited for large groups of refugees to settle in a new country and become constructive, contributing citizens. Everything we have learned about human nature suggests that big long-term problems will emerge from mass migrations. These problems do not have obvious solutions.

The UN List reasons for the plight of refugees:

"Conflicts are becoming more protracted, some dragging on for decades. There are currently 21 nations in ongoing conflicts with no clear end in sight. Think Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Central Africa, the Sudan and Congo. The UN refers to "the shrinking of humanitarian space" as more conflicts are being waged by non-state forces such as militias, insurgent groups, bands of religious fanatics and bandits who terrorize civilians and aid workers alike. As fewer rules are respected, even refugee camps are not safe from attack, and aid workers become prime targets. More terror means more refugees.Asylum itself is eroding as more countries put up barriers to block the mass movement of desperate people, a list that includes economic migrants and refugees alike as they search for haven alongside each other. 14 EU nations have refused Syrian refugees, often citing pressure from their own ultra-nationalistic parties during hard economic times."

Too Many Humans, Too Much Conflict 

The deep problem is human reproductive success is. Too many humans means that increasingly large numbers will have to migrate to avoid hunger, dehydration, natural and man-made disasters.  The problem of overpopulation cannot be appreciated only in terms of numbers alone, or the geographic distribution of populations, or even resources available to keep humans alive; the real problem is the disputatious and destructive aspects of human behavior. Increased population density creates increased social and economic problems that resist solution. Children are at risk when parents do not have the motivation, intelligence and resources needed to support them. Only thoughtful, well-educated and affluent parents have the opportunity to understand their responsibilities, to plan and allocate resources for an unborn child. All problems would decrease by increasing the competence of parents, reducing population size and limiting growth long term.

The European Union countries have become the most desirable destinations for Syrian refugees. Their large numbers have produced consternation in Europe, a model for the future? "In the first seven months of 2014, more than 87,000 people arrived in Italy by sea, mainly from Eritrea and the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria). In an effort to reduce the risks linked to such journeys, in October 2013 the Italian Government launched the Mare Nostrum operation, which has rescued more than 100,000 people at sea. Greece and Spain also recorded an increase in arrivals. The economic situation in the region has had an impact on the capacity and readiness of many countries to strengthen their protection systems. Austerity measures have also hit civil-society organizations that provide services to asylum-seekers and refugees. Xenophobia and intolerance have led to incidents of discrimination and violence. States have responded by concentrating on curbing irregular movements, including through tighter border controls and detention, or penalization for illegal entry.”

Over 150,000 people seeking to enter Europe have reached Hungary in 2015, most coming through the southern border with Serbia, and many apply for asylum but quickly try to leave for richer EU countries. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban built a barbed wire fence on the border with Serbia to stop the huge flow of migrants. Orban declared his determination to stop the refugees: "Today we are talking about tens of thousands but next year we will be talking about millions and this has no end. We have to make it clear that we can't allow everyone in, because if we allow everyone in, Europe is finished. If you are rich and attractive to others, you also have to be strong because if not, they will take away what you have worked for and you will be poor, too."

The burden of the invading refugees has been unevenly distributed, with Germany taking in the most migrants a, projected 800,000 while Hungary, Sweden and tiny Montenegro have accepted the most per capita.  Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister stated:” The refugees are synonymous with formidable change. We must get used to the thought that our country is changing.” The Social Ministry expects the German government to spend 1.8 billion to 3.3 billion euros, about $2 billion to $3.7 billion, in 2016 to cover the refugees’ basic needs, language lessons and job training. As those costs mount, so might resentment. Already Germany has experienced a backlash against the migrants — the worst in Europe. Neo-Nazi and right-wing groups have seized on the issue, organizing demonstrations outside homes for asylum seekers. In the first six months of this year, there were more than 200 arson and other attacks on facilities for migrants, and on migrants themselves. One fear is that an open-door policy will make Germany more vulnerable to Islamic extremism and terrorism.  Free movement of people and goods through borders in the European Union was a precept of its cohesion. Austria was the first country to reactivate its border crossing controls and other countries are likely to follow.

A basic tenant of world order is state sovereignty and the right of countries to control immigration. The refugees entering Europe have no respect for state sovereignty and believe they have rights that they did not earn. While a sympathetic view of desperate people may forgive this lawlessness in the beginning, the attitude does not suggest respect and lawful conduct in the future.

Climate change is an important cause of conflict, economic distress, and increasing scarcity of essential human resources – water, food and shelter. Infectious disease also increases the human burden. Human survival in the past 200,000 years has been challenged by natural disasters and climate changes. Survival required migration away from unforgiving environments toward new habitats with more resources. The near future will bring more severe climate changes that force more mass migrations. The problems cannot be solved easily.  The altruistic impulse in more secure regions will face the threat of increasing world disorder. Orban’s declaration that millions of refugees without qualifications will seek to share the riches of affluent countries: ”... you also have to be strong because if not, they will take away what you have worked for and you will be poor, too."