Forget boundaries; we need bridges

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Forget boundaries; we need bridges

We need to start treating refugees like humans, says Siamak Nooraei.


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Ambrose Bierce (American humourist) said a boundary is ‘an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other’. He said this to be funny, but this is really the truth for refugees, asylum-seekers and forced migrants all over the world today.

For thousands of years, borders have helped stability in many parts of the world. With the help of boundaries, governments have controlled and reduced danger from outside their country, controlled their land, managed trade, delivered social services, and given citizens, visitors, and other people rights, freedoms, and obligations.

But boundaries have, in many ways, stopped refugees from getting what they need to live. Borders make people believe that different ‘nations’ have different ‘rights’; that we need physical and legal barriers to stop ‘foreigners’ getting these rights; and that things like stricter immigration policies will make asylum-seekers stop coming because it is so difficult.

We have many very strict laws, but many refugees still go to other countries for asylum. Today, tens of millions of people have left their countries to escape war, persecution and natural disasters. Many have looked for help to countries next to their own. And many have the courage to go as far as Europe, North America and the Pacific.

Tens of thousands of people have started very dangerous journeys. They often pay a lot of money to human traffickers. Many die on the journey, and many who get to another country are put in uncomfortable detention centres for years while they wait to ask for refugee status.

The refugee crisis will not stop soon. So we need to look at the main reasons for population movements. If we don’t, the situation will get worse, and this could be very bad for political stability, security and economy in the world.

So the international community needs to do these 4 things:

1: Countries must think again about international politics. People accept that political boundaries mean that everyone inside have the rights of that country, and that each nation is responsible first to its own people. So governments can pass their own laws, and control their geographic territory by law.

This leads to the idea that a national government should look after its own people; these people get rights only because of their imagined national identity. It is sad that you usually only get citizenship through birth or – when possible – through naturalization. So refugees cannot get it.

We can see that, in the past, this thinking has often led to serious cases of xenophobia (hating foreigners), racism, nationalism and, in extreme cases, even genocide (killing a whole racial or national group).

Today, we can see that nationalist movements across the world talk about ‘nation’ to make exploit immigrants and refugees seem responsible for their countries’ socioeconomic problems.

These ideas of nation and borders are partly responsible for some groups of nationalists thinking that only they have rights and refugees and immigrants are aliens who no-one wants.

2: We need a political solution to the refugee crisis. The international community must find a solution to why people are leaving their countries. Humans cause the political instability, war, persecution and socioeconomic problems that have forced many millions to leave their home countries.

Now there are long armed conflicts in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These are responsible for most of the refugees. Armed conflicts are usually because of strong, deep feelings in some countries. Often, armed political and religious groups fight against dictatorships to help with socioeconomic problems and ethnic persecution. So the international community must do something about these causes that lead to war and violence.

They must work with the moderates in societies with conflict. Moderates can help build a bridge between the two sides. They can negotiate a political solution with no extremes to include all the different groups in a democratic political system. To stop so many refugees, the international community can work with areas like Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Libya. They can build a government which includes all groups. In this way, the world can work to free and modernize social and economic relations in these regions. This will then create economic opportunities for the locals and political stability for the country.

3: The international community must work together closely to make sure that all present and future refugees have protection against discrimination, racism and xenophobia in host countries. Across the world, from the Middle East to Europe to North America to the Asia Pacific, refugees suffer because people hate them.

There are confrontations in Lebanon and anti-immigration protests in Germany. They all say the ‘foreigners’ are responsible for the socioeconomic problems.

There are three main ways to work on this problem. The international community must give more money, resources, and expert help and organisation to host countries to help with the many forced migrants. Countries that receive many refugees from conflict zones should get more humanitarian aid to better give homes, food and healthcare to refugees. Also, governments in host countries should work on the problems that make people hate immigrants and refugees: high unemployment, negative inflation, and growing income gap between rich and poor.

4: The international community must do something about climate change to stop the need for many people to migrate in the future. CO2 emissions are rising and the biggest economies in the world do not want to restrict the greenhouse gases they produce. So global warming will affect the lives and jobs of tens of millions of people. Rising water levels and droughts will force people to leave their homes to look for safer places.

This puts more pressure on host countries because it increases the social and economic costs of accepting refugees and asylum-seekers. So the international community must reduce the reliance of the global economy on fossil fuels; they must control CO2 emissions; and put money into developing alternative (more environmentally friendly) sources of energy.

The world must treat refugees like human beings. They move to escape from danger and to find what they need to survive. Governments should do everything they can to support them when they cross their borders. And at the same time, the international community must work on the reasons why people have to cross borders: war, violence, persecution, socioeconomic issues and climate change.

This is one way we can make a bridge over the imaginary borders that separate us from our common humanity.

Siamak Nooraei writes in Toronto, Canada about human rights, identity politics, counter-radicalization, international law, and democratization. He lived in Iran for most of his youth and offers a unique perspective on Middle Eastern politics.

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