Understanding the refugee problem – Why and how they flee

You read about it in the newspapers. You see it on the television news and in adverts by charities wanting your donation or other assistance for dealing with the humanitarian needs of people fleeing a war or a dictatorship. Some of you might have even had a debate with someone about who constitutes a refugee. But how much do we know about refugees, who can be classed as one and why we should take them  seriously?

There will be some for whom the only acceptable answer will be send the lot back to where they came from. There will even be a few who will be quite happy – callous as it may sound – for them to drown. Others, such as Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, consider detention centres – compounds on isolated islands or in remote locations surrounded by barbed wire fencing, with watch towers and consisting of pre-fabricated buildings – to be perfectly acceptable.

But none of this solves the underlying problems that cause these people to flee their countries. Having made the decision to flee, the refugees will be using whatever methods of travel they can get on. These hostile attitudes also do not address the lack of information for asylum seekers on how to legally apply, or the means to get it – if the country of origin is run by a dictatorship, possessing such information could be a criminal offence. Nor does it stop them from taking extreme risks to board and sail on boats that might not be seaworthy, and very probably will not have a qualified crew, adequate sanitation or other necessary conditions required under western maritime law.

It will be difficult for any country to admit it, but refugees are a global shame that does much to erode the political spin of their Governments. New Zealand is no exception and it has gone down hill in its tolerance for refugees and its willingness to address the issues, which is the only way we will stop from being part of a much larger socio-economic catastrophe a decade or two in the future. That catastrophe will be when the refugee numbers reach a critical mass in countries that have taken a large number in, like Sweden and cause social unrest that might bring down the Government of the day.

Many will remember the case of Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian refugee who was detained in New Zealand for nearly 2 1/2 years under the Helen Clark Government. He was fleeing Algeria where he had been persecuted by the Government because he was affiliated with an opposition party. The Algerian Government with French help had him under surveillance. He had tried to get asylum in France and Belgium, but the authorities in both countries obstructed his attempts to get asylum and laid trumped up charges against him, which he was convicted on. Unfortunately the Clark Government took its cues from the European nations that had had to deal with Mr Zaoui.  The detention of him and his family cost New Zealand several million dollars. It raised questions about the performance of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies.

With the Middle East at risk of turning into an Islamic State terror group conflagration that the New Zealand Government is keen to get involved in fighting, and Boko Haram in Africa wanting to commit violence against non-Muslims world wide, the potential for large numbers of refugees to try to make their way here is high. So, what are we going to do about the causes of people becoming asylum seekers and refugees? Ignorance is not an option and the aforementioned backward attitudes make a mockery of the western world being a tolerant bunch.

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