Understanding refugees – and putting New Zealand first: Part One

How many of you know someone who moved to New Zealand, not because that person could, but because they felt persecuted?

In 2009 I met members of the Iranian community in Cathedral Square. They were protesting the re-selection of the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an election that was too heavily rigged to be called such. They were scared. When I and another Amnesty International member indicated in personal capacity that we wanted to make a stand on their behalf in our own personal capacity, their spokes woman immediately told us not to use names or show faces. I can’t blame them. Many had family – mothers, fathers, siblings and so forth still there. The murder of a Iranian woman in the street of Tehran in front of cameras a few days earlier justified their fear.

But the knowledge that people in a nation as beautiful and with such a rich history and culture as Iran’s were being oppressed, because Western interests dictated an uncomfortable geopolitical reality, disgusted me to no end. It still does and I do not believe Iran as a nation seriously wants the bomb. I doubt many Iranians support the Ayatollah of their own free will.

So, why are the Iranians here? Why do we graciously let them and others from nations settle here? And what good does it do New Zealand to be accommodating them?

The National Front/Right Wing Resistance will tell you that there is nothing at all gain and that it points to the supposed inferiority of the countries they are from, the cultures that they represent. Nothing could be more harmful, more from the truth than this narrow minded, pointed hatred of outsiders, especially when Western countries political and economic interests do much to worsen the socio-economic situation for the people from places like Iran who have chosen to make New Zealand home.

Do not get me wrong. Iranians love Iran, for the same reasons we love New Zealand – because we know the country, its where we are from and we love home. But Western geopolitical interests stemming at least from the Iranian hostage siege in 1979-1980, if not earlier along with Russian and Chinese interference have given Iranians little reason to stay in Iran where the persecution of women sometimes reaches ridiculously stupid levels; where elections are rigged; where the government dislikes its own people as much as it dislikes the West.

Can you honestly blame them for wanting out?

I could not. At least not without significant second thoughts.

But what about those from a war zone like Syria, where Human Rights Watch estimates 83% of the lights have now gone out? It will probably take 40-50 years to completely rebuild the country even if today was the last day of the civil war and I.S.I.S. somehow were made to disappear. They have suffered appalling atrocities with the use of chemical weapons, barrel bombs full of shrapnel, indiscriminate bombing that has killed as many civilians as it has militants and military personnel.

The Bashar al-Assad regime with Russian and Chinese backing has ruthlessly suppressed its dissidents. It has taken advantage of the ethnic groups divisions that have sprung up out of this former French colony whose disintegration to me along with that of Iraq represents to me the end stages of 100 years of western geopolitics in the region. What happens now is finally the post-colonial rediscovery of themselves where they exist in the world and whether or not they can co-exist with neighbouring ethnic groups. But that is another story.

Will Syrians have a country to go home to? Maybe. Can New Zealand and the international community help them go home? Absolutely. But to do that, we must first accept them here until the war ends. We and the world end the conflict somehow and then give them reasonable assistance helping put their country back together. Much, much easier said, than done.

How we deal with this, and how New Zealand can put its interests first by taking the needs of refugees to heart, find out in my next post.

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