Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Displacement Crisis Revealing our Humanity

The world is finally waking up to a global displacement crisis. While we debate what to call the displaced, refugees...asylum seekers...migrants...the number of people seeking a new 'place' as a matter of urgency is swelling like never before in history. What is 'place' and who deserves one to call their own? Do citizens of failed states have a right to seek another place? As we consider the cauldron of violence and instability that is the Middle East, are we asking questions about the underlying causes of displacement?

Photo by Giuseppe Forino

This crisis is only likely to grow. As Australia and the UK prepare to join the US-led bombing campaign in Syria, will the politicians making the decision to kill ever more civilians be held accountable for the impact? How has this strategy worked out before in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya? Violence is a lucrative pastime. The global arms trade generates massive revenues, and soaring military spending is justified based on the perceived risks posed globally, often as a result of intentional destabilization. Quite a business model.

However, it is not only conflict that creates displacement. Climate change is occurring whether you like science or not. Disaster impacts are evolving as societies urbanize and people adopt less sustainable living in the pursuit of 'development'. In many ways, people are become more exposed to disaster risk because of how they choose to live. The drive to 'modernize' and 'advance' inherently supports the incumbent economic system of our time. A devotion to market fundamentalism practically locks us in for whatever disasters will eventually befall our race.

Put it this way. Our economic and social order is built on the premise that limitless growth is healthy. Anything that might challenge this premise is dismissed as problematic, idealistic and unreasonable. Solutions that involve equality and justice for all are labeled socialist. This belief system taken to the extreme brings us humanitarian bombing and coal is good for humanity. Orwell was spot on; blind, selfish, self-absorbed consumers want to believe that 'war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength'.

It is great to see the outpouring of empathy for the Syrian refugees reaching Europe. It gives me hope that most of us really do care about others. Perhaps it takes a picture and the tragic story of a dead toddler to really wake us up from our busy, stressed out existence. My hope is that this crisis will create thousands of activists around the world. There are huge ethical and moral dilemmas to consider, but not a lot of time to take action.

The world certainly needs to come up with rapid and collective solutions to this humanitarian crisis, but we need to be careful not to apply a band-aid to a deep laceration. Increasing refugee intake is commendable, but are we prepared to interrogate the problem at its source?


  1. A thought-provoking piece ! Along similar lines was Naomi Klein's contribution to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas which was held in Sydney last weekend. You can see her talk on climate change and the underlying causes in this youtube from the Festival.
    Her call is also for collective solutions, with more carbon neutral jobs.

    1. Thanks Sidsel! I have been meaning to watch it - missed the live stream because of the disaster group BBQ ;)