In good old sleepy Aotearoa we do not really get a feeling for the extent of the refugee crisis that is unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. Three failed states, Syria, Iraq and Libya are imploding and millions of their citizens are on the move looking for a better life.
The causes are slightly different. In Iraq through continuous interference and the undermining of a civilised society over a period of decades the administration has fallen apart. George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s war on Iraq based on non existing weapons of mass destruction were the last straw. Blair’s appointment as a Middle Eastern envoy was a joke and he failed miserably at the role. If for no other reason than to see the look on Blair’s face I hope that Jeremy Corbyn wins UK Labour’s leadership contest.
In Libya a butchered military intervention did not bring freedom. Instead it destroyed any chance Libya had of recovering from Gadaffi’s extremes.
And in Syria Bashar al-Assad had responded to an Arab spring by a brutal put down of any sign of dissent including the use of chemical weapons on its citizens.
The growth of ISIS in each of these states is of concern. But the lesson has to be that the use of military force to shape or change a country is never going to work.
In Lebanon, with a population similar to New Zealand’s, there are now 1.2 million refugees. Think of a New Zealand where every fifth person present is a refugee and this will give you an idea of the extent of the crisis. In Turkey there are 1.6 million refugees. Germany expects to take in 800,000 refugees this year.
And John Key’s response?
The Prime Minister is flatly rejecting an emergency intake of refugees despite the escalating migration crisis in Europe.
This year alone, the International Organisation for Migration estimates, 2373 people have died trying to reach Europe by sea, and 3573 in the past 12 months. Almost 300,000 people have arrived in Europe in 2015.
Amnesty International said the international community, including New Zealand, could not continue to turn its back on the situation.
It wants the Government to consider an emergency intake of refugees on top of doubling its annual quota of 750.
But Mr Key yesterday again said New Zealand was already doing its bit.
“Everyone accepts the enormity of the challenge of what’s taking place, but New Zealand can pride itself on the fact that it’s one of the countries that’s consistently taken refugees for a long period of time.
“There are quite a few countries that don’t take refugees,” he said.
Just like the Government’s response to climate change Key is relaxed because we are doing our bit. The use of the word “bit” is rather appropriate.
He previously claimed that New Zealand accepted 4,000 refugees a year. He had mistakenly quoted the three year figure and had included those allowed in under the Family Reunification policy but this would be a more acceptable figure. If the figure was acceptable to him then it should be acceptable now.
Helen Clark is very discrete in discussing local issues but on her recent visit she said this:
I think of people from all parts of the world, fleeing all kinds of oppression who have come here, I think they’ve repaid us thousands of times….Having said that, don’t think it’s enough to add another 250 or another 500 to the refugee quota.”
Ms Clark, who is the administrator of the United Nation’s Development Programme, said Syria’s neighbours, in particular, needed more support.
“I don’t know whether it’s widely appreciated in New Zealand how great the burden on some of the neighbours is. Lebanon has a population the same size of New Zealand in an area that is probably smaller than the Waikato. They now have 1.2 million refugees from Syria,” she said.
Her comment made feel rather nostalgic for a time when our leader was a compassionate humanitarian who could see the good in all people and whose desire was to improve things. Instead we have a leader who is totally indifferent to the plight of millions of people and believes that doing a bit is enough. And a Government that is willing to spend $11 million on a Saudi Sheep farming operation but do nothing extra in the face of one of the gravest humanitarian crises the world has ever seen.