The right to security
We’re seeing the dark and looming shape of a breakdown in the global system of asylum and refuge-seeking. It takes the form of a hardening of state attitudes, a disregard for refugees’ dignity and legal rights, and a calculation on the part of those responsible for systematic mistreatment of refugees that their crimes will go unpunished.
In the ‘developed’ world, governments have lost their nerve when it comes to taking seriously their responsibility to protect. Illiberal eastern states in the EU, notably Poland, Hungary, and Croatia, have point-blank refused to meet their EU member obligations regarding asylum, and turn a blind eye to the violence and indignities inflicted by their own police and border patrol personnel. Worse, they encourage such viciousness. In the Balkans, asylum seekers are beaten and robbed, and their phones smashed. It’s a picture of Europe depressingly familiar to historians of the Reconquista and the pogrom. Seven countries, all EU states, topped a poll in Autumn last year as being the world’s least welcoming to refugees.
Off the coast of Greece, boats are towed back out to sea by coastguard vessels in defiance of international laws on refoulement. Minority racist attitudes, tails that wag the dog in the politics of fear, have pushed politicians rightwards in a number of EU states, abetted by a rhetoric of ‘purity’ adopted by leaders stoking nationalist paranoia power politics. Recall that in 2016, when German chancellor Angela Merkel admitted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, local authorities were overwhelmed with offers of help from ordinary citizens. Yet Merkel and Germany were on their own.
Instead, the European Commission has sought to extend its borders to stop migrants even before they cross the Sahara Desert. Thousands languish in prison in Niger, where $750 million in targeted EU aid persuaded the government to crack down. Policies such as these actually destabilize West African states further. So much for the Enlightenment values of Europa.
If things are bad in Europe, they’re way worse in the world’s forgotten neighbourhoods, where conflict, insecurity, and poverty are endemic. Malnourishment and starvation are on the rise. A new report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) cites conflict and its attendant displacement as the number one cause of rising dependence on food aid. 20 million more people than in 2019 suffer ‘acute food insecurity’, which means they will starve without this aid. 155 million people across more than 50 states, from Haiti to Sudan, from Lebanon to Afghanistan, are now in that category. More than 50 million are children, many of whom will suffer lifelong from the effects of malnourishment and stunted development.
It’s not just that Covid-19 is preventing relief from getting to where it’s needed, either. In a multipolar world where international institutions are losing their influence, the catastrophes facing the displaced today are spawned by base geopolitics, with the U.S. in the lead as it helps to crush non-pliant Yemen and Venezuela. Elsewhere, warlords and oppressors are taking note.