The world has many crises, and probably the most heart-rending is that of desperately miserable refugees who have been forced to flee from their homes. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is a saintly body and does its best to care for those it can access. Its latest report indicates that there are now over 84 million people displaced by conflict, barbaric persecution and climate change disasters.
On November 11 Filippo Grandi, the head of UNHCR, issued a plea for greater assistance from rich countries, saying that “the international community must redouble its efforts to make peace, and at the same time must ensure resources are available to displaced communities and their hosts.” Unfortunately most of the international community couldn’t care less about refugees, as evidenced by reaction to recent agonizing events such as Poland’s inhumane treatment of the thousands attempting to enter from Belarus, whose President is quite as cruel and pitiless as the Polish authorities who have repelled so many of them.
The BBC noted that as refugees “are summarily expelled from Poland and Belarus refuses to allow them back in, people are finding themselves stranded and freezing in Poland’s forests. Several have died of hypothermia.” But who cares? Certainly not such officials as the head of Poland’s National Security Council, Pawel Soloch, who said on November 8 that he expected “attacks on our border to be renewed by groups of several hundred people” overnight. “Attacks”? By unarmed, frozen, desperate, pathetic exiles who wish only for decency, understanding and support?
And in the waters of the freezing, stormy English Channel, there are similar hideous dramas of which the latest involved the capsize of a boat trying to travel from France to England, causing the death of 17 men, seven women and three adolescents – two boys and a girl. One of the women was pregnant.
The figures strike a chord of bleakness, but not in the hearts of such as the poisonous Priti Patel, the United Kingdom’s minister for home affairs, responsible for refugee matters, who is a proven liar (for which she was forced to resign as Overseas Development minister by then Prime Minister Theresa May) and bully of her subordinates (“Standards chief Sir Alex Allan found that Ms Patel had broken the code governing ministers’ behavior but Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected his findings, saying he did not think Ms Patel was a bully and had ‘full confidence’ in her”.)
Patel’s lack of compassion was demonstrated by her statement about “illegal immigration” in early November, when she declared that refugees seeking to start a new life were mainly cheats. She claimed that in the previous year “70% of individuals on small boats are single men who are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers.” What is strikingly ironic, of course, is that“in the 1960s, her parents emigrated to the UK” from Uganda. And in an October 2012 media interview Patel affirmed that “coming from a country where you’re persecuted means that you want to work hard and to contribute to the society where you end up. You become patriotic because you make your new country your home, and, as a result, you live and play by its values.” Quite right. But it seems that the flint-hearted Patel is no longer prepared to give anyone a chance to do that.
One of Patel’s wiles is to punish refugees by detaining them on beaches and then have them “soaked, shivering and traumatized . . . bundled on to buses and driven almost 500 miles – a journey of eight to nine hours – to an immigration detention center” in Scotland.
The British government’s combination of intolerance, malice and incompetence concerning refugees is appalling, but it’s nothing new. A recently published book by an Afghan refugee, Abbas Nazari, called After the Tampa, tells us a great deal about the Australian government’s even worse treatment of the stricken and helpless. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on November 26, “When the Taliban were at the height of their power in 2001, Abbas Nazari’s parents were faced with a choice: stay and face persecution in their homeland, or seek security for their young children elsewhere. The family embarked on a harrowing journey from the mountains of Afghanistan to a small fishing boat in the Indian Ocean, crammed with more than 400 other asylum seekers. When the boat started to sink, they were saved by a cargo ship, the Tampa. However, one of the largest maritime rescues in modern history quickly turned into an international stand-off, as Australia closed its doors to these asylum seekers.”
The Australian government’s actions were not only contrary to international law and the Charter of the United Nations, they were sickeningly amoral and had the aim of winning the impending national election for the Liberal Party whose leader at the time, John Howard, and his servile slimy acolytes merit the deepest contempt for their conduct. If there is indeed a Hell, they deserve its flames for eternity. As related in the Sydney Morning Herald the Captain of the Norwegian freighter Tampa, Arne Rinnan (a man with more moral and physical courage in his little fingers than these politicos have in their entire anatomies), “defied orders from Canberra to stay away from Australian waters with his cargo of 433 rescued asylum seekers, many of them in urgent need of medical attention, and proceeded towards Christmas Island, the tiny Australian territory below Java. It ended, after heavily armed SAS troops seized control of the ship, with John Howard introducing retrospective legislation giving his government the power to remove the Tampa, and any similarly unwelcome vessels in the future, irrespective of the circumstances or the consequences.”
Nazari’s description of the assault on the ship by armed special forces troops, covered in black from head to toe, is spine-chilling. There was absolutely no need for these people to carry weapons, because the wretched refugees certainly had none. These swaggering military louts put the fear of death into children who had been terrified by Taliban savages. We have no way of assessing to what extent the mental health of the refugees was damaged by Prime Minister Howard’s cynical re-election antics, but one person not affected was Abbas Nazari, who was fortunate enough to be taken, aged seven, with his family to New Zealand, rather than consigned to the Australian-run refugee concentration camp on Nauru island, 3000 miles north east of Australia, where detention conditions were appalling. (An Amnesty International representative observed that “having worked in most of the world’s conflict zones over the last 15 years, I thought I had learned enough about suffering, injustice and despair. But what I saw and heard on Nauru will haunt me forever.”)
It is amazing and most gratifying that Nazari’s personal success, achieved through his innate intelligence and sheer hard work, includes selection as a Fulbright Scholar which is an achievement that should be brought to the attention of the UK’s Priti Patel, who is so determined to deny asylum to refugees who she asserts are “economic migrants”.
In yet another Patel irony, it was noted on November 23 that the British government’s scheme to attract Nobel and other laureates to settle in Britain and contribute to its economy had failed completely, with not a single applicant having come forward, in spite of Patel’s declaration that her “point-based” immigration rules are intended to “attract the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from.”
Patel and her best and brightest colleagues in countries such as Australia, Belarus and Poland (and many, many others) have not a scrap of compassion for the tens of millions of destitute despairing refugees displaced from their homelands.
When Patel was forced to resign by Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, she admitted that her actions “fell below the high standards that are expected of a secretary of state”. For once she could be believed — but because of people like her and Prime Minister Johnson and so many other heartless, devious, power-crazed bullies around the world, the risk is heightened that future generations will accept the policies of governments led by people devoid of decency, morality and simple humanity.