Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Refugees and diversity

A number of blogs have been talking about immigration and refugees lately, especially on Uusi Suomi's list of election blogs.

In such discussions feelings run high, both sides sometimes use the kind of arguments that makes one feel ashamed for them, and most people seem to be a bit unclear on the concept of refugee.

Yesterday, however, I ran into one that made me inhale my tea. I don't remember which one of those conversation threads it was, but it went along the line of "how does taking refugees help the countries that they are coming from?"

I did a double-take. Say what? Why on Earth would you want to help them? Unless, of course, you are either the kind of person who defines "help" as "carpet bombing", or the kind of person who thinks that all the violent criminals just need help.

The current concept of refugee was created by 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and defines a refugee as a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country". Why a country generating such people should get any help, as opposed to a very hard kick in the nuts, is beyond my understanding.

I know that every time Holocaust or Nazis are mentioned in any political discourse, God (or is it Godwin) kills a kitten somewhere. Considering the date of the convention, however, a prototypical refugee they were thinking of was most probably a Jew trying to escape from Nazi Germany. Can you really imagine Americans, Russians, Swiss, Swedes, or any kind of furry little creatures from Alpha Centauri say "how does helping Jewish refugees help Germany?" No? Didn't think so.

Anyway, the whole idea was to take some minority groups or persons from where they are being persecuted by the majority or the powers that be, and move them to the places where they would fit in better.

Tens of millions of refugees were successfully resettled during the last century. Usually the successful resettlement involved people moving from a place where people were less like themselves to a place where people were more like themselves, either in ethnicity, religion, way of life or political opinions, or at least to a place where the locals were more accustomed to people like themselves. Jews and political dissidents from German-occupied Europe fled to pretty much anywhere that would take them, Germans who disagreed with Communism fled from East Germany to West Germany, Poles fled from the Ukraine to Poland, Finns fled from the Carelian Isthmus to the rest of Finland, Hindus and Sikhs fled from Pakistan to India and Muslims fled from India to Pakistan, Hindus fled from Bangladesh to India, Jews fled from Muslim and Communist countries to Israel and the US, people who disagreed with Communists fled from Communist counties to the West, people who disagreed with radical Shia Islam fled from Iran to the West, and pretty much everyone who could fled from the Khmer Rouge Cambodia to anywhere.

The whole idea of refugee resettlement is to reduce diversity in the world. If it's increasing the diversity, you are doing something wrong. And when I say "diversity", I don't mean the skin color, but the way of life.

This is not to say that countries should never take refugees that are different from the locals - the Bahai, for example, don't have a Bahai country to go to, and have successfully integrated, well, everywhere where they are not considered to be Islamic apostates.

In 1967 people fleeing wars were added to the definition of a refugee. This did have a point: after all bombs don't care whether you are a member of a majority or a minority and whether you have a good government or a bad one. But it also did create quite a lot of refugees, and, more problematically, quite a lot of refugees who are not looking forward to settling down in a country that's more appropriate for them, but want to stay somewhere until the war ends, without any wish to properly integrate in the new country. Some of the countries who accept them also sort of expect them to go home after the war, and support them for years without making any integration demands on them. Of course many of those wars turn out to be forever, and people who have lived for years on welfare usually have no intention to go back or to find a job. To complicate matters further, sometimes those wars really do end fast and the war refugees really do go home.

The problem, of course, is that while with the persecuted minorities you usually do know that they need a permanent new home, the war might last 2 months or 20 years. I don't think there is an easy solution to that.

I do however think that refugees should only be taken to places where they will more or less fit in. By that I mean people who prefer to live under the Western system to the West, people who prefer living under Sharia to the countries that have Sharia, people who prefer to live under Communism to Cuba and North Korea, etc.

Unfortunately there are always more refugees than resettlement places for them, and somebody always has to be left behind. For example, the people who would like to live under Sharia and simultaneously receive European-style social benefits can stay where they are and wait for such a country to appear. With Britain permitting Sharia courts nowadays they might even have a chance.

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