For the majority of refugees there have never been more difficult times. Indeed diabolically dire times. Refugee camps with huddles of hundreds of thousands. Detention facilities with thousands trapped. Crowded shanty-camps in city outskirts of countries refugees have fled to. Many of these nations have slated into their histories the taking in of refugees, most who fled abject poverty. Nearly seven decades ago, my father came to Australia with a near empty suitcase, leaving behind serf-akin poverty. Millions of dirt-poor migrants made Australia home over the last century and a half. Ireland’s poorest fled the ‘potato famine’. Australia took in Europe’s poor – southern and eastern Europeans – some who would work the land, others on nation-building efforts such as the Snowy River Project and others who would dedicate long hours in labour intensive ventures. Only a small minority were guaranteed employment and the majority had to seek out work, but what most found were low paying jobs coupled with long hours. The narrative of so-called success stories is matched by the less known fact of an extensive narrative of failed efforts, broken and ruined lives. But Australia, despite its eugenic and racist bents allowed for millions to transmigrate.
People should be able to go to wherever they want to in this world of ours – transmigration should be the norm. Borders are an idea only and not a fixed reality despite that we are sold nationhood as if inalienable. Borders generate fear and hate – xenophobia and misoxeny.
For a while, Australia took in what are now derogated as ‘economic’ migrants. It took in some of humanity’s poor. Australia has taken in more ‘economic’ migrants, ‘economic’ refugees than of persecuted minorities. So too did the United States of America, Britain, Canada, many others. Today’s flood of poverty has turned many nation states into xenophobes and misoxenists. It’s not okay for big economy nations to turn away the poorest. Some of these big economy nations are responsible for the poverty of other nations.
If refugees are to be imprisoned in corrals of poverty let us then not expect harmony, let us acknowledge that our grandchildren, that generations unborn will live in generations where humanity will be pitted against each other, worse than today, in pitchfork standoffs, where abject poverty will rail against those living privileged and in affluence. Poverty breeds despair.
We have seen first-hand the debilitating damage from incarcerating refugees, not just in Nauru and Manus, but in the immigration detention centres that polluted the Australian continent.
We live in a world where nations are prepared to turn back boats of desperate refugees, where nations are prepared to let refugees risk drowning. Thousands have drowned. More refugees are dying than ever before in fleeing war, persecution, poverty.
For those refugees who cross borders, they live in transit, in vacuums, many eat garbage, waste and live in squalor and insecurities that inherently ridicule the postulated civilities of the nation they languish within.
Child refugees are self-harming, increasing numbers of children attempting suicide. Research by Save the Children found that in Greece refugee children are living in horrific squalor, dishevelling children to the unwell, to disordered thinking, degenerating many to aggressive complex traumas. Other children are seeking relief in aberrant behaviour, in substance abuse – alcohol and drugs – their despair an easy target for exploitative dealers.
Children who are without their families sleep together, in shifts – according to the research – so that some can maintain guard from the threat of acts of abominable violence and sexual predation. There can be no legitimate claim to civil society in any nation while they turn the blind eye and deaf ear to such abomination. Broken lives are ruined, often irrecoverably.
Médecins Sans Frontières warns of a “human cost to come” much worse than anything thus far. One report records a statement by a refugee living in crammed conditions with little to do, “The conditions are taking from children their dreams and replaces them with anger, and they turn to harming themselves and others.” The future will damn and indict the past, us.