When I watch the news clips of the refugees arriving in Eastern Europe these days, I am struck by the contrast to the old shots we used to see of refugees like the Vietnamese Boat People. What is the difference? The boats.
The boats we used to see (and sometimes still do) used by refugees trying to cross from Egypt to Greece or from some island to Australia are old, rickety tubs that won’t last a minute when a storm blows up. The boats we see from Syria? New inflatables with outboard motors, filled with people in bright orange life jackets.
A New Class of Refugee
I am not trying to argue that this means the trip is safer. I’m using the evidence that is staring us in the face. These are not poor people. They are people with plenty of money, hiring boats that look new, with proper safety equipment. And with hundreds of thousands of people arriving by boat this summer, where do all these boats go? Surely there must be windrows of boats piled up on the shores where they were abandoned by their passengers.
Of course there are not. They have been gathered up by the people smugglers and taken back to be used again. There is not an endless stream of boats starting in Turkey and ending in Greece. There is only an endless stream of refugees. The boats get recycled.
Organized Crime on a Mass Scale
Because there is a huge, international, illegal operation going on all over the Mediterranean fueled by rich and increasingly desperate people, and run by the underground/organized crime economy. Some criminals are people smugglers, renting the boats to the refugees. Others are robbers, stealing the money and jewelry the refugees are carrying. (If their stories can be believed, some of them in the 30,000-euro range.) Some of these criminals are probably the same people. Even worse are those involved with the Greek Coast Guard, who are performing the same tasks while wearing government uniforms, or at least riding on Coast Guard vessels with the permission of their sailors. And of course there are those who are simply trying to take the law into their own hands; they turn the refugees around to send them back where they came from. They board these boats, take everyone’s money, throw their passports and cell phones in the ocean, and toss the outboard motor into the water as well. Nice folks, welcome to Greece.
Chosen by (un)Natural Selection
Which brings us to the refugees. As I have mentioned in this blog before, the Syrian refugees are a special class of people, because ignorant rural reactionaries are drawn to target successful, well-educated people. So the people fleeing Syria have money. They have cell phones and proper passports. By the fact of their situation they hate ISIS, religious fundamentalism, and terrorism. They are prime candidates to become good citizens of whatever country takes them in.
Disadvantages – to Syria.
One of the problems this brings up is the depopulation of the educated class. Pol Pot did it in Cambodia through murdering anyone with an education. It will take them a few generations to recover economically. Because it was applied on such a large scale, the laws of natural selection took over, and the loss of the genetic material will take much longer to restore. Now Syria and Iraq are doing the same through natural ejection. The country will suffer for it in the long run in a similar way. It would be a far better thing to hold those people in camps (where the rest of the refugees are) and make it possible for them to return to their native country when the rebellion is over.
Disadvantages – to European Countries
But we are dealing with the underground economy, an activity upon which the Middle East thrives. I mentioned in an earlier post the story of the Greek island where about 700 people are receiving disability pensions for blindness. Including the taxi driver. Graft, corruption, and cheating the system in any way possible are hallmarks of those cultures. The European countries taking in Syrian refugees would do well to remember this. Not to go all Donald Trump on you, but these refugees are successful people in a bribery economy, who are willing to do almost anything to better themselves. Hey, bring them to the States. They’ll fit right in.
Finally, Some Action
The UN has at long last agreed to take naval action against the smugglers, impounding their boats and rescuing the passengers, but this action is hampered by the problem of staying in international waters. By the time the boatloads of refugees have reached the 15-km limit, the smugglers themselves have long since disappeared. This is especially true of Libya, the closest point in Africa to Italy, and thus the source of many crossing attempts. The official government of Libya (whoever they happen to be at the moment, anyway) has recently sanctioned the UN to come into their waters, so we’ll see how that goes. Of course, there’s not much motivation to stop the refugees from leaving your country, is there? You just end up stuck with them.
So, as usual, we discover that the refugee problem is much more complicated than it used to be, which isn’t a great development. Or it’s just as complex as it used to be, but we’re finding out more about it, which might be a good thing.
The only sign I see of hope is that the UN has finally agreed to take action against the smugglers. There is no motivation for any individual country to do so. That and the coming of winter should slow the influx, and perhaps during the winter the various stakeholders will have breathing space to find methods to deal with the problem for next spring when it all starts again.