REMEMBER WE ARE WIDE SCREEN
Friday, September 11, 2015
The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor
Policy paralysis over the refugee crisis is convulsing Europe: Of course we want to help, but if we’re too generous, more will come.
Who’s Responsible for the Refugees?
By STEVE HILTON
As a former adviser to the British prime minister, David Cameron, I understand the pressure politicians face from citizens demanding controlled immigration and tightly policed borders. As the son of immigrants welcomed into Britain from Communist Hungary, I feel a strong moral instinct to extend a similar welcome to others fleeing their homelands in even worse circumstances. But still. Before condemning European politicians, aid agencies or anyone else, let’s try to cut through the complexity with some simple human truths.
First, stop blaming Hungary. For months before this crisis hit the headlines in America, my hometown, Szeged, was the front line. Just days before I was there on a family vacation in July, 700 refugees were discovered in the woods where we used to play as children. My cousins told me, outraged, about the seemingly unending flow of new arrivals stealing fruit from their friends’ trees and vegetables from their gardens; urinating and defecating in public places throughout the town; clogging up public services.
You could say: How xenophobic. Or instead: How would you feel if your daily life was being made intolerable while the authorities, thanks to European Union rules about registering refugees, seemed unable to restore order? Hungary is small and relatively poor. It’s a little unfair, to put it mildly, to condemn Hungary for callous — even racist — treatment of migrants when those doing the condemning bear far more responsibility for the crisis. Yes, America, I’m talking about you.
And here’s the second simple truth. While we can argue forever about the causes of conflict in the Middle East, it is impossible to ignore the impact of American foreign policy on what’s happening in Europe. It was shocking to see an “expert” from the Council on Foreign Relations quoted on Saturday saying that the situation is “largely Europe’s responsibility.” How, exactly? The Iraq invasion (which could reasonably be described as “largely America’s responsibility”) unleashed a period of instability and competition in the region that is collapsing states and fueling sectarian conflict.
European leaders wanted, years ago, to intervene directly in Syria in order to check President Bashar al-Assad’s cruelty; the United States didn’t. You can understand why — I wouldn’t for one second question the judgment of American political leaders that their country was reluctant to participate in another military conflict. But at least acknowledge the consequences of nonintervention: the protracted Syrian civil war, the emergence of a lawless territory ripe for exploitation by the sick zealots of the Islamic State, and the resulting flood of millions of displaced people.
So it’s a bit rich for American commentators to lecture Europeans when part of the reason the refugees are arriving on Europe’s doorstep is American foreign policy. It’s great that the United States is by far the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Syrians, but America is bigger than Europe, and wealthier. Why should Europe be expected to take around a million refugees practically overnight and the United States, hardly any?
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There’s one more simple truth to acknowledge. The ideal number of refugees is zero. Today’s crisis will worsen in the years ahead unless we deal with the causes, not just the symptoms. That means serious and sustained action to create free societies people actually want to stay in. Places with a market economy, property rights, the rule of law, a free press, an independent judiciary and accountable democratic processes.
This is America’s chance to say, “We have a moral responsibility to help. So the United States will welcome as many refugees as Europe: Not just thousands; hundreds of thousands. But there has to be a bargain. We cannot keep doing this. So we will now embark on a new effort to bring the basics of a decent life to the world’s hot spots.”
There are practical steps we could take to entice leaders in the Middle East to open up their economies and provide greater rights and freedoms. The Oxford economist Paul Collier has proposed a plan for “job havens” bordering Syria, using an existing, but empty industrial zone minutes from the largest refugee camp in Jordan, where a future Syrian economy could be incubated, providing both an income and an incentive to stay for millions of displaced people.
The economist Hernando de Soto, backed in part by the United States Agency for International Development, has cataloged the vast untapped value of the informal economy in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. If these assets were formalized, people across the region could own property, grow businesses and develop the desire to stay and build stable societies. We should put pressure on their rulers to implement the necessary legal reforms by cutting aid payments until they do it.
The Obama administration led the establishment of the Open Government Partnership, a well-designed effort to promote public sector accountability worldwide. Now let’s give it real teeth: make trade deals and market access contingent on progress toward its goals. We have plenty of leverage if only we’d use it to pursue long-term structural reform.
Yes, it’s a complicated world. But that’s no excuse to do nothing. For America to lead in this way is not about imposing “Western values” on the rest of the planet. It’s much more basic than that. It’s about treating every human being with humanity.
Posted by Cabecilha at 6:33:00 PM