‘The full dangers within us’

Jan 28,2016 -JORDAN TIMES – RAMI G. KHOURI

How should we view and respond to the growing flow of refugees and migrants from, within and beyond the Middle East?

Is this mainly a temporary humanitarian challenge? An occasional security threat? A cultural and political concern for mostly white and Christian Europe?

All of these are significant issues that need to be addressed, but perhaps the most important dimension of the growing refugee/migrant situation is what it tells us about the modern condition of the Arab world and, more specifically, its critical vulnerabilities in the quality of statehood and the fragility of citizenship.

The current large-scale flow of Arab refugees, migrants and displaced people fleeing for their lives and seeking new, more normal, lives elsewhere is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on for much of the past century. 

The Armenians constituted the first wave of modern refugees into the Arab region a century or more ago. Successively since then, the Arab world has seen large-scale refugee flows out of our countries, mostly due to regional and civil wars, from Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Sudan, Iraq, Kuwait, Kurdistan, Libya and Syria. 

So Arab refugeehood is a chronic, structural problem, not an occasional, unusual one.

The mostly unorganised, often desperate, movement of millions of refugees and migrants from Syria and other lands across the Middle East and further afield today reflects immense human suffering by innocent civilians, but also threatens to destabilise neighbouring countries and challenge European cultural and political traditions.

Mainly, though, refugeehood in times of conflict is the frightening mirror of our own modern legacy of erratic, superficial statehood and citizenship across much of the Arab world.

This is exacerbated by the reality that millions of Arabs have fled in times of peace to build better lives abroad because they could not live normal lives at home.

Millions of young, educated Arab men and women emigrated since the 1940s and now live prosperous, decent lives across the world.

Melbourne, New York, Buenos Aires and Marseilles offered them and their families something valuable that they could not find in their own Arab countries: respect, rights and opportunities as citizens in a society covered by the equal application of the rule of law to all.

Wars like those in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen and others accelerate the scourge of pan-Arab refugeehood and exile, but this problem of our most able young people fleeing for greener pastures in times of calm should wake us up to the real threat of dysfunctional statehood that does not allow all citizens to live an orderly life defined by predictability, equity, protections, basic services and opportunity.

Like most other aspects of contemporary issues in the Arab world, accurate and complete data on refugees is not available, due to several reasons: the inability or unwillingness of many governments in the region to track refugee movements, the often chaotic nature of how people flee in times of danger, and many refugees’ desire to transcend the controls of local governments to find a better life further away in Europe or other countries.

The numbers are frightening, as are the causes and consequences of millions of people fleeing for their lives for decades on end.

Probably over five million Syrians have left their country since 2011 alone — and at least another six million Syrians have been displaced internally. Over 250,000 were killed and many more were injured.

The flow of refugees is also measured in the millions in most other similar Arab episodes.

Long-term refugeehood and disenfranchisement also bring with them dangerous consequences, like political radicalism, some social destabilisation, economic stresses on host communities and occasional security threats.

Refugee camps and smaller informal communities across the region have long been venues where radical militants and assorted criminals set anchor, and engaged in terror and other crimes.

Prolonged statelessness and refugeehood also trigger new conflicts, such as how Palestine refugees’ status exacerbated conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, and also worsened Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Iranian relations.

The immediate challenge to meet the humanitarian needs of refugees, their legal status and rights, and host countries’ concerns is only part of the actual challenges that refugees and migrants represent.

The last 75 years or so in our region suggest that we must one day decide if we will ever address the sustained, structural and worsening weaknesses in statehood, political governance and citizenship vulnerabilities across most of the Arab world.

Refugees and migrants remind us of the deeper stresses, distortions and inequities within our societies that are the actual causes of the wars and desperation that are the immediate makers of today’s refugees and migrants.

No wonder nobody seems to know what to do about the refugees from Syria, or how to slow down the continuing flow from there.

For, nobody seems prepared to acknowledge the deeper structural flaws in statehood and citizenship that have plagued so many countries in the region for so many decades.

Normal people do not leave their countries — unless their countries are abnormal.

– See more at: http://www.jordantimes.com/opinion/rami-g-khouri/full-dangers-within-us%E2%80%99#sthash.jKQylO27.dpuf

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