We created the refugees. We need to take responsibility

There are many people in western nations who are against providing refuge for the millions of displaced people primarily citing fears for our safety. These fears are being spread largely byright wing politicians and media, even those who from refugee or immigrant families. These are not exclusively right wing opinions as many on the left are also against allowing the resettlement of Syrian refugees. To be completely fair the right wing Cato Institute does not believe the refugees pose any realistic security threat, and that refusing refugees many actually increase the risk.

There is one clear lesson from the limited academic literature on this issue: Allowing the current UNHCR refugee camp situation to grow and fester for years can only produce more radicalization and terrorism. A more expansive refugee policy with adequate security checks that resettles large numbers in safe countries can drain the swamp of potential future terrorists and decrease that risk.

What very few have noted is that we in the west have been a major force  in creating these refugees from Syria and from much of the rest of the world as well. Thus we bear a moral responsibility to provide assistance to those displaced through our own actions.

We in the west have, at one time on another, controlled, ruled, or influenced much of the rest of the world. This was rarely, if ever, for humanitarian reasons. The goals were the combination of financial interests, domestic policies, and religious proselytization. In many cases, multinational companies owned in our first world nations function to foment government instability and support dictatorial governments sympathetic to their version of destructive capitalism. The long term consequences of these actions has been to contribute to the current political instability in a large numbers of countries around the world.

A few  examples:

Latin America

The Spanish colonization of South America developed into a class system and that still reverberates today.

Mestizos were barred from various offices, they could not hold many jobs, and they were discriminated against in court. Spanish colonial America was ruled by a small group of pure-Spanish descendants, and the rest of the population had few rights.

This is still a problem in much of Latin America, where Independence in the nineteenth century replaced one ruling class with another. For instance, in Mexico, the ongoing Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas has much to do with the rights of indigenous and mestizo populations who feel they are underrepresented and face discrimination. In Bolivia, a similar story unfolded after the recent election of Evo Morales, an Indian, to the presidency.

In more recent years, the American led “War on Drugs” has continued to support instability in South and Central America. This pseudo-war is largely responsible for the violence in Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico directly leading to the large number of Mexicans fleeing to the US.


The First Anglo-Afghan War was instigated by the British East Indian Company, that already occupied most of the Indian sub-continent. The lessons of this failed attempt at installing a puppet ruler were ignored by the Soviets and later by the Western Countries involved in the current conflict.

American influence in South and Central America

Throughout the latter part of the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, the US owned United Fruit Company influenced many aspects of life and politics in the region, all in the name of the almighty banana.

Throughout all of this, United Fruit defined the modern multinational corporation at its most effective — and, as it turned out, its most pernicious. At home, it cultivated clubby ties with those in power and helped pioneer the modern arts of public relations and marketing. (After a midcentury makeover by the “father of public relations,” Edward Bernays, the company started pushing a cartoon character named Señorita Chiquita Banana.) Abroad, it coddled dictators while using a mix of paternalism and violence to control its workers. “As for repressive regimes, they were United Fruit’s best friends, with coups d’état among its specialties,” Chapman writes. “United Fruit had possibly launched more exercises in ‘regime change’ on the banana’s behalf than had even been carried out in the name of oil.”

Belgian Congo (Zaire)

In the late 1800s, King Leopold II of Belgium decided that colonization was a primary means to power and money. With the financial support of his country, he acquired the Congo as a private citizen. The results were catastrophic for the Congolese.

Abandoning the promises of the Berlin Conference in the late 1890s, the Free State government restricted foreign access and extorted forced labor from the natives. Abuses, especially in the rubber industry, included the forced labor of the native population, beatings, widespread killing, and frequent mutilation when the production quotas were not met.

Ultimately, by the time the government of Belgium took over control of the Congo from the King in 1908, roughly ½ the population was dead. The difficulties of Belgian rule continued through the 20 century. Although the nation was quite prosperous following the second world war, interference led to disaster.

Poor relations between factions within the Congo, the continued involvement of Belgium in Congolese affairs, and intervention by major parties of the Cold War led to a five-year-long period of war and political instability, known as the Congo Crisis, from 1960 to 1965. This ended with the seizure of power by Joseph-Désiré Mobutu.

Despite being a brutal dictator, Mobuto enjoyed warm relationships with both the United States and France.

during the second Shaba invasion [1978], the US played a much more active and decisive role by providing transportation and logistical support to the French and Belgian paratroopers that were deployed to aid Mobutu against the rebels…

In 1980, the US House of Representatives voted to terminate military aid to Zaire, but the US Senate reinstated the funds, in response to pressure from Carter and American business interests in Zaire.

Mobutu enjoyed a very warm relationship with the Reagan Administration, through financial donations. During Reagan’s presidency, Mobutu visited the White House three times, and criticism of Zaire’s human rights record by the US was effectively muted. During a state visit by Mobutu in 1983, Reagan praised the Zairian strongman as “a voice of good sense and goodwill.”

Mobutu also had a cordial relationship with Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush; he was the first African head of state to visit Bush at the White House….

Mobutu also had friends in America outside Washington. Mobutu was befriended by televangelist Pat Robertson, who promised to try to get the State Department to lift its ban on the African leader

There are many other examples of the negative effects of the “colonial trinity (trinité coloniale) of state, missionary and private company interests” around the world. Some of the actions of the US are outlined in an article in Salon, as well as Wikipedia which has lists of authoritarian regimes and regime changes supported by the US and its allies.

Particularly pertinent to the current tragedy in Syria are the multiple conflicts in the region. There has been a certain amount of conflict in the Middle East for thousands of years, but these have undoubtedly been exacerbated by the interference of Western nations. A complete description is impossible here as many books have been written with varying opinions on the topic, but an article in the Oxford Journal of American History highlights some of the American involvement in the area.

America, Oil, and War in the Middle East. Jones, Toby Craig. Journal of American History Volume 99, Issue 1Pp. 208-218.

That the permanent shadow of war has settled over the Persian Gulf in the last three decades is largely the direct outcome of the ways that oil has been tied to American national security and the ways that American policy makers linked security to militarization.

I am certainly not suggesting that Western nations are solely responsible for all of the world’s conflicts nor for all of the displaced and persecuted persons around the globe. However, since the time of European expansion, continued now by American colonialism, we bear considerable blame for the unrest around the world. Unrest that has resulted in the current crises in Syria that is considered to be the worst refugee crisis since WWII; a crisis also caused by Western nations.

The anti-refugee sentiment, the fear, the racism, and the Islamophobia we are seeing today totally ignores our involvement in the creation of the crisis and our moral responsibility to provide refuge for the victims of this violence.

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One Response to We created the refugees. We need to take responsibility

  1. larrymuffin says:

    Excellent post, thank you.

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