The Weapon of ‘Refugee-ism’

The issue of refugees is becoming increasingly sensitive and significant, as it draws great interest in Europe, the USA and other countries across the world, principally because of the human dimension of the displacement of masses from war zones, primarily in the Middle East and Africa. ‘Refugee-ism’ strikes all countries of the world, but in fact there is no comprehensive thought as to the implications of the phenomenon that encompasses tens of millions of refugees moving from place to place, changing civilization in many ways. ‘Refugee-ism’ is conventionally grasped as a natural phenomenon rather than a man-made one, leading to the inclination to deal with the results rather than the causes that create this destabilizing occurrence.

‘Refugee-ism’ is not always a by-product. It is often created deliberately. Many refugees not only escape disaster areas, but are forced to become refugees and are expelled from their homes for various reasons and to various ends.

All these populations are defined refugees, although the cause of their displacement differs from one place to another. The State of Israel was the first in modern times that the weapon of ‘refugee-ism’ was used against. In 1948, with its establishment, leaders of Arab nations urged the Arab residents of Israel to leave its territory, to declare themselves refugees, and to impose solutions on the new state – by war, occupation, and by mustering international support. Ever since 1948, the refugee status of those who left has been maintained, unlike that of other groups of refugees across the world, in order to prevent any logical settlement of the conflict in our area.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Iran shifted and expelled Sunni populations to vacate areas for the dominant Shiites, thus creating many refugee populations that eventually were crucial in the creation of ISIS. In Syria, the government and its supporters, Iran and Hezbollah, worked to move Sunni and Shiite populations according to their interests, namely to increase their influence in the territories between Teheran and Beirut. Turkey has also been instrumental in shifting populations to prevent a Kurdish continuum near its border and to avert the possibility of an adjacent Kurdish state.

The use of populations that preserve their tradition and aspiration for religious and/or political self-determination continues not only in the territories of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, but also near the Kingdom of Jordan, in order to create a Shiite stronghold on the border between Syria and Jordan, with implications to the future relationship between these groups and the Hashemite kingdom. This is happening not only in our region. The migration of minorities, and the danger they are in from other enemy minorities, forces entire groups to seek solutions elsewhere. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk turned Turkey from a religious empire into a secular republic, Europe opened its gates to waves of refugees from Turkey, believing that this population would be a positive addition to its productive workforce. The first generations fulfilled this expectation, but with the rise of Erdoğan and Turkey’s return to fundamental Islam – the third and fourth generation of refugees have become a burden and a threat to all of Europe.

Therefore, ‘refugee-ism’, along with the misery it entails, also has the potential of social danger that is destined to affect many countries. ‘Refugee-ism’ cannot be regarded as a one-dimensional, unilateral phenomenon. Each case is complex, difficult, and can eventually create a multitude of long term challenges for the host countries. This explains the behavior of the refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and those in the refugee camps in Gaza and throughout the Palestinian Authority. ‘Refugee-ism’ is not a natural phenomenon, but a deliberate man-made phenomenon, and therefore solutions must be comprehensive and take into account all circumstances.

Furthermore, just as violent phenomena have disappeared in the past and reappeared to attack us in the present, such as piracy and suicide terror – human trafficking in the guise of refugees has also returned to plague our world. Smugglers from all over the world trade in human beings, sell them illusions, promise them entry visas to various countries, and send them on stormy waters. Many find their deaths in the depth of the oceans or due to the cruel transportation methods, which serve the smugglers who make their fortune out of the suffering of others.

The world is not ready to cope with this phenomenon, and the suggested solutions are merely a ‘Band-Aid’ for a dangerous war that may wreak havoc throughout the world.

‘Refugee-ism’ has been and is being used cynically for political agendas, decision-making and cooperation that have nothing to do with the state’s true solution. The world may find itself in severe circumstances that will take a long time to be free of in the future, if true solutions not found for the issue that is already on the global agenda, while the world continues to close its eyes.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center
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