Ann and I came across an interesting article about NGOs — non-governmental organizations — that turned out to be written by an old acquaintance of mine, Laurence Jarvik. It’s called “NGOs: A ‘New Class’ in International Relations.” It’s too complex to summarize, but I want to write about one very important point.
Refugee resettlement agencies are one kind of NGO, and they are typical of the ones Jarvik writes about. They are often funded by governments, but they are not agents of the government. Rather, they have their own agendas, which may or may not coincide with the agenda of the government that funds them. Like everybody else, they are out for themselves, despite their ostensible purposes. He points out:
They found war, famine, terrorism, and the deprivation of human rights to be “growth opportunities” for their industry. For structural reasons, NGOs have been invested in failed and failing states.
That is, the more misery there is in the world, the more work for NGOs, the more important the people who run them, and the more power they amass. And they have taken on roles they are entirely unsuited for, in some cases acting as agents of international relations, the role normally reserved for governments. Jarvik quotes writer David Rieff:
By calling some terrible historical event a humanitarian crisis, it is almost inevitable that all the fundamental questions of politics, of culture, history, and morality without which the crisis can never be understood will be avoided. And the danger is that all that will remain is the familiar morality play of victims in need and aid workers who stand ready to help if their passage can be secured and their safety maintained.
Rieff has done a lot of reporting on war and humanitarian emergencies, but I don’t recall having read him before, so what follows is my own interpretation of his words. I find the above paragraph the best explanation I’ve ever read for why refugee resettlement is so messed up.
It fits perfectly with what is happening with Iraqi refugees. The situation in Iraq is tremendously complex, involving “all the fundamental questions of politics, of culture, history, and morality….” This applies to the refugees. They are not just a group of people who happen to be outside their own country and who need rescuing. They are part of the political situation, and the solution to their plight is political. Yet the resettlement agencies, the UN, the media, and governments around the world, including much of the U.S. government, treat the situation as a purely humanitarian crisis.
The solution to a humanitarian crisis is to rescue its victims. And this is interpreted to mean that they must be resettled in other countries. Therefore the United States is judged abominably cruel and irresponsible because we are not taking in tens of thousands of Iraqis. This crisis is “our fault” and therefore it is up to us to solve it by resettling many refugees here.
If you have the slightest ability to count it is obvious how ridiculous this approach is. There are approximately 2.5 million Iraqi refugees outside of Iraq. There is no way we are going to solve the problem by taking 50,000 or 100,000 or even a million into our country.
Further as Ann pointed out in her post, Muslim Ghettos forming in Canadadian cities, many well-educated Muslim immigrants and refugees are having trouble getting work in their fields, and end up instead in menial jobs. What kind of a humanitarian service would it be for us to take in those tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis if they end up in miserable lives that waste their talents and education?
But refugee settlement has become, as Rieff put it, a morality play. Those who believe we are a force for evil can have their prejudices confirmed by our failure to open wide our gates. Some nations have taken in tens of thousands and they are “good” nations. It doesn’t matter whether this is the best way to solve the problem of the Iraqi refugees. It is the only possible way, from the agencies’ point of view, so those who go along with it are good, and those who don’t are bad.
As we’ve said many times, the solution is in Iraq, not in the United States or any other country. Iraq must find a way to resettle its refugees — the ones outside its borders and the ones displaced internally. We certainly have a major responsibility to help them do that. But as long as the agencies are setting the agenda, those concerned with Iraqi refugees are not going to be looking in the right place for the solution.
It is time for the U.S. government to take back the initiative and begin treating the Iraqi refugee situation as a political problem, not solely a humanitarian one.