Refugees 2.

            The last decades of the Twentieth Century and the first decades of the Twenty-First Century witnessed a sharp increase in international migration from Developing countries toward Developed countries.[1]  The conditions greatly differed from the post-1945 refugee situation. 

In a first round of resistance to mass migration, target or destination countries acted in a reasonably civilized way.  Passengers on international air flights were required to present a visa from the country to which they were traveling before they were allowed to board.  The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) established the principle that refugees and asylum-seekers should remain in the country of “first arrival” while their application to enter a Developed country was reviewed by the government of the destination country.  So, someone fleeing Rwanda would first arrive in the neighboring Congo, then apply to become a Baptist preacher or radio announcer in the United States.  The countries of first arrival hold the refugees while their applications were reviewed (and rarely approved).  In return, the Developed countries pay for the maintenance of the refugees in big camps in the country of first arrival. 

When that didn’t work, the gloves came off.  The insoluble disaster that is Haiti provided a taste of harsher measures to come.  Beginning in the 1980s, large numbers of Haitians made perilous small-boat journeys toward the United States.  American law holds that anyone setting foot on American soil has the right to apply for asylum as a refugee.  The Reagan administration ordered the Coast Guard to intercept the refugees at sea and turn them back.  Beached in Haiti, many of them just began the voyage anew.  In 1991, tiring of this game of whack-a-mole, the George H. W. Bush administration began diverting the refugees to Guantanamo.  More recently, huge numbers of people from Central and South America have tried to enter the United States through Mexico.  This has created a very real crisis at the Southern border. 

            The tide of refuge-seekers rose around Europe and Australia as well.  Refugees from the Syrian civil war provided a spearhead.  Angry with the European Union, in 2015 Turkey’s Recep Tayib Erdogan got them moving toward the Aegean Sea and EU member-state Greece.  From there long caravans walked north toward the heart of the EU.  People from many other places joined the flow.  Then came the collapse of order in Libya after the American-led air assault.  First, crime gangs took over the ports and began exporting African migrants.  European navies began picking up survivors of ship-wrecks, then started pre-empting the ship-wrecks by working closer to the Libyan shore.  The EU eventually found a solution in paying the Turks to stop sending refugees and hiring the governments of African countries along the overland routes to Libya to block passage.  For their part, the Australians have used their navy to intercept migrant craft at sea, then sent the migrants to places like Christmas Island. 

Now the Britain and Denmark have struck a bargain with Rwanda to send asylum-seekers there while their applications wend their way.[2]  Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s ruler, is shining-up his country’s international reputation.  Rwanda already receives refugees from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan.  On the surface, at least, the refugee center at Gashora, Rwanda, offers good value for the money: clean, orderly, and fenced.  Doubtless he will have imitators since the problem of unwanted migrants isn’t going away soon. 

[1] Max Fisher, “How Domestic Politics Unravel The World’s Pledge to Refugees,” NYT, 18 April 2022. 

[2] Abdi Latif Dahir, “Rwanda Offers Refuge, But Critics Are Skeptical,” NYT, 10 October 2022.