A Planetary Crisis: The Dark Side of War and Refugee Plight


The Plight of Refugees, the Shame of the World gives us a clue. Death of children. UK response. Yazidis faced with genocide. John Kerry on US lottery. Merkel has made a dire situation worse. An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011. The European Union’s leaders go to shocking lengths to get refugees out of sight, out of mind and out of Europe. EU struggles to reconcile values with barbed wire fences. Map of countries accepting refugees. Syrian refugees stranded in exile may go back to war-ravaged homeland. Hate crimes against refugees up in America and Europe. Ten largest refugee camps in the world. Housed in a notorious concentration camp: Refugees who fled to Europe for a better life are living in former Nazi barracks at Buchenwald.  On its eastern border, Hungary is building a barbed-wire fence to keep out refugees, remarkably like the barbed wire “iron curtain” that once marked its western border. Choose whatever image you want — ships full of Jews being sent back to Nazi Europe, refugees furtively negotiating with smugglers at a bar in Casablanca — and it now has a modern twist.

Veronika Pehe, editor at Political Critique, interviews Budapest-based activist Bálint Misetics, who offers some observations on the Hungarian response to the refugee crisis: What is visible is the compassion of the Hungarian people, which is of course very strikingly juxtaposed with the vicious xenophobia and petty political maneuvering of the Hungarian government. There is also a lot of harassment going on. Volunteers providing food are regularly verbally assaulted by other locals, and there have also been some attacks by far-right-wing groups at Keleti railway station. The public is really polarized, however. When this situation started early in the summer, with the government putting up posters with messages for the so-called migrants (but in Hungarian!), saying that if you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture, not take jobs from Hungarians, and so on, there was an interesting upsurge in direct action and civil disobedience. And this was not only in activist circles, but amongst ordinary people, who tore these posters down or painted over them. So I think what is happening is that—and this is something we also witnessed with anti-homeless propaganda a few years ago—the government always needs to find a scapegoat. In this case, it’s the refugees. But what the government is doing is so obviously inhumane that it encourages many to find a way to help or in any case to sympathize with the refugees, because the other position seems morally untenable.

According to UN more than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Others like NY Times report closer to 60 million. Several million people remain displaced because of natural disasters, although updated statistics are not available. UN says three specific challenges facing humanitarian efforts: 1) the protracted nature of many modern conflicts, some of which have dragged on for years or even decades; 2) the dangerous climate in which humanitarian actors must work today, or what UNHCR calls the “shrinking of humanitarian space”; and, 3) finally, the erosion of the institution of asylum. This is particularly of concern in industrialized countries trying to cope with so-called “mixed movements” in which migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking travel alongside each other.

In terms of hosting displaced people, developed countries pale in comparison with nations bordering conflict zones. Combined, the United States and France had 760,000 refugees last year. Ethiopia, for example, is host to some 665,000, most  from Somalia and South Sudan. Rich nations offer most of the funding to aid refugees in the developing world. The United States contributed about a third of the United Nations refugee agency budget in 2014. Refugee Council USA supports more influx of Syrian refugees. China and Russia also have close ties with Syria so why aren’t they doing anything?

One of the drivers of this is not only cheap labor, but slavery, trafficking, and prostitution rings. This new variant of slavery arrived with the twenty-first century. Today slaves are cheaper than they have ever been. The enslaved fieldworker who cost the equivalent of $40,000 in 1850 costs less than $100 today.1 The second factor pushing these growing millions toward slavery is a collection of dramatic social and economic changes, many of which were supposed to make those people’s lives better. Corruption, especially police corruption, is the third force that drives the growth of slavery. For slavery to exist, the slaveholder must be able to keep the slave where the law can’t protect them. The pattern is strong and clear: more corruption means more slavery. This is a special challenge when corruption becomes institutionalized. The bribes pass up the chain of command and into the hands of politicians and government officials. Soon law enforcement is dedicated to protecting systematic law violation. (Bales, KL 244)

Scores of the Syrian women who escaped to Jordan are turning to prostitution, some forced or sold into it, even by their families. Some women refugees are highly vulnerable to exploitation by pimps or traffickers, particularly since a significant number fled without their husbands – sometimes with their children – and have little or no source of income. Despite strong traditions against sex outside marriage, prostitution takes place in the Arab world, as in other regions, though it is largely more hidden. While there may be known cruising areas in cities, overt red-light districts are rare, and some prostitutes even wear face veils to hide their activities. Arrangements can be made by phone, and short-term or informal marriages are sometimes used as a cover for prostitution or sex trafficking. Among the casualties is an 18-year-old native of Homs, Syria, who arrived in Zaatari camp last summer. Soon after, her father married her for $1,000 to a 22-year-old Jordanian man who frequently visited the camp. The husband then handed her over to a brothel in Irbid, where she is among 20 women pimped out by a man who calls himself Faroun, Arabic for Pharaoh.

One of the many documentaries dealing with the breakdown of society and how the refugee crisis affects both the populace and the people seeking asylum. This is a larger issue than any one country and seems that it is not being addressed as a global issue, which means dealing with the problems in Syria and other nations: war and tyranny:

UN Refugee Agency latest news.
Refworld updates and information.
USA’s own immigration crisis.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC)

  1. Kevin Bales. Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves (Kindle Locations 171-172). Kindle Edition.

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