From The International Journal of Disasters Studies and Practise  
     
 

Casualties of War and Peace

Introduction

One of the posters distributed by the UN High Commissioner for refugees had a picture of Albert Einstein with the following caption; "it's not a shame to be a refugee, it can happen to anyone". It happened to me at the age of 12. After a decade of security, prosperity and reasonable stability I can state; once a refugee always a refugee. The damaging effects of brutal uprooting, of homelessness and, what's worse, being stateless, leave permanent marks on body and soul.

 
     
 

Refugees are casualties of war and peace. Victims of violence of every kind - wars, revolutions, struggles for political power, border settlements and peace treaties. They are the fall-out from explosions of the mechanics of modern statehood.

History focuses on the actions of armies, generals and statesmen, men in charge of other men in uniform, protected by international laws when suffering defeat. But refugees as civilians - in times of warfare - are the first to victimised and the last to be rescued. Those who lose a war or a cause become refugees and join the category of stateless persons. Forced to lie in a no-mans land, refugee camps become their home and barbed wire their frontiers. A super-international body of charitable and intergovernmental organizations run their affairs - but their options, and therefore their futures, are restricted.

 
     
 

The Human Rights Issue and the Refugee Problems.

The number of officially classified refugees reaches approximately 15 million in the world. Displaced persons, who are not classed as refugees for bureaucratic reasons, would increase the number to 25-35 million. Like official definitions, official statistics fail to encompass the reality and scope of modern refugee-hood, partly because international refugee organizations are supported and sponsored by governments, many of whom do a good deal of covering-up of their abuse and violation of international charters on refugees. The 1951 convention on the status of refugees gives the following definition of a refugee:

"….Someone who leaves his or her country of nationality owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion and is because of that fear unwilling or unable to return to his or her country".

 
     
 

The organization of African Unity found it necessary to add a sixth clause, the flight from war.

One must add a seventh clause which is flight from the ideological aftermaths of war and peace settlements, which create frantic population movements.

It is a timely moment to invoke the issues of human rights. It has unfortunately become detached from the proper understanding of the dynamics behind the proliferation of refugees in the last decade. Of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the General Assembly of the U.N. in 1948, the most relevant to refugee problems are the following articles.

13(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

13(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, and to return to his own country.

14(1) everyone Has the right to a nationality.

14(2) No-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or be denied the right to change his nationality. .

 
     
 

A number of pertinent questions spring to mind in connection with the state-endorsed legal definitions of the status of citizenship, citizen-ship rights, rights of residence and nationality. On every level; legal, moral, or ethical, state defined about a person's status hold the key to the problems of individual or collective identity of members of the human race. Are we creeping towards a time when the relationship between some states and its citizens will jeopardise a citizens "right to exist"?

Definitions of Refugees and Statistics: Official and Unofficial

What sets apart the historical refugees of today is the near worthlessness of the more recent "brand" of refugees. In a word of a "new social order" which has broken with the tradition and…

The paradox about "ideological warfare" is that in its initial drive is to fight for justice and equality for the dispossessed people. The sting in the tail of the dispossessed people. The sting in the tail of the socio political ideological forces is that they hit at the very people who become once more dispossessed "refugees".

How far fetched is the idea of regarding a new category of refugees as "court martialled citizens" who, when not executed, are stripped of the rank of citizen by their own sovereign state, in a semi military fashion. Any group of people may, for ideological reasons, be declared "treasonable" and hence stripped of the rank of citizen. The non-citizens become pariahs of the modern world. Some refugees become classed as the new lowest social political caste - the world's "untouchables".

 
     
 

With the benefit of hindsight, some aspects of the Indio-China refugee situation begin to show similarities with the "refugees of yesterday". By what stretch of the imagination do the destinies of the distant Chinese minorities now come to mirror the situation of Hitler's German Jews? Separated by vast differences in space and time, how do they come to resemble each other in their plight. Both communities were easy targets placed between capitalism and communism. Both communities were open to accusations of being the arch-capitalist, cosmopolitan, internationalist, etc., or were stigmatised as the carriers of the "communist virus"".

 
     
 

The dread of having a potential "fifth column" - be it national , ideological, racial or religious, is a powerful force which marked out these communities as "enemies" to be rid of at any costs.

The similarity of detail is alarming in it's implications, for example, the manner of collecting "ransom money" from those who exit - even if the state has every intention of getting rid of them. Hitler's Germany and Vietnam are strange bedfellows indeed.

Vietnamese authorities have been persecuting the ethnic Chinese the minority, of whom there are between 800,000 and 1,200,000 still in Vietnam - particularly since the Vietnam-China fighting. Ethnic Chinese have been dismissed from government employment and forbidden to work in some 15 specified occupations or to conduct private business. They are not allowed to associate with other Vietnamese. Their schools have been closed and their children are not allowed to attend other schools or learn a trade. Harassment by the Public Security Bureau includes imprisonment without cause and looting of houses. They have to choose between leaving the country or being sent to a "new economic zone" where they live in conditions of great hardship. Their departures is now Government controlled, and directed by radio and poster announcements of registrations arrangements..

"Both countries, Germany and Vietnam, adopted the same method of collecting ransom money. The operation "exodus" was financed by the Jews themselves by the "voluntary" surrender of all property and valuables. The state, of course, made immense profit. Another part of the "bargain" was and is the "voluntary" surrender of one's nationality. Are the historical parallels examples of lessons learnt from history? Or are they spontaneous "improvisations" on the theme of enemy of the state and people?

 
     
 

Prognosis For Year 2000

The prognosis is not good. The historical forces which churn out more and more refugees is by now a very visible process. The politics of refugee-hood can be studied like a science. A pattern is emerging which indicates the existence of a cause and effect factor.

The tragedy of refugee-hood, of a civilisation breeding refugees, is that the generation of yesterday's refugees may confront the refugees of today, as in the case of the Middle east Arab/Jew refugee problem.

Prognosis For Year 2000 The prognosis is not good. The historical forces which churn out more and more refugees is by now a very visible process. The politics of refugee-hood can be studied like a science. A pattern is emerging which indicates the existence of a cause and effect factor. The tragedy of refugee-hood, of a civilisation breeding refugees, is that the generation of yesterday's refugees may confront the refugees of today, as in the case of the Middle east Arab/Jew refugee problem. A very unstable Third World has been made unstable by the extremely high birth rate of refugees populating the camps, who in turn become a source of recruits for the political movements which are dedicated to the process of destroying the old order. A vicious circle of cause and effect, feeding each other, results in an even more de-stabilised and underdeveloped world.

 
     
 

The population explosion is a real problem to the developed as well as to the undeveloped world. The "breeding rate" of refugees surpasses that of the most over-populated areas in the world.. It could be seen as nature's revenge for the dispossession and humiliation. Breeding is a weapon used in the hope that in the final analysis numerical superiority will count for something. Disadvantaged in every other way, the biological reproductive advantages are the only weapons at the disposal of refugees. Somewhere, some power may see a permanent refugee force, a convenient pool from which to draw recruits to stir up further instability in already unstable regions for geopolitical reasons.

 
     
 

The common reaction to a new wave of refugees is a desire to look for those responsible. The logistic of such an approach is that the finger pointing at the guilty party has to be pushed further and further back in time. How far back may one go in trying to apportion the share of blame and responsibilities? Where is one to stop? This is at the heart of the moral dilemma facing the choices and solutions. How helpful or desirable in finding a solution is placing a responsibility on the doorstep of some countries that had a hand in "manufacturing" refugees?

 
     
 

Even rich western countries are showing signs of economic stress. The willingness to welcome refugees who need work, a roof over their heads, social security, schools for their children, and special considerations for their ethnic differences diminishes. The new maps of refugee population density point to Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America and now Indo-China. At what point will states come to accept the distribution of population as facts of nature? We accept facts about vegetation and wild life distribution. People are as much a result of such cross-fertilisation. Will there ever be a world free of refugees? Is it a Utopia? A possibility? Or an urgent necessity on which the stability of the whole world depends? Somewhere, some people are earmarked as the refugees of tomorrow;…..where? who? How? By whom?