Syrian Refugee Crisis: How We Should Respond

THE TIDAL WAVE of people fleeing the barbarism of ISIS in Syria is a global challenge, requiring a response on a global scale; competition to “out-compassion” each other in Australia is tasteless, pointless, and is a breathtaking hypocrisy from those who opened the asylum seeker floodgates and oversaw hundreds of deaths. This country is already the most generous refugee resettler in the world. Generosity, not pointless excess, is what is needed now.

I’m sure this is not the last time we will talk about the Syrian refugee crisis; this issue might only now have ripened to the point our government — and others with the capacity to help — is obliged to urgently fashion some kind of response, but the problem is going to take a long time to be fixed: if it ever can be.

The hope for mature and rational public discussion on this to some extent seems pointless, for already there appears to be a bidding war between political interests in Canberra to “out-compassion” each other; I’m not going to buy into that today, because even though restraint and responsibility are in short supply in certain quarters in normal circumstances, the tsunami of people fleeing Syria right now constitutes extraordinary circumstances indeed.

I want to share today’s article by one of my favourite columnists, Miranda Devine from the Daily Telegraph in Sydney; not for the first time, Miranda has made many of the points I would have made, and her words this morning serve aptly as a starting point for our discussion now.

I was listening to a debate on the Syria crisis in the car last night on 3AW on my way home; listeners seemed divided over how many refugees Australia should put its hand up to resettle, with targets nominated by callers ranging from 10,000 to 50,000.

My immediate thought was that there can’t be an open-ended obligation attached to this: per head of capita (and whether the chardonnay-swilling bleeding hearts from the Left care to acknowledge it or not), Australia already resettles the most refugees each year of any Western country; we have spent $13 billion on the asylum seeker/boat/people smuggler nightmare restarted in 2008 by the Rudd government and the Communist Party Greens; and it must be remembered that despite the vast majority of arrivals by sea having now been processed under the Abbott government’s stricter policies on boat arrivals (with many found to be refugees, and allowed to stay in Australia), the obligation Australia was exposed to between 2008 and 2013 has not as yet been fully discharged either.

It is with that last point in mind that I think the rush to devise and finalise “a quota” now stinks of expediency and political posturing; why not take an initial 10,000 Syrian refugees now — above the existing refugee quota for the current year in the first instance — and then reassess the situation?

The humanitarian crisis in Syria will not be over this week, or next month, or even next year; there is no need to charge at it like bulls at the proverbial gate. A gradated response allows flexibility to respond as the situation develops, and decent folk will have no objection, I’m sure, to additional tranches of 10,000 Syrians seeking asylum being taken in by our government in staggered intakes if need be.

It’s not about hedging bets, or trying to minimise the impost, or cruelty, or any of the other irresponsible bullshit the Left will accuse the Abbott government of however it responds — for them, no conservative government can be permitted to be seen as having exuded warmth, or compassion, or generosity. It doesn’t fit within their diatribes. And in this case, they would be better off saying nothing if their standard anti-Liberal Party rhetoric is the best they can do.

Unlike some — and I know this will be controversial — I have no problem with an emphasis on Christian refugees shaping of any contribution Australia makes.

The reason is fairly straightforward, and Miranda covers off on it today: bluntly, Christians in Syria are being persecuted; they are a minority in both Syria and the Middle East generally that ISIS has made a target; they form the overwhelming bulk of the body of displaced persons; and in terms of commonality with those we offer new lives and fresh starts to, it seems a no-brainer that Christian Syrians already share more in common with our way of life than the warring Muslim factions determined to drive them away.

There is also the matter of the Muslim countries around Syria, who notoriously refuse to take refugees; there are stable, first-world countries in that region: if there are displaced Muslims requiring asylum there is no reason Saudi Arabia, or Qatar, or the UAE and others can’t resettle them.

One could also say the same of Islamic countries closer to Australia that any refugees must pass near or through to get to Australia: Indonesia. Malaysia. These are not bad places. They offer a better way of life to Syrian Muslims than the battle zone their motherland has become. And they must help.

But if Australia is to take more than any initially-agreed quota, why can’t we be a little more creative than simply bringing people in, dumping them on the outskirts of Sydney and Melbourne, and paying them welfare?

For one thing, Australia’s regional centres have experienced population drift to the major coastal centres for decades; a higher number of resettlements could be justified on the basis those people were allocated to various country towns and required to remain for an initial period, much like British immigrants who arrived under the “£10 Pom” scheme did after the second world war until the early 1970s.

For another, the government has a huge regional development plan that when initiated will call for dozens of infrastructure and nation-building projects to be undertaken and completed — dams, roads, agriculture, and so forth — and whilst I would never advocate using immigrant labour at a discount to legislated rates of pay, the point is that some of these people could be offered employment working on some of those projects.

In some cases, these will take years to build. It’s another way those who come here might be able to help build a true bond with their new country — in much the way European immigrants built the Snowy Mountains Scheme, for example.

But what we don’t need is do-gooders and other bullshit artists merely prescribing some ridiculous and arbitrary intake figure, well above the country’s capacity to pay for it, that is all about making the statement but which is inevitably a political football that ends up buried in the mud at the end of the paddock.

It rankles me that some of these cretinous armchair oracles claim that as a “rich” country, we have endless capacity to help “the displaced citizens of the world:” we’re not, and we don’t.

Australia’s wealth is largely buried beneath the ground — it’s the same base of resources the same do-gooder idiots want to wind back and then terminate the use of — and beyond that, whilst we have a reasonably robust service economy, the same people want to stifle its development by curtailing free trade agreements that would allow us to build service exports. It’s a disingenuous do-gooder argument at best.

I don’t dispute — nay, I heartily agree — that Australia must play its part in resettling the human tidal wave of displaced people that is emanating from the Middle East.

But it has to be paid for, too; and just as Australia’s “wealth” is a subjective concept in some quarters — convenient for arguments such as this, but something to be derided and subverted depending on the circumstances — so too is the capacity of government to provide a factor that must be considered.

Already, through external forces, budget sabotage and utter mismanagement by the ALP — compounded by that party’s refusal to allow the continuing government to redress the damage — Australia is borrowing a billion dollars per week just to enable the existing functions of government to go on.

Just as Australia should make an effort to help resettle some of those fleeing from Syria, that effort most certainly shouldn’t obligate us to the tune of another ten to fifteen billion dollars; on one level, we can’t afford it. But on another, and to the extent we take some of these people in, the effort should be reasonable, modest, and — not unimportantly — calibrated within a justifiable amount of money.

I’m going to leave it there for now; my understanding is that federal Cabinet is meeting as I publish this to determine the government’s response, and I think it prudent to wait until we see that before going too much further.

Encouragingly, deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek was making broadly supportive-sounding noises on Melbourne radio this morning in the context of a rumoured one-off intake of 13,500 Syrians seeking resettlement: this column will acknowledge any constructive work on the part of the ALP in the course of this issue developing.

It is to be hoped the tentative utterances of reason from Plibersek prove representative of the wider ALP response. I have no faith the grub who is her so-called “leader” will do anything other than play grimy, petty politics with what is literally a life and death matter for so many: after all, he couldn’t even get the gender right of the dead child carried off a beach in the photo that has, rightly or wrongly, come to represent in people’s minds the terrible nature of this crisis.

And finally, a personal word.

Many years ago I dated a Syrian girl for a few months; it (obviously) never went anywhere — partly, it has to be said, because I wasn’t Syrian — but I got a first-hand look at Syrian people at that time. They are good people, if a little insular (or perhaps just wary) in our world; very generous, very decent, and they take very seriously their part in what has become their world as they make their way in Australian society.

Whilst I don’t like the idea of Muslim asylum seekers being included in the resettlement quota — on the entirely reasonable grounds I have outlined — I am very keen to see a solution that includes however many Syrian Orthodox people it is agreed we should take being made welcome here.

Just as we have much to offer them, they have much to offer us. And provided both sides of that equation are observed, I see no reason why an initial 10,000 of them can’t be offered asylum as soon as logistical considerations — and the bona fides of the people concerned — can be sorted out.

We will revisit this issue over the coming days and weeks, as appropriate.

 

 

Deadly Joke: Rudd Postures On Syria And G20

IF KEVIN RUDD — on the sham pretext of mock concern over the spiralling situation in Syria — goes to the G20 summit in Russia next week, it deserves to drive the final nail into his government’s coffin; grandstanding by Rudd will achieve nothing, and there is more at stake than his ego-obsessed image.

The problem with a pompous, egomaniacal, self-obsessed and narcissistic cretin is that he or she will typically turn up to the opening of an envelope; when that cretin is Kevin Rudd, there is no limit — or safeguard — on exactly what he might do.

Rudd has for months hankered after attending the G20 summit in St Petersburg on 5 September, ostensibly to accept the rotating presidency of the forum on Australia’s behalf: a jaunt he indicated, reluctantly, had been ruled out by the date of the imminent election.

However, word is circulating — in the aftermath of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on its citizens, and ahead of what seems a likely retaliatory military strike by the United States — that Rudd is again contemplating making the eleventh-hour trip.

And why? To avail the G20 of his particular talents and wisdom in the field of international diplomacy. Seriously.

(Those who haven’t been following the situation can get some background here and here).

I simply point out that at some point Rudd has got to either abandon this ridiculous pursuit of slaking of his ego, or have someone — the electorate on 7 September — do it for him.

One of the more fortuitous consequences of Labor’s increasingly likely defeat in nine days’ time is that this lunatic, with his penchant for traipsing around the world making a fool of both himself and this country, will be involuntarily restrained from ever doing so again in the name of the Commonwealth of Australia and/or its citizens.

Which is just as well, because what is going on in Syria at present is no joke.

Far from it.

For the first time in decades, the West (in the classic sense) — the US and its allies, such as the UK, France, and others — appear certain to militarily strike a country with close ties to and a deep alliance with Russia.

It is inarguable that any use of chemical weapons (or any other weapons of mass destruction, for that matter) represents a moral outrage and an absolute expression of human barbarism that cannot and should not go unpunished.

The problem is that Russia is sticking close to the besieged al-Assad regime in Syria; publicly, it denies that any use of chemical weapons has even taken place, and has given every indication thus far that it is prepared to defend its ally.

Ominously, Syria — along with Iran — was nominated by Russian Prime Minister Dimity Medvedev last year, when he was President, as a global flashpoint from which any military conflict could escalate into a nuclear war. We talked about this at the time.

This isn’t kid glove stuff, or a game; it’s real, earnest, and potentially lethal.

If there is any substance to the rumours that Rudd is considering using it as the pretext to attend at G20, I think fundamental questions must be asked of his suitability for office.

I don’t seriously think there is much likelihood of Russia responding to a Western attack on Syria with the use of nuclear weapons, just to be clear on the point.

But it has persistently and consistently warned of unspecified “catastrophic consequences” that would follow any US-led military strike on Syria; and over the past few years generally — and especially since the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin last year — the general tone of Russia’s communications with the West has grown decidedly more bellicose.

It is also well known that relations between Putin and Barack Obama are frosty, to say the least, and have been for some time.

None of this, of course, should dissuade the West from intervening; reliance on the United Nations Security Council — a forum long used by Russia and China to flex their muscles and frustrate the US — for authorisation to act would seem an abject waste of time.

Some would interpret my remark on the UNSC as tantamount to the advocacy of a flagrant disregard for international law, and they are entitled to their view.

But the fact remains that in an increasingly multipolar world, the United Nations has to a large degree passed its use-by date, and any body of “law” that would shield a regime that uses chemical weapons on its own people — if only by virtue of a vote of veto by one of its members, acting in its vested interests — is morally obsolete anyway.

Whether the US launches a strike on Syria or not, and what (if any) retaliatory measures the Russians undertake, will occur irrespective of anything Australia says or does.

Which brings me back to Kevin Rudd.

Anyone whose only possible path to re-election seems to be to lie (and lie blatantly) about his opponent’s policies can hardly be deemed a fit or proper person to engage in diplomacy on Australia’s behalf and on such a delicate issue; there goes one justification.

Rudd’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, has in any case ruled out any possibility of committing Australian troops to a US-led military effort; there goes another.

And there is no case to justify Rudd’s attendance in St Petersburg on account of Australia’s recent elevation to a temporary seat on the UN Security Council: the G20 has nothing to do with the United Nations, and in any case, even if it did, Australia would play an insignificant role indeed in any proceedings of real consequence.

The simple fact is that Rudd — if he goes to Russia — will have decided to use the dreadful events of the past week in Syria, and the attendant prospective consequences of their aftermath, to justify one more ride in the VIP RAAF jet, and for no better reason than to get some footage into the evening news in Australia a few hours before polling booths open.

Frankly, in those circumstances, Rudd would prove once and for all what a contemptible specimen he is; at a time of international crisis and the real danger of a wider conflagration, that such a cheap stunt would motivate simpering expressions of concern and talk of “helping” to justify the field trip would be reprehensible, to say the least.

Perhaps Rudd might reason that if he’s in Russia, he’d be spared the ignominy of having to make an embarrassing concession speech when — as seems increasingly certain — the ALP loses on 7 September, and loses very badly indeed.

Even so, this is an abominable idea of the lowest conceivable order, and — should he pursue it — then Rudd deserves, politically at least, to be absolutely crucified.

Massacre: Syrian Diplomats Kicked Out Of Australia

In the wake of the disgusting massacre of at least 110 people in Syria, most of them women and children, it is pleasing to see Foreign minister Bob Carr move quickly to expel Syrian diplomats from Australia; this type of senseless slaughter cannot and will not be tolerated.

It’s quite a quick post this evening, despite the gravity of the situation that has unfolded; I am irretrievably bogged down in work tonight, and this post is basically my cigarette-and-cup-of-tea time.

The Syrian Chargé d’affaires, Mr Jawdat Ali, was this afternoon given 72 hours to leave Australia by Foreign minister Bob Carr; also expelled was another — unnamed — Syrian diplomat.

The move is in response to the brutal slaughter of scores of Syrian civilians in Houla; a move that has mostly caused worldwide outrage, but typically elicited a splitting of the blame by Syria’s chief ally, Russia.

We have briefly mentioned Russia in the past week or so, with its posturing over mooted military strikes in Iran by Israel and its allies, and its veiled threats of nuclear war if such actions in Iran (or similar actions in Syria) are undertaken by Russia’s strategic rivals.

It is heartening, therefore, to see swift action being taken, here and abroad, despite whatever bellicose rhetoric and threats the Russians see fit to employ.

Our own government has now expelled the peak Syrian diplomatic Corp in this country; somewhat encouragingly, new French President Francoise Hollande has taken the same action in France.

Other nations have similarly responded; meanwhile, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is in Russia and pressing his hosts to intervene in the situation in Syria and to take action to stop the bloodshed.

Not least, no doubt, because the Russians are being so belligerent about anyone else going in and doing it.

Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan — now an ambassador-at-large for the UN — is in Syria, desperately trying to salvage a peace process he was the architect of designed to stop the bloodshed in Syria and bring the troubled country to some semblance of peace.

I wish I had time to say more tonight, but I don’t; I will however include here a couple of links to coverage in the Australian and overseas press. We may return to this subject tomorrow or later in the week — it depends on how thorough the general media coverage is. At the minimum, however, I think it safe to say that the bloody episode is an outrage — a morally bankrupt, nihilistic outrage.

Clearly, this is not a political issue for analysis and debate; there may well be time for that, but I do think now is the time for strong responses for what can only be described as an unmitigated tragedy.

49 children and 34 women, many blown to bits or shot dead at point-blank range. For fuck’s sake…as brutal as it is, it’s a reminder that there are barbarians in the world; and that once there are people who no longer value life, there are people who no longer value anything.

And that should always be a sobering thought.

I hope the following links are of use/interest to those wishing to read further.

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/bob-carr-expels-syrias-man-20120529-1zgwp.html

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/houla-massacre-consequences-profound-says-un-arab-envoy-kofi-annan/story-e6frg6so-1226371019181

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/323201/UN-Syria-victims-were-executed

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/29/syrian-ambassadors-expelled-britain-france

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/30/world/middleeast/kofi-annan-meets-with-bashar-al-assad.html?_r=1&hp