Conscription and the media narrative on refugees

by Chris Bertram on December 13, 2016

The world is watching the denouement in Aleppo, with stories emerging of massacres, particularly of young men (and probably by young men). A story I read from Patrick Cockburn in the Independent reported that such is the shortage of manpower for the Syrian army that other young men, emerging from eastern Aleppo, are being immediately conscripted into the Syrian army. A Syrian refugee I heard speaking the other day said there was no choice but to leave because you would either be killed, or you would be forcibly enlisted and forced to kill others. And many of the young Eritreans who find their way to Europe are also fleeing conscription (they face indefinite military service). This is hardly a new thing. The last major exodus of Americans fleeing the jurisdiction of their state was of young men who were evading the Vietnam draft.

James C. Scott, in his wonderful The Art of Not Being Governed writes of state conscription as one of the main reasons why the subjects of states flee to the hills, to a zone outside of state control. There are few such zones today, and those that there are may be governed by forces even less appealing that the states that conscripts are fleeing from.

This all got me thinking about some of the media narrative on refugees over the past few years. The preponderance of young men has been treated by those who want to keep refugees out as a reason for suspicion. The “genuine” refugees for the newspaper columnists are mothers and children. It is the toddler drowned on the beach, like Aylan Kurdi, who elicits public sympathy. But young men are often the ones with most reason to flee. It is they who face the starkest choice between killing and being killed. No wonder they predominate.

{ 43 comments }

1

Philip 12.13.16 at 4:45 pm

The post made me think of an article I read recently on how Syrian men refugees are portrayed as either rapists, terrorists, or cowards for not staying and fighting for women and children. Then there has been the press making a big deal of unaccompanied asylum seeking children not looking young enough. It’s almost as if we don’t need a legal definition and process to determine who is a refugee when you can just look at their picture.

Jill Walker Rettberg & Radhika Gajjala (2016) Terrorists or cowards: negative
portrayals of male Syrian refugees in social media, Feminist Media Studies, 16:1, 178-181, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2016.1120493

2

Matt 12.13.16 at 5:19 pm

The plight of people in this situation is made even worse by the hesitancy of courts to find that opposition to conscription – even to forceful conscription by illegitimate groups – itself counts as a “political opinion” that might ground an asylum claim. (For the U.S., this is set out in the case I.N.S. v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 482 (1992), a case that I think is pretty clearly wrongly decided, but that is still good law.) I don’t know for sure how adjudicators in Europe have addressed this issue, but if they follow the same approach as the U.S. has, the deck is really stacked here. Good lawyers and advocates have made some inroads in some areas, but it’s a hard area of the law. (Again, I think that most of the relevant case law here is pretty bad – some of it among the worse asylum decisions – but am just pointing out that, legally speaking, it’s been a very hard case for asylum applicants to make.)

3

Sebastian 12.13.16 at 5:52 pm

These are interesting, if depressing thoughts, but the last paragraph is, I believe, based on an incorrect claim about the “preponderance of men” among refugees.
I don’t think men dominate among refugees, except among those that make the journey to Europe. In the refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, there are just as many women and children (sorry, I don’t have time to dig up links, but shouldn’t be hard to find). It makes sense that men would be more likely to undertake the perilous journey to Europe, both given traditional masculinity, but also because sexual violence is one of the risks associated with the voyage and they’re less likely to be the targets.

4

Chris Bertram 12.13.16 at 5:53 pm

Thanks Matt, that’s helpful. The UNHCR guidance is here:

http://www.refworld.org/docid/529ee33b4.html

5

Philip 12.13.16 at 6:17 pm

Matt, I think the UK give leave to Eritrean asylum seekers due to the conditions they’d face once conscripted. This seems to be an exception and I don’t know if any other nationalities would be granted leave because of conscription. They’ll be given humanitarian protection rather than refugee status unless they link the conscription to one of the 5 reasons in the UN definition.

6

The Temporary Name 12.13.16 at 6:20 pm

This strays a bit, but if anyone’s interested in practical methods of getting refugee credentials recognized this presentation from Norway is inspiring: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/abdrs6uq38azfc1/AACb1IEZDdlR1AOPRAwMJN8Ra?dl=0&preview=EN_24_1500_1_Marina_Malgina_NOKUT.pdf

Essentially refugees with a lot of learning arrive in Norway and may become eligible for a process in which, even in the absence of documents, a degree in the field may be awarded based on interviews with professionals in the field. Maybe this program will survive Norway’s latest government. (Chris mentions Eritrea above: it’s also been the practice of the Eritrean government to withhold all documentation until military obligations are met, which may of course never be met.)

7

Matt 12.13.16 at 6:25 pm

Thanks, Philip and Chris – useful stuff to know.

8

P O'Neill 12.13.16 at 7:22 pm

In Eritrea, conscription is actually forced labour on non-military work, hence the protection. As Philip says, conscription per se is not the issue. As an example of the broader issue raised in the OP, Iran tells Afghan refugees that things will go a lot easier for them as refugees if they join their militias in Syria.

9

Donald A. Coffin 12.13.16 at 10:00 pm

I knew enough people 45-50 years ago who did, in fact, leave the US because of their (generally) principled opposition to a war that should not have been. I would have been one of them, but the issue never arose for me. I had a good friend in college who chose to serve as a medic (and spent a lot of time in the slam because he insisted on treating anyone who needed help. As he said, he didn’t think asking for their IDs made much sense.). And in Syria or Eritrea or any of a dozen or more other places where conscription can be virtually a death sentence…getting out seems a reasonable response.

10

ZM 12.13.16 at 11:13 pm

I’ve been struggling to think of a similar case like Syria now, where civil war has been undertaken as Total War.

The recent summit in New York for the UN and Obama’s summit to go with it give me the most hope for the plight of refugees. In Australia our refugee policies have got worse as bipartisan politics condemns people to uncertain terms of detention in offshore sites.

Chris Bertram, do you have any ideas how community based refugee advocacy groups could try getting involved with the UN/national police making that has been scheduled by the UN to take place in 2017 and 2018?

The group I’m in is an Australian wide refugee advocacy group with branches right around the country, our branch in town has talked about the UN New York Declaration and Australia agreeing to take part in the process over 2017 and 2018, but we aren’t sure how we could engage in the process as a NGO community group.

I saw historian Joy Damousi speak the other year on refugees which is her new area of study, after previously looking at war and gender and things.

She has an article that touches on the issue of how support for refugees often coalesces around child refugees, “Humanitarianism in the Interwar Years: How Australians responded to the child refugees of the Armenian genocide and the Greek-Turkish exchange”

“This article considers the response in Australia to two international events that involved humanitarian aid with a specific focus on child refugees — the Armenian genocide of 1915 and its subsequent repercussions, and the 1923 populations exchange between Greece and Turkey. An examination of these campaigns shows how the cause of child refugees generated a form of humanitarianism in Australia comprised of several strands. These can be characterised as Christian humanitarianism, feminist internationalism, an intersection of national and international perspectives and an educative endeavour to impart information to the public. This article draws these strands together into a narrative that describes a varied and multilayered understanding of humanitarianism in Australia during the 1920s that coalesced around the plight of refugee children but was not transferred to the treatment of Australia’s Indigenous and migrant populations.”

11

Stephen 12.13.16 at 11:50 pm

ZM@10: “I’ve been struggling to think of a similar case like Syria now, where civil war has been undertaken as Total War.”

I hate to see people struggling without extending a helping hand. Try Thirty Years War, Russian Civil War, Spanish Civil War. I’m sure there are others. Paris Commune, maybe?

12

shallowpate 12.14.16 at 3:25 am

ZM, you could try reaching out to the United Nations N.G.O. Committee on Migration. The committee’s work mostly takes place in New York City, but they might have ideas and would certainly welcome the opportunity to establish contact with allies in Australia.

https://ngo-migration.org

13

ZM 12.14.16 at 5:30 am

Stephen,

Do those conflicts have the same level of total destruction? The level of destruction and the exodus of citizens in Syria seems mindblowing to me, and more like a war between countries than an internal civil war…

shallowpate,

Thanks, that looks promising, I hadn’t heard of them before. The group I am involved with is undertaking a grassroots Welcome Zone campaign over the next 6 or 7 months with the Refugee Council of Australia and local governments around Australia, which is planned to culiminate in Canberra in mid 2017, so it might a good time to be looking at other groups we could connect with.

14

ZM 12.14.16 at 5:40 am

The Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said a while ago she observed trust had broken down between America and Russia over Syria, and after recent events is calling for both powers to broker a cease fire and also asking for an investigation into the mass atrocities in Aleppo:

“Ms Bishop said the claims must be investigated and a political solution was the only way to end the civil war which has now raged for six years and has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

“”This is one of the worst humanitarian disasters that we have witnessed in many, many years,” she said. “There are reports of mass atrocities. They must be investigated. This is an appalling humanitarian disaster and the conflict has to end.”

It was the Australian government’s contention that no military solution could be brokered while either side believed they could defeat the opposition’s forces, Ms Bishop said.

Rather, a political solution overseen by Russia – allied to the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad – and the US was the only feasible way to end the violence, she said.

“Russia and the US must find a way forward to stop the killing and to allow humanitarian relief to be provided,” Ms Bishop told ABC radio on Wednesday. “Those backing Syria and those backing the opposition must sit down to discuss a peace deal.””

From The Sydney Morning Herald

15

J-D 12.14.16 at 7:31 am

ZM@10: “I’ve been struggling to think of a similar case like Syria now, where civil war has been undertaken as Total War.”

I hate to see people struggling without extending a helping hand. Try Thirty Years War, Russian Civil War, Spanish Civil War. I’m sure there are others. Paris Commune, maybe?

Wikipedia has a list of civil wars: a brief glance at it suggests to me that we could go on with this subject for some time. I limit myself to mentioning one case, the Taiping Rebellion, estimated to have had the second highest death toll (in absolute numbers) of any war (of any kind) in history, and about which Wikipedia says (among other things) this:

This war was total in the senses that civilians on both sides participated to a significant extent in the war effort and that armies on both sides waged war on the civilian population as well as military forces.

16

Glen Tomkins 12.14.16 at 2:19 pm

Both a preferential tendency for an individual to flee the country, and for the nation to conscript the individual, if that individual is a young male, derive from the same factor — that young men are the least attached to a family.

From the individual’s point of view, however dangerous and difficult it has become to try and carry on in the home country, the journey to anywhere else is likely to present great dangers and difficulties as well, and these get much worse if you’re taking young children and elderly adults with you. People who are the freest from the responsibility to care for the young and the old are freest to flee.

From the nation’s point of view, if it needs manpower, it’s least disruptive to take it from among those least responsible for the care of the elderly and the young.

17

Stephen 12.14.16 at 2:40 pm

ZM@13: “Do those conflicts have the same level of total destruction?”
Alas, yes at times, or even more so. Magdeburg 1631 before siege, estimated population about 30K; survivors of the massacre at the end of the siege, estimated 5K with most of the town burned down; at end of war, population in ruins 450. Worse than Aleppo, surely.

18

Jesús Couto Fandiño 12.14.16 at 6:46 pm

#13… why do you think wars between countries are worse than civil wars? If anything, in a lot of cases, they are much worse. An occupying enemy force does not have a ton of people telling them who they have to kill, who are the lefty/conservative/sectarian/whatever on town and who is nice, dont have untold years of personal grudges to settle, and, most of the time, dont operate on a vision of a necessary transformation of the country that requires the total extermination of the betrayers that ruined the sacred motherland/revolution/religion…

In any case, the Spanish Civil War? More or less same size population then than Syria now, more or less the same ballpark # of dead. I think less in refugees/exiles – about 300000 or so. Country so thoroughly trashed (and then so stupidly managed) that the 1935 levels of income were not seen again till the the end of the fifties.

And if it is a predictor of anything, whoever ends up winning will go on purges and repression for years to ensure everybody knows who won and what price the losers had to pay.

19

J-D 12.14.16 at 7:14 pm

ZM

Do those conflicts have the same level of total destruction? The level of destruction and the exodus of citizens in Syria seems mindblowing to me, and more like a war between countries than an internal civil war…

https://faroutliers.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/slaughter-in-nanjing-1864/

‘… The savage climax to this conflict was in Nanjing, which fell in 1864. Loyalist imperial troops besieged the city and when they eventually broke the back of resistance and entered, they engaged in an orgy of death and destruction.

‘The elderly and the children, who were of no use as labor, were especially targeted and slaughtered. “Children and toddlers, some not even two years old, had been hacked up or run through just for sport,” wrote a Chinese official who entered the city shortly after the end of the massacre. …’

20

Moz of Yarramulla 12.14.16 at 9:37 pm

ZM et al: I agree with J-D, but point out that the one that sprang to my mind was both recent and has recently been more or less resolved with the split between North and South Sudan. A couple of million people died and it was nasty even by war standards. What made it different was poor internet coverage and of course that the participants were black Africans.

Australia has a few Sudanese refugees, mostly from what is now South Sudan, but their experience here is generally poor. The case that hit me was a man arrested in Melbun, then allegedly released before being found nearby a few hours later beaten and drowned. The relationship between the police and community was such that the police were unable to convince anyone local that they didn’t beat the guy to death then dump him in the river. Many white Australians like me find it hard to disagree with them – Australian Police have a long, proud history of killing marginalised people.

Apparently a lot of Sudanese want to go back: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-26/90pc-of-sudanese-migrants-want-to-return-home/4392956

21

Doug K 12.14.16 at 10:03 pm

My father-in-law fled Greece at the age 0f 17, because the Communists were coming down from the hills, stealing young men, and sending them to indoctrination camps. He didn’t show up as a refugee in official counts of immigration, but I doubt he’d have left Greece in ordinary times.

When conscripted into the armies of apartheid, I had the choice of jail, exile, or serving my time. Jail didn’t seem reasonable at the time, plus on emergence from jail the same choice would have to faced again. As a white South African, exile would have required illegal immigration somewhere, and resources beyond my means. I chose to serve my time and consequentially to serve apartheid. My naive foolishness reasoned that maybe I could ameliorate the system by working within it and sabotaging it where possible. One midnight murky, at a roadblock looking for gunrunners bringing weapons in for Umkhonto we Sizwe, I found myself holding a rifle on two terrified little girls in the back seat of their father’s car. There were also insights into torture gained during that time. I realized then, and now, that I was a quisling. Sometimes I think illegal immigration would have been a better idea, perhaps to some country not the USA.

22

Helen 12.14.16 at 10:17 pm

The preponderance of young men has been treated by those who want to keep refugees out as a reason for suspicion. The “genuine” refugees for the newspaper columnists are mothers and children. It is the toddler drowned on the beach, like Aylan Kurdi, who elicits public sympathy. But young men are often the ones with most reason to flee.

I think the attempt to set up some kind of competition between children, women and young men is regrettable.
http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/2016-09/increase-child-suicide-attempts-madaya-sieges-worsen-across-syria
http://metro.co.uk/2016/12/13/this-is-our-last-chance-to-saves-lives-in-syria-say-red-cross-6319589/

In modern warfare, more civilians die than combatants. And that’s not to say conscription of young men isn’t to be condemned. Just that it is *all* unacceptable.

23

LFC 12.14.16 at 10:50 pm

ZM @10
I’ve been struggling to think of a similar case like Syria now, where civil war has been undertaken as Total War.

Not to be pedantic, but this gets into murky waters, b.c both “total war” and “civil war” are used differently by different writers. One way to approach to it would be to distinguish among interstate wars, civil wars, and ‘internationalized’ civil wars (the last being civil wars w significant outside involvement). The Spanish Civil War, already mentioned, was one ex. of an obviously ‘internationalized’ civil war. So is the Syrian war, obviously.

On the other hand, the phrase “civil war” can also be used in a broader sense, as in the practice among some (of which I was not particularly aware until recently) of labeling the European components of WW1 and WW2 a European ‘civil war’ (yes, they were also obv. interstate wars as well). I have out of the library Enzo Traverso’s Fire and Blood: The European Civil War 1914-1945 (Verso, 2016; orig. pub. in French in 2007). Paging through, it looks to be good, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Traverso (citing Modris Eksteins who in turn cites someone else) writes that the term ‘European civil war’ in this 20th-cent context seems to have been originated by

the German painter Franz Marc, in a letter he wrote from the front shortly before his death at Verdun… [He called WW 1] “a European civil war, a war against the inner invisible enemy of the European spirit.” [Traverso, p.24]

Whatever Franz Marc meant *exactly* (and on the basis of the letter excerpt it’s not entirely clear, except that he was rejecting the propaganda ideas that the war was a ‘race war’ or a war vs an ‘eternal enemy’), Traverso goes on to note that the phrase can be found in a number of post-WW1 writers.

Personally I think of WW1 as an interstate war not a civil war, while WW2 by contrast did have elements of civil war e.g. in Italy and (what became) Yugoslavia and elsewhere as anti-fascists fought indigenous pro-fascists. And the whole period 1914-45 can be and has been thought of as a “thirty years war” or, as in Traverso’s subtitle, a “European civil war.”

Anyway, my main pt is that these terms are all somewhat contested and used in different ways.

24

alternative view 12.14.16 at 11:17 pm

You can, and I would argue you should, also look at this from a different perspective. Had all of these hundreds of thousands of young men taken up arms, they would still have a country. As it stands, they pretty much don’t and they should largely blame themselves for it. They should’ve defended it. If they don’t like the regime, fight it, change it. If they don’t like the opposition, same argument applies. DO something. As it stands, they removed themselves from the conflict in a self-serving way and are now a burden on others. Why should they be helped when they cannot help themselves? They cannot in all honesty say that this is not their fight – the fight is for the existence of their country whichever camp they belong to…

25

alfredlordbleep 12.15.16 at 6:11 pm

footnote on J-D 12.14.16 at 7:31 am

Almost Total Conscription
The Taiping Rebellion was a total war. Almost every citizen of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was given military training and conscripted into the army to fight against Qing imperial forces. wiki

26

ترول 12.15.16 at 10:06 pm

Re “alternative view”‘s comment:
Had they “taken up arms”? Those who provide the arms get to call the tune. Their choice was whether to fight for a psychotically vindictive dictatorship, a spectrum of supposedly religious nutcases, or a handful of ethno-nationalists. Maybe if they had gotten started a long time earlier, some Syrians could have been ready to set up a nice liberal militia when the government went shaky. Given the sort of resources that would have needed, though, you can hardly blame young men for that failure.

27

ZM 12.16.16 at 12:12 am

Thanks everyone for the information about Civil Wars. I was thinking that wars between States were worse, but I see how Civil Wars can be worse.

Moz of Yarramulla,

There are Sudanese refugees in the town I live in, some have moved to Melbourne now, but there are still quite a few. I’ve heard it can be difficult for them.

28

Keith 12.16.16 at 12:15 am

The trouble with 24 is that this argument assumes there is a “good” side to join. A civil war means normal politics has failed and the parties may be all politically objectionable. If there was a reasonable stable path to follow there would be no civil war to begin with.

29

Daragh 12.16.16 at 8:44 am

Just wanted to say that this is a hugely important, and very much under-discussed part of the unfolding catastrophe in Syria, and kudos to Chris for raising it so eloquently above.

30

Pavel 12.16.16 at 2:45 pm

#24

Imagine that you are a young peasant boy in Russia in 1917. As Revolution breaks out and violence and death roll over the land, you find that you want to fight for something. Unfortunately, you have a limited set of options. None of the sides are willing to accept your neutrality and all sides are ultimately horrific. The Bolsheviks are standing up for the working class, but ultimately don’t care too much for peasants and are slaughtering every aristocrat they can find. The White Army supports a repressive Tsar and landed aristocracy and conducts repeated and bloody counter-reprisals on anyone they assumes has Bolshevik sympathies (mostly fellow peasants). The Anarchists seem viable at first, but for the most part they spend their time in the city of Petrograd raping and looting. The Ukrainian nationalists are composed of free peasants using this opportunity to try to free themselves of the Russian yoke, but ultimately aren’t too interested in your fate. Choose your own adventure!

In a case like that, I would see fleeing as the only sane option. When all the possible countervailing forces are terrible, you may not get the opportunity to fight for you beliefs. In a place and time where all of the well-armed, well-organized entities are authoritarian in different ways, fighting for one of them is immoral. If you fight alone, your life will be quickly extinguished in vain.

31

J-D 12.16.16 at 6:25 pm

alternative view

… Had all of these hundreds of thousands of young men taken up arms, they would still have a country. As it stands, they pretty much don’t and they should largely blame themselves for it. They should’ve defended it. … They cannot in all honesty say that this is not their fight – the fight is for the existence of their country …

I dispute your assumption that the existence of a country is something worth fighting for. A man without a country is like a fish without a bicycle.

32

Philip 12.16.16 at 7:31 pm

So it took 24 comments for someone to bring up what I was talking about, blaming the refugees for the situation and calling them cowards. Even if there is a clear side to fight for and someone isn’t going to be forced to fight for another side I don’t see why they must fight. The more responsible thing might be to stay alive and, maybe, earn money to support their family and even tr and get them out of the country too. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

33

alternative view 12.16.16 at 9:41 pm

It is quite entertaining to read the reaction to what was, admittedly, a provocative stance. However, in my opinion, most commenters miss the point. Which is that if people make a voluntary choice to flee rather than sort things out, it is their choice and they can hardly expect others to be either sympathetic to their plight or helpful in that. They *might* get the help & sympathy, but they cannot *expect* it. Which is something that the media sells heavily these days – that anyone not helping the refugees is borderline supporting Assad. Besides, there are always lots of menial jobs everywhere that someone need to be doing, and I don’t see many refugees being asked or forced to do them in return for support. They kind of tend to stay on benefits which is rather indicative in and of itself.
And a couple of comments:
28 – no, I’m not presuming there is a “good” side. In life you almost never get to choose between the good & the bad. The choice is usually for the lesser evil, so the choice is always there and always yours to make.
32 – no, I didn’t call them cowards. I accused them of not fighting to keep what’s theirs. So why should anyone else fight for it or help them if they themselves won’t?

34

Collin Street 12.16.16 at 10:59 pm

The trouble with 24 is that this argument assumes there is a “good” side to join.

The right-wing answer, of course, is that you can create one.

[neither collective-action/coordination problems nor opportunity cost exist in right-wing thought.]

35

Pavel 12.17.16 at 5:13 am

#33

1. Syrian refugees in Canada are doing menial and non-menial jobs (especially the ones with an education), attending language classes, sending their kids to schools and attempting to integrate into society. They don’t “tend to stay on benefits” if they can help it – that’s a pretty serious slur against a whole group of shell-shocked and displaced people.

2. In a horrific lifeboat situation, sympathy is given freely and without some shallow ethical means-testing attached. Few of us really know how we would react to the wholesale destruction of our societies. Few of us know if we would truly have the courage to fight for causes we don’t believe in against overwhelming and terrible odds while swallowing all of our own convictions. We all recognize the need for self-preservation and the desperate attempt to avoid having to kill or be killed by your neighbors and former friends (as sometimes happens in a civil war). This contingency and understanding of human frailty compels us to extend a basic sense of compassion and sympathy to those fleeing conflict.

36

J-D 12.17.16 at 5:20 am

alternative view

Which is that if people make a voluntary choice to flee rather than sort things out, it is their choice and they can hardly expect others to be either sympathetic to their plight or helpful in that. They *might* get the help & sympathy, but they cannot *expect* it.

The question ‘what treatment can They expect from Us?’ might be an important question for They to ask themselves, but it’s not clear to me why you would suppose it to be an important question for Us; surely the important question for Us is ‘how should we treat Them?’, and what They can expect from Us does not appear to have any bearing on that.

Whether you intend to or not, you create the impression that you think that if They have made choices, then We should not feel the same disposition to help Them as we might if … if what? If They had not made choices? Everybody makes choices, and everybody winds up in situations which are partly the product of those choices. Since this is true of everybody, it doesn’t make anybody less deserving of help. Yes, the people who have fled Syria have, obviously, chosen to flee Syria, but in no way does it follow that they are less deserving of help than they would be if they had chosen not to flee Syria. For one thing, if they had not fled Syria, that would also have been their choice. Would you then argue that the people who have not fled Syria ‘can hardly expect’ help and sympathy because it was their choice not to flee Syria? Is it your position that nobody can expect help and sympathy?

37

Philip 12.17.16 at 8:33 am

@ alternative view, you said they were self serving and avoiding a fight that was their fight it seemed reasonable to me that you were implying they are cowards. You then argue against claims that no one on this thread has made: that refugees can expect help and sympathy, that anyone not supporting them is supporting Assad etc. My point is that there is no reason to assume this is their fight or that they have no duty to throw their life away for it, even if they have the means not to be conscripted to a side they don’t want to fight for without fleeing.

Most asylum seekers are not on mainstream benefits, they are held in camps or given a minimal level of support in a separate support system. In the UK asylum seekers are barred from working but some do illegal menial work. In my experience people do get jobs once they get refugee status.

38

ZM 12.17.16 at 9:21 am

LFC,

Following Obama’s comments on Syria, and not being able to intervene more strongly without international support or support from the House of Congress, I was wondering if Syria has become a bit of a proxy war due to the geography and American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Iraq becomes peaceful and part of the American leaning bloc of countries in the Middle East, the geography means you get American leaning countries from Saudi Arabia to Turkey which is trying to join the EU. Would this be why Russia and Iran have taken such a strong role in the Syrian conflict, and why America hasn’t brokered a cease fire with Russia?

39

Peter T 12.17.16 at 9:48 am

I have enormous sympathy for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, most of whom are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iran. Mostly working at whatever they can get. And that does not count the great numbers inside both countries, jammed into whatever accommodation they can find furthest from the fighting. Most will either settle down or go home, eventually. But traditionally such displacements send out the young (and mostly men) to scout opportunities and find the resources to help those back home better their lot or escape. It’s how our ancestors came to Australia or America, and we can hardly fling stones.

As a side note, I follow the Middle East moderately closely. As anyone who has ever been in a major demonstration, riot or other unrest knows, the media are mostly neither reliable nor accurate. In the Middle East, with various agendas being pushed, officials spinning, a widespread and fairly sophisticated understanding of the means and uses of publicity on all sides, cameras ubiquitous and photo-shopping ready to hand, the murk is as thick as I have ever seen it. Take all claims on events in Aleppo with a large amount of salt.

40

Stephen 12.17.16 at 5:49 pm

collin street@34: “neither collective-action/coordination problems nor opportunity cost exist in right-wing thought”.

I o not have an extensive knowledge of right-wing thought, but I would be grateful if you would explain why all forms of it are inconsistent with both collective-action/coordination problems and opportunity cost.I would have thought the second in particular is a concept perfectly compatible with left, right or central modes of thought. Also, many right-wingers seem to advocate collective action, and may have perceived problems with coordination.

41

ترول 12.17.16 at 7:54 pm

alternative view: “I don’t see many refugees being asked or forced to do [menial jobs] in return for support. They kind of tend to stay on benefits which is rather indicative in and of itself.”

Reality: In most countries, asylum seekers are banned from paid employment until their claims are processed – a process which normally takes years. During this period, they have the unenviable choice of either working illegally or living off a minuscule allowance provided by the government. They don’t have the right to work until they finally get granted official refugee status.

42

kidneystones 12.18.16 at 4:36 am

Should we abandon refugees from other nations?

The question one of the major ‘left-leaning’ parties in the richest nation on earth is asking is similar, but not unconnected:

“Yet as a matter of politics, those in Mr. Biden’s camp believe the party’s ethos of inclusion may add up to less than the sum of its parts. In the minds of those Democrats, they will not be a majority party again in Washington or across much of the country without winning back white voters of modest means.”

Support for those left behind begins at home, it seems, like it or not. We’re all familiar with the boilerplate “don’t tell me of the hard times of the white working class, especially men.” Ignoring/dismissing the concerns of white working-class voters has real consequences, if any of us hope to make space for refugees, economic, and otherwise.

I also read in the NYT this weekend that the election of Trump is the same as the coup in Chile, which gives folks some sense of how poorly the intellectual left seems to understand that the ground is collapsing beneath their/our feet. (I’d prefer not to be included in this group.)

White working-class voters – Should Democrats cut them loose?

http://nyti.ms/2hIRAi1

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Peter Westwood 12.18.16 at 2:31 pm

There is much to learn about how refugees are manipulated to serve the purposes of those that seem to treat human beings as pawns in a greater game, a game of blood and war and dominance which most of us want nothing to do with but which we human beings are corralled into periodically by those who rule this reality.
Found this on Syria, Vanessa Beeley giving an inside Aleppo view of the distortion and fake news from the MSM. Watch it and weep:
http://olivefarmercrete.blogspot.gr/2016/12/vanessa-beeley-in-syria-learn-exrent-of.html

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