When Nations Betray Their Ideals

  • National Newswatch

In a global pandemic world, where billions are contained in restrictive confines, it's easier to forget or overlook the 83 million people who have been displaced from their historic homes and spend their lives endlessly wandering. June 22 – World Refugee Day – came and went this year, raising hardly a ripple in public consciousness about the human phenomenon that once aroused the hearts and policies of Canadians for decades.Making matters more acute was when United Nations High Commission for Refugees spokeswoman Gillian Triggs noted, “The demands on the refugee system are absolutely unprecedented.” That's right – the global refugee and displacement crisis is raging on regardless of all that global containment. Putting the numbers in some perspective might help us get a handle on this growing humanitarian problem.
  • 856% of the world's refugees are hosted in developing countries, not their wealthy counterparts
  • Two-thirds of them came from just five counties – Myanmar, South Sudan, Venezuela, Afghanistan and the Syrian Arab Republic
  • Children account for 30% of the global population but 42% of displaced people
  • Millions of displaced people are stateless, unrecognized by any nation
  • 1 in every 95 people on earth have been forced to flee their home
  • Of the 83 million displaced today, 26.4 million are refugees – the highest ever
  • 48 million are internally displaced people
  • 4.1 million are asylum-seekers
To repeat: some of these category numbers are the highest numbers ever. They stagger the mind and the imagination. While it is understandable that most Canadians are focused on their pandemic struggles at this moment, millions of refugees aren't just struggling for freedom but their lives. We face our virus danger by wearing masks and social distancing; they can only protect themselves by fighting through famine, floods, disease, hunger, little legal protection and physical violence. A mask seems little more than a necessary inconvenience when it comes to what 80,000,000 of the global population faces and overcomes each day.Something even more disturbing is going on. The global refugee treaty was adopted in 1951 – 70 years ago and was prompted by the massive flow of refugees following World War Two. It governed the obligations nations have to people who flee because of persecution, for reasons of race, religion, nationality or just for being members of a particular group.The logic of that treaty held for decades but has now fallen on hard times. Some of the current opponents surprise us. Populism has driven fear into the hearts of moderate politicians and has undone decades of painstaking work that brought this world of nations a long way in determining the rights of the refugees and displaced. But now Liberals in the Netherlands, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, are proposing withdrawing from the Refugee Convention. A spokesperson for the governing Social Democratic Party in Denmark, told those looking for haven to “stop seeking asylum in this country.” Greece's Migration Minister was so far as to call the convention “the worst treaty in the world.”This is now the state of our world. A global convention founded and supported by Canada, among dozens, is now under assault. Should the Convention be disbanded or downgraded, the movement of human beings worldwide will be thrown into deadly chaos.“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us – except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale,” wrote Khaled Hosseini. Even George Washington, America's first president, encouraged his people to, “accept the oppressed and the persecuted of all nations and religions.”What once built our national no longer can sustain them, and in the process, we lose a bit of our humanity along the way. A pandemic that supposedly taught us the meaning of empathy can't carry the day if it prompts us to only apply it to Canadians.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.