Indochina vs. Syria: Approaches to The Migrant and Refugee Crisis

Day by day, it appears that the migrant and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean grows larger. Last week, the horror seems to multiply as 71 migrants were found dead in the back of a lorry on an Austrian highway and a 3-year-old boy was found lifeless on a Turkish beach.

In the face of these tragedies, I find myself wondering why policymakers have failed to act on the moral imperative to assist people fleeing war and devastation. A few months ago, I wrote about how the world could follow the resettlement model adopted during the Indochina refugee crisis of the 50s and 60s. I've struggled to understand why we have not implemented similar policies, but this blog post by Dr. Christopher Phillips, Senior Lecturer in the International Relations of the Middle East at Queen Mary, University of London and Associate Fellow at the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa program, illuminates the complex reasons why the world has hesitated to follow the model deployed in Indochina many years ago.

I encourage you to read the post in its entirety, but here's one standout passage: 

Why were western states willing to resettle four times as many Indochinese refugees a year in 1979 as they have been willing to house in total from Syria? Westerners are no worse off or less capable of hosting refugees than they were in the late 70s. Taking arguably the worst offender, Britain, as an example, the economic situation then was not dissimilar to now. In 1979-82 Britain suffered a recession, far worse than the sluggish growth it has faced during the height of the Syria refugee crisis (2012-15). GDP per capita averaged $9k, comparable in today’s prices to the $40k it averaged in 2012-15, while unemployment averaged 7.5%, compared to 7.3% in 2012-15. In another parallel, in May 1979 a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher came to power on a platform of rolling back the state, one seemingly emulated by David Cameron and George Osbourne today. Yet that government accepted nearly 25,000 Indochinese refugees, compared to 197 from Syria now.

Update: As of 7 September 2015, Britain has agreed to accept 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020. Germany will spend 6.6 billion to cope with 800,000 migrants and refugees.

Akinyi OchiengComment