Never Able to Leave Your Home State? Welcome to the Middle East
Summer in Seattle shines wonderfully warm and leaves most mornings and evenings still cool. Spring and fall usher in clouds and drizzle, but it’s summer now. I was born here and elated to move back ten years ago.
I was grateful as well to work at the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York, a few thousand miles east of Seattle until 2003. And before that San Francisco, Wichita, Palo Alto, Los Angeles and Houston were home.
Living in the U.S. we tend to take this freedom to move for granted. Most relocate for better jobs and warmer winters, though some fled violence in urban Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and other northern cities to safety in suburbs or other states.
Those fleeing violence in Syria have fewer options. They can’t find safety in in Syria because of ethnic and religious conflict. Modern borders are closed, so they are left to begging to move to tents in nearby refugee camps.
This unfree state of affairs has been fastened on the world for less than a century. The hundred year anniversary approaches for the start of World War I and this “Great War” transformed the United States and the world.
Before WWI few restrictions existed on the freedom to invest, trade, and migrate across borders. Most stayed and traded at home, but some ventured to travel, trade, and invest overseas. From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s steam-powered ships and trains dropped transportation costs by seventy percent. Suddenly people, goods, and capital flew out of Europe to the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, and dozens of other countries. Russia and Turkey limited immigrants, but most countries had only modest controls. Passports were intended to be a temporary wartime measure. Yet today people think of passports as documents designed by nature or long tradition.
Alan Dowty’s Closed Borders explains how and why much of the Old Serfdom returned after World War I as the New Serfdom. Instead of local lords and tradition determining where people could move and what they could do, the New Serfdom fashioned those choices. This Google link allows students to read at least the beginning of chapters.
Opponents of more open migration sometimes argue that a country is like a home, and just as it’s wrong to enter someone’s home without permission, it’s wrong to enter a country without an okay. But who gets to give the okay? The “nation as home” analogy leads to “government as father,” that is, paternalism. The “fatherland” view may appeal to officials thinking they should be the gatekeepers. But most of us don’t want a paternalistic government making decisions for us.
In a free society, asking permission from government officials should be the exception not the rule. In a free society people should be free to do what they want constrained only from actions that harm or threaten harm to others.
Neighbors reasonably wish to avoid terrorists, criminals, and layabouts living next door. Fair enough. But once those concerns are dealt with by measures like the Kreble Foundation’s Red Card Solution, why block efforts of immigrants to relocate and get to work, and efforts by people wishing to help refugees?
As discussed in an earlier post, as awful as ethnic and religious violence is for people fleeing their homes in fear, people in places they escape to can cope and their societies and economies will soon benefit.
Rebecca Stern writes, in the March 2014 issue of Refugee Survey Quarterly:
Migration is often described as one of the great tests of our time. Yet the movement of people across borders is nothing new. The economic and social contribution of migrants to the receiving State has been the backbone of the development of almost every country.
Alan Dowty in Closed Border, reviews the long history of trade, migration, and progress. His stories at the beginning are from the Middle East, and though written nearly thirty years ago, they read like injustices we read in the paper now.
For NCFCA debaters researching reforming U.S. policy toward one or more countries in the Middle East, Stern’s overview of international treaty obligations as well as economic and public opinion is valuable:
Migration policies, however, are not shaped by legal obligations alone. Economic concerns and political deliberations, the latter being sensitive to public opinion, also play important parts. Permeating these concerns is the moral tension that often exists between the rights of migrants and those of citizens – a key issue perhaps particularly in the context of asylum.4 This is a matter that concerns migrants who actually have a legal right both to apply for rights of entrance and residence and, if certain criteria are met, to be accorded such rights. The moral and ethical aspects of who is to be allowed to enter could, however, be argued to apply equally well to those fleeing poverty and destitution. (“Our Refugee Policy is Generous”: Reflections on the Importance of a State’s Self-Image, p. 26)
Reforming refugee policies will turn on a dealing with public perceptions (both in Sweden and the United States) that current policies are adequate and even generous.
What is the alternative to international policies that allow more refugees? Building camps in the desert, where land it cheap, is one. The new Azraq refugee camp in Jordan has the advantage of being close to Syrian refugees.
Last week the Jordanian government and the U.N. opened the $63.5 million Azraq refugee camp. Designed to accommodate 130,000 Syrian refugees, it could become the second-largest camp in the world. After complaints from residents and donors alike over the crude tents originally erected at Zaatari and winters that saw shortages of essentials like blankets, officials say Azraq’s design and management is mindful of lessons learned and will employ a “village” concept with decentralized services and facilities. (Syria Deeply, May 6, 2014)
We can hope for the best with the U.N. and NGO-funded Azraq refugee camp. There is a vast wealth and compassion in the world to help refugees. But are United Nations managed tents in the desert really the best way?
[Update: The July 4 NYT story: Refugee Camp for Syrians in Jordan Evolves as a Do-It-Yourself City]
These vast forced migrations have accelerated discussions about the need to treat camps as more than transitional population centers, more than human holding pens with tents for transients. A number of forward-thinking aid workers and others are looking at refugee camps as potential urban incubators, places that can grow and develop and even benefit the host countries — places devised from the get-go to address those countries’ long-term needs — rather than become drags on those nations.