World Refugee Day: Where the F*ck are People Supposed to Go
June 20, 2019
There are 70.8 million people forcibly displaced in the world today. This is the largest number of people displaced by violence since World War II. Among this number are 40.3 million people internally displaced, 25.9 million people who are refugees, and 3.5 million people who are in the process of seeking asylum. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that one person becomes internally displaced every 2 seconds. By the time you finish reading this article, at least 150 people will have been forced from their homes somewhere in this world due to violence.
The largest groups of refugees under UNHCR mandate come from Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan. The U.S. invasion and occupation in Afghanistan is now in its 18th year. The current government in Afghanistan has little legitimacy, and after 18 years of conflict, has territorial control over just half the country. Last year civilian casualties reached their highest point in the last 10 years, at least a quarter of them from aerial bombardments by U.S. and allied forces. The war grinds on to our collective indifference with no end in sight and no strategy for withdrawal. 2.6 million people have been driven from Afghanistan as a result of the war. Most of these refugees are in Iran and Pakistan. Another 1.8 million are internally displaced.
U.S policy in Syria has been chaotic at best since Assad’s government began its crackdown against opposition groups in 2012. At several points in the war the U.S. was funding both sides in specific battles. The United States is hardly the only player in Syria, and none of those engaged, from the Syrian government to Russia to the myriad rebel and jihadist groups fighting there, are sensitive to human rights law. But the U.S. bombing campaigns are increasingly indiscriminate and killing large numbers of civilians. The Trump administration eased rules of engagement in 2017 and civilian casualties have increased dramatically since in Syria and elsewhere. In the U.S. bombardment of Raqqa alone 1,600 civilians were killed. Since Trump’s announced withdrawal of troops in December, bombing campaigns have expanded further:
During the final days of 2018, the U.S. campaign bombed villages up and down the Euphrates, focusing primarily on Al Kashmah. On New Year's Eve, the bombs relentlessly assaulted Al Kashmah, leaving the village largely destroyed by the next morning, according to an ISIL fighter who was there. (We interviewed members of ISIL and the SDF, as well as a tribal leader, for this article via messaging services, and we've granted them anonymity because they all stand to be targeted by the various warring factions for speaking to journalists.)
The coalition against ISIL appears to be targeting internet cafes, according to two sources on the ground. Internet cafes in the villages are used by civilians and ISIL fighters alike. They are not part of ISIL’s tactical communications infrastructure, according to sources, but fighters typically use them to communicate with the outside world, especially their families in other countries.
There are 6.3 million refugees from Syria, a majority in camps in Turkey and Lebanon.
The United States has been deeply involved in South Sudan for years. The U.S. supported the push for independence for South Sudan, providing assistance to the rebels who are now leading the country under military rule. Since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into the country - continuing to distribute aid, while failing “to sufficiently pressure Kiir’s government even as his forces massacred civilians, carried out widespread sexual abuse, and tortured prisoners as part of a civil war that has displaced more than four million people since it began in 2013.” A peace agreement was signed late last year, but as like several other agreements that have been signed since 2013 and failed, that agreement is tenuous. There are 2.5 million South Sudanese refugees, the vast majority living in neighboring states including Sudan.
Elsewhere in the region, U.S. policy continues to ravage civilians. In Iraq, 16 years after the U.S. invasion, there are still 3.6 million people internally displaced and over 1.8 million refugees. Yemen, where the United States continues to support the Saudi war effort, is routinely referred to as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world. Yet, Trump vetoed a congressional effort to force withdrawal of U.S. support. The money at stake in selling the Kingdom weapons is just too much to walk away from apparently. As we are writing, Trump’s seems intent on following John Bolton into war with Iran. Such a move would spark a crisis of unimaginable consequence.
In Latin America the greatest migration crises are directly tied to U.S. foreign policy. There are 7.7 million internally displaced in Colombia, where the United States has repeatedly put its money behind right-wing governments and death squads. At $230 million for FY 2019, Colombia is by far the largest recipient of military aid in the Latin America. In Venezuela, the economy is collapsing and people are fleeing in large numbers. Maduro’s management of the economy might well be problematic - but he has never served a day in office absent U.S. sanctions and under Trump the sanctions have gotten even tighter; sanctions that the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people. “The sanctions are depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food, and other essential imports,” said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of CEPR and coauthor of the report. “This is illegal under U.S. and international law and treaties that the U.S. has signed. Congress should move to stop it.” There are over a million refugees from Venezuela mostly in Peru, Colombia and Brazil. As many as 5,000 people a day are currently leaving the country.
Closer to home, the situation of people fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is directly related to decades of U.S. intervention. From Guatemala and Honduras alone, 250,000 have fled in the last year. There is no denying that U.S. intervention has severely distorted the political arena in these countries where the United States has consistently, and openly, supported hard-line governments willing to keep the economies open to U.S. investment. In Honduras, for example, the United States government helped the right-wing consolidate a coup d’etat in 2009, opening the door to an ongoing decade of gross human rights violations. The historical amnesia about U.S. intervention, its consequences for the region and relationship to the roots of the migration currently being seen, is remarkable. Mark Tseng-Putterman, writes:
U.S. empire thrives on amnesia. The Trump administration cannot remember what it said last week, let alone the actions of presidential administrations long gone that sowed the seeds of today’s immigration crisis. There can be no common-sense immigration “debate” that conveniently ignores the history of U.S. intervention in Central America. Insisting on American values of inclusion and integration only bolsters the very myth of American exceptionalism, a narrative that has erased this nation’s imperial pursuits for over a century.
The current administration’s war on immigration is a human rights debacle. From mass detentions (now standing at 70,000 people a day including adult, child, and family detention), to border policies that are limiting asylum seekers access to process their claims, to the now threatened mass arrests of unauthorized immigrants Trump is promising to unleash, this administration can’t seem to find the bottom in how low it will go to make life miserable for people seeking a new life in this country. Trump has lowered the refugee cap to 30,000 and has denied so many petitions that this low cap has not been filled - less than 22,000 refugees admitted.
The question really is, where the fuck are people supposed to go? Papers are filled with pundits talking about the immigration “crisis” facing the United States and Europe. It is the typically myopic, self-serving narrative whereby the inconvenience and costs of migration for the receiving countries is given priority. But let’s be clear - the crisis is not here. It is in Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Honduras, Guatemala, Iraq, Yemen, El Salvador and many other countries wracked by wars that the U.S. is either involved in or selling weapons to further. There can be no solution to the crises associated with migration as long as the United States continues to exercise its military domination around the globe. U.S. Americans need to wake up to this fact. This country cannot continue to expand military interventions, aerial bombardments and otherwise seek to dominate regional balances of power without consequence.