29 Jan 2014

Why Population Matters are wrong on asylum!



I have a good friend who was imprisoned and tortured after the Chilean coup in 1973. I know him because he was granted asylum in the UK.  Asylum rights are under severe threat, tabloid extremism has fuelled the growth of UKIP, and mainstream politicians are competing with each other to reduce the number of asylum seekers and new migrants in Britain.  As we know, our tabloid media takes our worst prejudices, justifies and magnifies them and projects them back to us.  Politicians, rather than challenging the fear and hatred of others, are increasingly joining in.  When Ed Miliband, the son of a father who sought refuge in Britain from Hitler, seeks to show that Labour is as tougher on migration than Cameron, it is easy to feel disgust and pity.  Dismay that Miliband finds it impossible to take a stand in defence of the free movement of people, even people under severe threat of persecution, is mirrored by our understanding that it is difficult to challenge a well nurtured media campaign promoting prejudice.

I find it particularly appalling that environmental concern is being used to justify the UK halting asylum.  Yet this is apparently exactly what 'Population Matters', an NGO committed to reducing human numbers, is doing. Ever since the overfed clergyman Thomas Malthus claimed that poverty was a result of human breeding, Malthusian ideas have proved controversial and have often led to reactionary politics.  However even if one is concerned about population growth, rather than seeing corporate greed as a key source of environmental destruction, what has population growth to do with the movement of people?  We live on one planet; preventing people from moving from one country to another does not affect the number of people on our planet.

According to a post on the Population Matters website, entitled ' Distant countries shouldn’t accept Syrian refugees' http://www.populationmatters.org/2014/population-matters-news/distant-countries-accept-syrian-refugees/ asylum seekers ideally should not be given refuge in the UK.  The crisis in Syria is so horrific that even Nigel Farage of UKIP, albeit briefly, called for Syrians fleeing the war to be given shelter in the UK.  Labour too has, despite much anti-migrant rhetoric, been campaigning for Britain to reverse opposition to Syrians seeking sanctuary here.  Yet a charity committed to environmental protection seems to be supporting those who would refuse to protect refugees seeking asylum in the UK and other developed countries.


Population Matters has increasingly linked its work to reduce population to opposition to migration and now apparently is linking asylum, the need for refuge from persecution, to migration in general.  This seems pernicious but the author of their post claims it is based on a 'point of principle'. 'Refugees' are apparently a threat to the environment of developed countries which are 'already unsustainable in terms of resource use and the environment and quality of life of these countries are increasingly affected by growing populations.'

Of course, like the author of the piece, I would agree that countries that take in refugees in the developing world should be supported, and that conflict that displaces peoples should be addressed.  The priority of the article, though, is not the needs of Syrians or other potential refugees but the demand to cut the number of people living in the UK.

Climate change is with us, extreme weather conditions are becoming more common, conflict including war is likely to increase with the pressures caused by such changes, so there will be more refugees.  The poorest countries in the world are those with the least resources to help and also the countries whose populations have the least effect on the rising emissions that fuel climate change.  There is a fortress mentality in Europe and other developed capitalist countries. The wish of Population Concern has already been achieved, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, because in 2013 no EU country is in the top ten of countries taking in refugees.  Pakistan with 1.5 million refugees tops the list, EU failure to take in refugees is a cause, to my mind, for shame rather than Malthusian inspired celebration.

Sometimes it is necessary to move a long way from home to seek protection.  In the 1970s, Chileans might have found it impossible to seek refuge in neighbouring countries because they too (one thinks of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil), at the time, were right wing dictatorship where democrats were tortured.  Today, the countries around Syria are in turmoil, and when the UN calls for Britain to protect a relatively small number of the Syrian refugee population, we should do our bit.  Green politics, as opposed to environmentalism, has long held that ecological responsibility needs to be combined with social justice.  Environmental concern combined with social injustice and a fear of others can only lead to a bleak future.  As well as having a friend who sought asylum, I am in a political party led by a migrant.  Natalie Bennett, an Australian, leads the Green Party and I am proud that my party defends migrants, seeks to protect refugees and challenges those who link environmental protection to xenophobia.

1 comment:

Conall Boyle said...

Why does it discredit Malthus to say he was 'over-fed'? You really are a very feeble controversialist!