by Dhia Muhsin, a second year British-Iraqi student interested in political violence, human rights and counter-insurgency in the MENA region. He is reading BA International Relations at King’s College London.
My father immigrated to the UK in 1992 after our family experienced relentless persecution in Iraq at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist regime; I continuously wonder what would have happened if I were born in Najaf as opposed to London. An answer I have come to, on the many occasions where I have asked myself this, is that I would have died as part of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against anyone who was not with him. If I had not died due to Saddam then I may have died due to the sanctions imposed on Iraq, by the United Nations, that resulted in the death of approximately 500,000 children. Even if I had not died due to the imposed sanctions, I would have died due to the 2003 invasion of Iraq at the hands of the occupying military’s abuses. If I had not died for the latter, then I may have died due to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is now Da’esh (ISIL). If it was not I who had died then it would have easily been my sister, or my mother, or my father, or all of us; I owe my life to migration when millions have lost their own due to their lack of it.
As I write this, I’m aware of the privilege I have to be at the institution I am studying at. To have the opportunity to live healthily in a country where I have had access to uninterrupted healthcare and schooling is lasered into my conscience as I think of the Rohingyans fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where many have drowned as a result of overcrowded ships that have capsized in a state of literal statelessness. The Syrians giving up what little despotism has left them with, as some sell their homes in order to afford for their families the unguaranteed voyage of danger to Europe. Here, where they seek refuge from chemical attacks; the migrant Afghans seeking a life of opportunity who have been, perpetually, labelled by academics and journalists as a nation of people belonging to a failed state, thanks to a history of intervention. Simultaneously, in my mind are the 18,000 Palestinians who sought refuge in Yarmouk, where they live a nightmare of besiegement by the Assad regime on one side and Da’esh on the other. I am also remembering the 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria and the 220,000 Syrian refugees living in Iraq, where both have fled one oppression to find sanctuary in another. The 1 million Somali refugees living in neighbouring countries such as Yemen, where Saudi Arabia have been tenaciously committed to a military campaign that has claimed the lives of approximately 400 children. The South Sudanese refugees seeking safety in Ethiopia and Kenya and Sudan , who have had sexual violence inflicted onto them; the Eritrean women with their children living in Calais’s “jungle”, where even in the limbo of seeking refuge are women exposed to the nightmare of rape, as many women past, present and future have had to endure. These people do not want to turn “to stealing, joining gangs, trafficking and other illegal forms of gaining money” because they simply want to survive, when many of them are highly skilled, qualified to work and immediately able to contribute to society. The trend of stripping and sterilising refugees and migrants of their skills is toxic. But I guess condemnation and hollow sympathies, where superpowers attempt to wash their hands of the blood belonging to their complicity, is a reasonable ‘reputation’ to aspire to?
That said, given the privilege and inability for ‘nationalists’ to accept a moral responsibility for the preservation of human life, by providing derailing and weak reasons for not accepting more refugees, it is no surprise that only after being exposed to the harrowing ‘everyman’ image of, martyr, Aylan Kurdi, people have finally woken up to witness a snapshot of the nightmares lived by refugees. It is telling of how disturbing human nature is when after the plethora of images of mass graves and executions online, it takes an image depicting the lifeless innocence of a martyred child to move the international community to action.
According to David Cameron “we have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps” because (of course) a few refugees fleeing certain death at the hands of Da’esh or Assad’s barrel bombing campaign means there’s a chance they are counterfeit and fake; somehow putting up an aesthetic of oppression within a refugee camp by total choice.
Whilst abdicating themselves of the privilege they have of simply being able to live without the fear of an IED killing them, or the fear of biological weaponry claiming the lives of their families or despotism silencing their struggles, ‘nationalists’ never cease to raise up the clichéd, yet mythical, argument that ‘services will be strained’ if we provide people with refuge. Funnily enough, a quarter of NHS doctors are non-British practitioners, and whilst many refugees are qualified engineers, lawyers and academics, they have been dehumanised and have had the false image that they are unskilled burdens with little to offer to our ‘developed’ society, forcibly imposed onto them. If one of the benefits of remaining in the European Union is that Britain has access to highly skilled professionals, then why does the refugee status of an individual, who may be just as skilled and just as worthy of a place within the British economy, strip their life’s work of any success they have made for themselves in a country jeopardising their survival? Blaming the possibility of worsened living conditions on people trying to survive with the simple human right to live is inexcusable when you consider past governments have barely been able to show real progression with the housing crisis. This is a problem for the British government to be held accountable for whilst the refugee crisis is a crisis that we must take a moral responsibility, especially since the number of refugees accepted by the United Kingdom has fallen by 76,439 since 2011. The British economy, if anything, will be under a greater strain if it were to perpetuate its, frankly, poor and incomprehensible aerial campaign of airstrikes in the MENA region, where not only money is spent inefficiently but ineffectively in their attempt to ‘degrade’ Da’esh. Such money could be channelled to the aforementioned “strains” on British services where the amount of social housing could be increased and improved, and to also provide to those in need when a £17.3-to-23.4 billion nuclear deterrent is facing renewal.
Truthfully, no one needs the ignorant xenophobia, nor the crocodile tears of ‘nationalists’ to colour the morality of the ‘debate’ on migration, when the many migrants seeking sanctuary from the MENA region are refugees and victims of recklessly half-hearted neo-imperial adventures, undertaken by western superpowers.It is so crucial for a nation built off of the criminal spoils of colonialism, where the illegal immigration to the global south resulted in the death of millions, that there must be some kind of twisted, corrupted, understanding of how migration conditions survival; this is before the award of asylum for refugees can be seen as the very smallest form of colonial reparation. Simply saying “we need to better the situation in these countries that the migrants are fleeing from” is problematic for two reasons: 1) post-9/11 western interventionism has been going on for over a decade and has yielded a myriad of negative outcomes; 2) it is, in a handful of cases, a guise for neo-imperialism whereby western states seek greater hegemony over particular, resource-rich, states. Saying that “we need to better the situation” beats around a bush that the British government has treated very poorly.
The very least that these ‘scared nationalists’ can do is ask why the British government has not pressured the Gulf, where not a single refugee has been granted refuge, and why they have not accepted responsibility for exacerbating the destabilised nature of MENA. This comes under notable individuals and state sponsors of terrorism being known to proliferate Da’esh and Al-Qaeda’s ideologies, making their presence an even larger issue and by extension worsening the refugee crisis. Complicity does not just lie in the blasé considerations of whether refugees should be accepted into the UK or not, but also in the blind eye that the government turns to when the actions of allies are not questioned; even this does not serve to fix the wider issue of the world’s refugee crisis, that this wave of overnight-activism is attempting to solve. However, if countries torn by wars, that we have partly exacerbated, can accept refugees then we have no excuse.