This post is not going to include a lot of links, unlike the math-heavy one earlier which illustrated the sheer scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria versus the refugee resettlement proposed by President Obama. (A drop in the ocean.) I’ll have to do a link roundup of quite a few good articles I’ve read over the past couple of days that touch on some of these same topics.
Anyway, this is the post about how First World do-gooders are getting their altruistic jollies out of adopting refugees in the most convenient manner possible, rather than using limited resources to do the most good for the most people.
This is the principle of the 99% vs the 1%, only it’s even worse than that, because 10,000 is less than 1% of the population that’s been displaced by the Syrian civil war.
First, let’s acknowledge up front that taking in refugees absolutely does help – those people. Because of chain migration policies, you can grant that entire extended families are helped. And yes, they’re helped a lot. America has her faults but it’s still one of the most free societies out there – people who come here have a broad range of options that they wouldn’t have in the vast majority of the rest of the world.
If America took in no Syrian refugees, what alternatives do they have? Well, there are other countries that accept refugees, so they could end up resettled elsewhere. Not all refugees are resettled, of course – most of them would like to go home, and hopefully the millions of Syrian refugees who’ve found shelter in countries next door will be able to go home soon. The nature of refugee resettlement is not really very clearly understood, I think – many people seem to operate under the erroneous conclusion that refugee resettlement is kind of like a more comfortable refugee camp, where people wait until they can go home and then leave when it’s safe. No. Calling the refugees who are resettled in America “refugees” is misleading – once they arrive, they’re immigrants, here to stay and tracked towards citizenship just like the immigrants who don’t get processed through the UN refugee bureaucracy.
So, you have this shiny First World bureaucracy charged with helping refugees. They unquestionably need help, and humans like helping each other. So what do you do? Donate money and resources, of course! Refugee camps have to house and feed people who’ve fled from violence, and most places around the world where the country has gone to Hell in a handbasket don’t have a lot of extra housing hanging around. Extra food hanging around tends to go bad, too, so you have to get fresh stuff in. Medical care is going to be needed. Basically you now have a huge logistical problem that needs a lot of resources to solve. That’s the constant – no matter where the refugees go later, they need help right away, on the ground where they’re at.
Now let’s take a look at what happens when you bring some of those people to another country. First, it costs the salaries of all the paper-pushers’ man-hours dealing with the reams and reams of ridiculous government and NGO forms to process each case. That’s an expense. There’s non-monetary cost to relocation in a far away place, though. Transitioning to a new culture is VERY HARD, even when you’re not traumatized and running away from a war zone where people were being killed all around you. When that culture has values that are totally alien to your own, it’s even worse than if you moved to a country nearby with similar cultural values. All the taxpayer-funded ESL classes in the world don’t help that. Especially not when it’s considered beyond the pale in the host country to expect the newcomers to assimilate to their host culture.
There are a lot of organizations that then help the refugees get settled in the First World, though. People aren’t left to sink or swim on their own. These organizations look like charities… but they’re being funded through government. The usual problems of bureaucracies existing to exist then come into play: shoddy work, passing the buck, cronyism, fraud, etc. But because these organizations have the “altruism shield,” they can defend themselves by saying that anyone investigating how well they do their jobs (helping refugees!) is actually an anti-refugee racist bigot.
But notice what’s happened. The resources given to the resettlement program on this end… are going to benefit people in the First World economy as soon as the refugees set foot on our shores. Any kind of monetary benefit, once the refugees are in the First World, are recycling back into the First World.
Now, there’s likely to be just as many issues with corruption and malfeasance if refugees were being resettled closer to their original homes, human nature being what it is. But what if you took all those resources and government grants – and handed them over to programs working in the developing and Third World? Suddenly instead of having money recycled to First World landlords, First World retail, and First World bureaucrats… that money would be going to build infrastructure in the very places where it’s most needed. It would be local community groups who got the grants to help resettle refugees, local landlords who received rent payments, local businesses getting the new customers. Those dollars are going to go a long way, too – cost of living is much higher per person in the First World. You’d still have a layer of First World bureaucracy in the form of whatever UN or NGO organizing it, but instead of recycling refugee aid into the First World economy during the settling in phase, you’d be recycling that aid into the developing world’s economy. Not only would it get a lot closer to where it’s most needed – it would help even more people. Sure, they each won’t be “winning the jackpot” like the refugees relocated to the First World… but which is better as a humanitarian effort? To hand out lottery tickets to individuals who leave for greener pastures, or invest in improving an entire neighborhood?
So why do people get so emotionally invested in bringing refugees to the US, where they have to deal with culture shock on top of trauma, the endless scaremongering by reporters desperately hoping for that “anti-Muslim backlash” mob they’re sure is lurking around every corner, learning an entirely new language and way of life? Why so attached to recycling aid resources to First Worlders rather than keeping it in the developing/Third World where it’s most needed?
Well, it’s awfully easy, isn’t it? Especially in America, where we’re all “a nation of immigrants.” The national mythos encourages it – and the multicultural kumbaya diversity-is-our-strength dogma also encourages it. You can feel good about helping people – and you really are helping people, people right in front of you that you can see – while living in the First World, enjoying its benefits, and possibly even collecting a paycheck as an employee of one of the First World organizations that works with refugees. If it’s all happening in the developing or Third World, you could still donate money, but to personally help you’d have to do something difficult, like travel to a different country yourself. You’d end up having to endure deprivation and physical danger. You’d have to see a lot of people who you just can’t save, because there’s too much need and one person can only do so much, instead of having all those people you didn’t help far away and out of sight on another continent.
How about downstream effects? If the refugee community takes First World multiculturalism at face value, fails to assimilate, and ends up with high unemployment and radicalized second-generation “citizens,” well, it’s not your fault. You were only helping people who needed it! All those negative outcomes are the fault of society for being so intolerant of poor refugees and their diverse culture! Systematic, institutional racism! While all the positive outcomes? That happened because of your excellent humanitarian work!
See how that goes?
Convenience. Disguised as altruism.
The people who most need our help? Are never going to make it to the refugee camps in the first place.