Americans should not fail to recognize the inevitable: the immigration problem will only get worse. The current crisis with Haitians flooding the Texas border isn’t an isolated event. Haitians (and Hondurans and Salvadorans and Guatemalans, Vietnamese and Jews, etc.) have been seeking asylum in the United States for decades. The irony is that Europeans invaded a populated continent in the 15th and 16th centuries in order to gain shelter from abuses and to gain better livelihood. We are those Europeans…and all who have come since.
“Of the roughly 1.8 million Haitians living outside their homeland, the United States is home to the most, about 705,000. Significant numbers of people from the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country also have settled in Latin American countries like Chile, where an estimated 69,000 Haitian immigrants reside, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“Nearly all Haitians reach the U.S. on a well-worn route: Fly to Brazil, Chile or elsewhere in South America. If jobs dry up, slowly move through Central America and Mexico by bus and on foot to wait — perhaps years — in northern border cities like Tijuana for the right time to enter the United States and claim asylum…
“Many Haitians began attempting to enter the U.S. in the 1980s by sea. Most of them were cut off by the Coast Guard and perhaps given a cursory screening for asylum eligibility, said David FitzGerald, a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego and an asylum expert. In 1994, U.S. authorities reached an agreement with Jamaica to anchor ships off its coast to hold shipboard hearings for Haitians intercepted on boats. Attempts by sea waned after a Supreme Court decision allowing forced repatriations without refugee protections.”
Illegal immigration from Haiti has plagued multiple presidencies. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, Haitians first flocked to Brazil to jobs in support of the 2016 Olympics. When those jobs dried up, President Obama at first allowed some to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds, but soon began flying them back to Haiti. Trump’s solution was widely panned for its inhumanity, and now Biden faces even bigger numbers of determined illegal immigrants due to the recent assassination of the Haitian president and ensuing political chaos, exacerbated by yet another massive earthquake.
Under Biden, the United States has pledged more than $32 million in aid to Haiti in addition to the disbursement of more than 160,000 pounds of food aid, construction of field hospitals and temporary shelters, and has flown more than 400 injured Haitians to medical attention in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. But U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Stephanie Power remarked that the United Nations estimates a total need of over $187 million. All this follows a similar aid effort after the 2010 earthquake of over two billion which still reverberates through USAID and the Red Cross, among others.
A 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office found the USAID efforts were hampered by ”lack of staff with relevant expertise, unrealistic initial plans, challenges encountered with some implementing partners, and delayed or revised decisions from the Haitian government.”
“The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six. NPR and ProPublica went in search of the nearly $500 million [donated for this cause] and found a string of poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success, according to a review of hundreds of pages of the charity’s internal documents and emails, as well as interviews with a dozen current and former officials.”
Haiti is not the only neighboring nation subject to earthquake and devastating hurricanes. In the coming decades as sea levels rise and incidence of violent weather increases, human populations will suffer more such hardships. All the Caribbean islands as well as coastal cities including our own will face the destruction of storm surges, hurricanes, and other flooding.
Of course our first reaction to news reports showing border patrol officers on horseback charging at desperate refugees is sympathy for the refugee and disgust with the officers’ tactics. But we need to ask ourselves, honestly, what are the options?
Already we have spent billions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to rebuild Haiti so that its people can remain and thrive in their homeland. But isn’t this a repeat of similarly futile efforts in areas of the United States where massive flooding occurs yet when the water recedes, we provide money to rebuild in the same flood-prone locations?
We have just witnessed influx of over 70,000 refugees from Afghanistan as the extremist Taliban takes charge of that country. The need to accommodate refugees on our lands is not limited to neighboring countries like Haiti. We’ve seen the steady push of Syrian refugees into Europe, of Palestinians, of Colombians… As of 2020, 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Of these, nearly 26.4 million are refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.
Lest we in the United States shed a tear for all our sacrifices, readers should be aware that the U.S. falls far short of addressing the global refugee crisis compared to other nations. The following report by the Norwegian Refugee Council reveals the big picture. In order of the most refugees per a nation’s population, here are the heavy lifters:
1. Lebanon – 19.5 per cent of the total population
Lebanon, with a population of 6.8 million, is currently hosting an estimated 1.5 million refugees from Syria. The real number is probably even higher because the national authorities demanded that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) stop the registration of new refugees in 2015. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in the country.
Lebanon itself has been ravaged by a civil war that lasted from 1975 until 1990. It is a densely populated country with a fragile political balance between different ethnic and religious groups.
In 2019 and 2020, the situation has gone from bad to worse, with large-scale popular protests eventually leading to the Prime Minister’s resignation. Unemployment is sky-high and the country’s currency has dropped in value by 85 per cent, meaning much of the population is no longer able to afford the necessities of survival. Recent surveys put more than 50 per cent of the population below the poverty line. For Syrian refugees, the figure is even higher, with 83 per cent living below the extreme poverty line.
On top of an already difficult situation came the Covid-19 pandemic and the Beirut explosion, which killed more than 200 people, wounded more than 6,000 and displaced around 300,000. Lebanon now has an urgent need for the rest of the world to step up and help the country that has taken the greatest responsibility for helping displaced people.
2. Jordan – 10.5 per cent
Jordan has received over one million refugees in the last ten years. The vast majority were fleeing neighbouring Syria. While a comparatively small number have since decided to return to Syria or have been able to resettle in other countries, there are still more than 660,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency living in Jordan today.
Over 80 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in urban centers where they face the challenge of finding sustainable work and affordable housing. Competition for limited employment opportunities can lead to tensions with the local population. The remaining 20 per cent of Syrian refugees live in one of two refugee camps, established by the Jordanian authorities for Syrian refugees and managed by the UN refugee agency.
Jordan also houses 2.3 million Palestinian refugees. These are people who fled or were expelled from their country during the 1947-49 Palestine war and the Six Day War in 1967, and their descendants.
3. Nauru – 5.9 per cent
This small island state has received boat refugees who were trying to get to Australia when Australian authorities refused to accept them. The UN refugee agency has been highly critical of the agreement Australia has made with Nauru and other countries and is concerned about the reprehensible conditions the refugees live under. Australia has now agreed to stop sending refugees to Nauru.
4. Turkey – 5.0 per cent
Turkey has received more refugees than any other country since 2011 – as many as 4.3 million. Turkey is a large and populous country and is better equipped to handle the challenge than, for example, Lebanon. Nevertheless, it is challenging to provide protection to such a large number of people within a few short years. Turkey signed an agreement with the European Union (EU) in 2016 that prevents refugees from moving on to Europe. This has had serious consequences for both the refugees who have made it to Greece and those who remain in Turkey.
5. Liberia – 4.1 per cent
Liberia is another country that has shown great hospitality to displaced people. It has received 212,000 refugees, even while the country itself was in a difficult situation. Liberia went through a long and bloody civil war just a few years before it opened its doors to refugees from the Ivory Coast. It was also hit hard by Ebola, which meant that refugees from the neighbouring country could not return home as quickly as the UN refugee agency had planned.
6. Uganda – 3.7 per cent
Uganda has received 1.7 million refugees over the last ten years and is one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world. In recent years, Uganda has provided protection to people from DR Congo and South Sudan in particular, but the country has also received refugees from Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda and several other countries. Uganda is a pioneer in integrating refugees and giving them full rights.
7. Malta – 2.7 per cent
Malta is the Western country that has received the most refugees relative to its population. The country is located near the coast of North Africa and receives many refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya. The pressure has become even greater since Italy has made it almost impossible for rescue vessels to dock at its own ports.
8. Sudan – 2.6 per cent
With over one million refugees since 2010, Sudan is the fifth largest recipient country in absolute numbers. Most have fled the conflict in neighboring South Sudan. Sudan is also a key transit country for refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, among others, who are trying to flee to Europe.
9. Sweden – 2.6 per cent
Sweden has long had the most generous refugee policy in Europe and, unlike many other countries, has actively welcomed refugees. But the large influx of refugees to Europe in 2015, where many European countries were unwilling to share the responsibility, led the government to introduce a temporary law that limited the rights of refugees to a minimum of what the country has committed itself to through international conventions. Despite this, Sweden still received far more refugees than most European countries.
10. South Sudan – 2.5 per cent
Although South Sudan is better known for its own displaced population, it is also home to more than 300,000 refugees from neighbouring countries. Most are refugees from Sudan who fled conflict in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in the years after South Sudan gained its independence in 2011.
In addition to these ten countries that have received the most refugees relative to their population, there are certain populous countries that have received a large number of refugees during this period and have contributed positively to giving many people a secure future.
The most important of these countries are:
Germany – 1,265,000 refugees (1.5% of the total population)
Ethiopia – 943,000 (0.8%)
United States – 773,000 (0.23%)
Bangladesh – 675,000 (0.4%)
Kenya – 394,000 (0.7%)
Russia – 453,000 (0.3%)
Cameroon – 416,000 (1.5%)
Clearly these various concentrations of refugees result from the recipient nations’ proximity to those in crisis. Just as Haitians find the United States near enough to gain access to our borders, so do populations in the Middle East seek safety in nearby places. Yet the numbers alone should help us in the U.S. consider the big picture of what likely lies ahead not only for us, but for the rest of the world.
Nations in political crisis have no leadership or organizational capability to handle emergencies like floods, earthquakes, or war. Just as wars in the Middle East will likely not end anytime soon, and thus refugees in that region will continue to seek safety and the means of livelihood, so will environmental and political crises continue to send waves of refugees to American borders.
Americans need to unify behind some clear-cut policy.
- Do we allow refugees to enter the country illegally? If not, what is the answer to situations like the current influx of Haitians? Aside from a fence, which has already been considered, tried, and seen to fail, what possible barrier can we construct to force refugees to abide by our policies?
- Border patrol agents are duty bound to stop people from swarming into the U.S. illegally. Is it unreasonable for them to chase down people trying to evade our laws? It seems clear that anyone trying to enter the country illegally already knows they are breaking the law. That does not bode well for their actions and attitude once in our communities.
- We have rules, specific steps a person must take to apply for asylum before entering the U.S. Are we to ignore those rules?
- How much money should we spend to improve conditions in places like Haiti?
- How much should the U.S. or the UN interfere in places like Haiti where the government has more or less collapsed following the assassination of their president? Do we or the UN force a government model and de facto leaders in such situations? The U.S. has a dark history of interfering in the governments of other countries, most notably in efforts to displace so-called socialist or communist regimes, which in turn has contributed to their political instability. How would our interference now be any different?
- What is the alternative?
Each of us needs to consider these questions and understand our responsibilities to communicate with our elected representatives as they grapple with this problem.