Desperate refugees crammed into cockle-shell boats landing on the shingle beaches of the south Kent coast are easily portrayed as invaders. Anti-immigrant demonstrators were exploiting such fears last weekend as they blockaded the main highway into Dover Port in order “to protect Britain’s borders”. Meanwhile, the home secretary, Priti Patel, blames the French for not doing enough to stop the flow of refugees across the Channel.
Refugees attract much attention on the last highly visible stages of their journeys between France and Britain. But there is absurdly little interest in why they endure such hardships, risking detention or death.
There is an instinctive assumption in the west that it is perfectly natural for people to flee their own failed states (the failure supposedly brought on by self-inflicted violence and corruption) to seek refuge in the better-run, safer and more prosperous countries.
But what we are really seeing in those pathetic half-swamped rubber boats bobbing up and down in the Channel are the thin end of the wedge of a vast exodus of people brought about by military intervention by the US and its allies. As a result of their “global war on terror”, launched following the al-Qaeda attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, no less than 37 million people have been displaced from their homes, according to a revelatory report published this week by Brown University.
The study, part of a project called “Costs of War”, is the first time that this violence-driven mass population movement has been calculated using the latest data. Its authors conclude that “at least 37 million people have fled their homes in the eight most violent wars the US military has launched or participated in since 2001”. Of these, at least 8 million are refugees who fled abroad, and 29 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have taken flight inside their own countries. The eight wars examined by the report are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, northwest Pakistan and the Philippines.