Will it be camps? Or can it be something else?

Images of migrant children being separated and placed into barracks and camps are a mere preface to the many disturbing and inhumane images most of us will bear witness to over the coming years.

Our world is warming and becoming inhospitable; and governments are doing little to nothing to prepare for the inevitable breakdown in social systems that will accompany the consequences of these changes.

Camps for stranded children are the beginning of a grave, species-wide trauma. A trauma we are largely inflicting on ourselves. 

A warming world will break social systems, lead to increased droughts and floods, stronger hurricanes, and higher temperatures. This has already been happening for some time.

But the pace and extent of these changes will increase dramatically over the coming years, as greenhouse gas emissions continue their relentless march.

As environmental conditions worsen, people will flee. They will flee to places that are wealthier, more stable, and where there is a better possibility to survive. They will do this because it is human to seek shelter in times of danger. And there will be no shortage of danger in the world we are all building, daily, ceaselessly, thoughtlessly.

Rich countries have a choice to make. They can continue to do nothing and to engage in scare tactics in the vain hope that this will solve the problem. Presumably, this is what the camps are supposed to do. They are supposed to give the signal that people fleeing crises are not welcome, and should go elsewhere.

The problem, which the geniuses in charge can’t seem to realize, is that there is quite literally nowhere else to go.

Over time, this type of thinking will lead to growing state power, particularly at the border. Petty bureaucrats will be making life-and-death decisions over refugees. They will separate families. They will be given access to greater weaponry and firepower, and more troops will be sent to handle an ever growing crisis. 

If we continue down that road, whatever is left of our democratic norms will wither and die, fairly quickly. They will die because putting people in camps, separating families, treating people in a terrible manner, increasing government power and militarizing society is the surest way to create a dictatorship. 

There is no “fix” to immigration. There is no changing the fact that people movements into and even through the United States, into Canada, are only going to increase in the next few decades, and probably increase dramatically. This is the cold reality, and a consequence of decades of policies largely enacted and overseen by the United States that have kept most of Latin America and the Global South poor and unstable. 

So the real question then is whether or not the rich countries can step up to the challenge of managing greater numbers of refugees in a manner that supports and sustains democratic norms. We must construct and implement social policies premised on human freedom, on basic human rights, on government representation, and (critically) which support and sustain international peace and security.

These policies will look very different than the policies we have in place today. They may include things like:

  • Abolishing indefinite detention in camps and instead creating an orderly and humane procedure whereby refugees are welcomed, have an application processed expeditiously, and if accepted, are then provided the support they need to integrate into society.
  • Abolishing fear-based tactics which demonize people seeking help, and instead, implementing a reality-based approach to refugee policy which asks why people are coming, and what government can do to help them once they have arrived.
  • Abolishing a militant and imperial foreign policy which destroys societies all over the world, creating the very refugees who are then spat on and denied entry at the entry gates of the imperial homeland. 
  • Abolishing a culture of white supremacy which treats refugees with dark skin as less than human, as others, as filth. 

The Great Refugee Crisis is not yet even upon us. But it is coming. It will be here soon enough. Yet the world remains unprepared for the reality of 21st century people movements. 

Time to prepare. Time for a change. Time to reject a Dark Age, and instead, time to build a Golden Age.