War, ecocide and poverty turning millions more into refugees

A man was bashed on a Melbourne train for speaking out against the racist abuse of two Muslim women.

If you listen to most Western politicians you could be forgiven for thinking that refugees are a pesky annoyance, greedy “economic refugees” from the Third World illegitimately trying to break into this wealthy country.

Their now monotonously routine scapegoating of refugees for the pain and insecurity that more and more people feel, even in the richest countries in the world, translates into plain abuse out there in the public.

“Third world vermin,” spits a racist thug in the street while PM Tony Abbott and his ministers routinely dismiss the nightmare that is the global refugee crisis. It's their excuse for their unabashed heartlessness when confronted by horrible scenes on the TV news of the Rohingya refugees, for instance.

There is no examination or acknowledgement of the war, oppression, exploitation and ecological devastation that has created a desperate body of some 15 million refugees worldwide. These are 15 million people who have been driven out of their home countries and live in horrible conditions in refugee camps or washing across oceans and continents shunned by more and more governments.

And behind these 15 million are a further 38 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) according to a new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). These are people who have been forced from their homes but are still within the borders of their own country. They are sometimes called “internal refugees”.

Every day in 2014, an average of 30,000 people were turned into IDPs. War was the biggest immediate cause of this situation, but behind many wars you will also find poverty and ecological devastation.

The wars in Iraq, South Sudan and Syria alone forced more than 4.5 million people from their homes last year, raising the total IDP numbers by 15%. At least 7.6 million people have been internally displaced in Syria alone. This is the single biggest concentration of IDPs in the world and represents 35% of Syria’s population.

Then there is poverty. The World Bank estimates that more than a billion people are living in extreme poverty. According to recent research this number underestimates the problem. It is based on the long outdated benchmark of US$1.25 a day in what's called “Purchasing Power Parity”.

The bureaucrats have not only given up on adjusting the benchmark for extreme poverty but they have also stopped counting in the poorest parts of the world – because governments there no longer have enough money to do real surveys, let alone alleviate poverty. A huge proportion of public revenue goes to paying off debt to banks in the rich countries.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 87 million migrant workers and about 15% of these don't have regular status. They are prey to human trafficking and super-exploitation.

Meanwhile, hardening official attitudes in the West towards refugees has many nasty consequences, one of which was the bashing of a man of conscience who spoke out against the racist abuse of two Muslim women on a Melbourne suburban train last week.

Our politicians have effectively encouraged racist abuse and violence and they have also given an excuse to many other Australians to stop thinking critically. But they will not intimidate Green Left Weekly from speaking out against all injustice and telling the truth.

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