Refugees & Human Rights Part 1: Crisis & War | Philosophy Tube

You may be aware that “the West,” for
lack of a better term, currently has a refugee crisis. Or, for reasons we’ll get onto,
maybe it’s more accurate to say that refugees have a West crisis. In this two part series
we’re gonna do something a little bit different: in this Part 1 I’m just going to tell you
a story, and then in Part 2 we’re going to look at what that story tells us about
the philosophy of human rights. What’s interesting about our current refugee crisis is that it’s not the first time this has happened. And so our story begins almost a century
ago, in the year 1918… The Great War has just ended and there are a lot of people don’t have any homes to go back to. Some of them have found their homes don’t exist anymore, like Austria-Hungary; and some are political exiles like from Russia… There
are a lot of people who are officially stateless. And there are a lot of people who are in danger of becoming stateless. Almost every nation in Europe at this time has laws that allow the government to remove your citizenship. A lot of these laws are marketed as ways of getting rid of people who weren’t fully sympathetic to our side during the war. If you’re suspected of doing anything
that might not have been 100% supportive of our brave troops in our side of the war you might find your citizenship revoked, which could mean you can’t get a job, or maybe you have to go to prison, or maybe you have to flee the country entirely! Once your government disowns you, you pretty much don’t have any rights anymore. Which means there are literally millions of
people wandering around Europe with nowhere to go. You can’t deport them, because if somebody doesn’t have a country you can’t deport them back to it. Or in some cases, they have a country but if they go back there right now they’ll be killed. But they also have next to no rights
in the countries they end up in because they aren’t citizens there either. All these
people are just falling through the cracks in the system. There’s no political or legal framework to deal with
people who have no nation: it’s not that they’re illegal, it’s more that they’re unlegal. It’s not so much that they don’t have rights; as they don’t even have the right to have rights. A lot of these people end up in concentration camps, which just means a place where they are detained, imprisoned, without trial. Concentration camp comes to mean something slightly different later on, and don’t worry: we’ll get onto that. Obviously a concentration camp is an extremely unpleasant place to be. And while you’re there, if you’re beaten, robbed, tortured, or just kept there forever, there’s
nobody you can turn to because no authority recognises you. Often the police are deciding what to do with these refugees on a case-by-case basis. Which means that the police are no longer just enforcing the law; they’re essentially creating it on the spot. Not only does this make life
for stateless people terrifying and arbitrary and unpredictable, but it also means that the police are getting more and more powerful because practically speaking they are allowed to do anything you can’t stop them doing. It isn’t just legal and political systems
that are too inflexible to accommodate these refugees either. All across Europe, people’s ideas of what it means to be British, be French, be Italian, are so inflexible that they can’t accommodate the idea that somebody who arrived yesterday from another country
might become just as British, just as French, just as Italian, as somebody who’d lived there eighty years. Some people are starting to say that refugees can’t be part of our nation, because there’s a national soul that everyone who’s really from the nation has, like there’s an English soul that only “true”
English people have, or maybe it’s something to do with English values that all true English people share. Or maybe it’s something to do with blood…or race? Right wing groups across Europe are starting to say that the failure of our political systems to deal with these refugees is proof that the systems
are weak and corrupt and in need of strong correction. Even worse they’re blaming the refugees
themselves for their situation, saying it’s their fault: they got kicked out of their own countries! Now they’re coming over here: they don’t speak the language; they’re bringing crime; they’re bringing diseases; they’re a drain on the nation and need to be gotten rid of for the health of the whole body politic. The people getting the worst of this are Jews. Anti-Semitism has been widespread everywhere, not just Germany, for decades and Jews already had no nation
before the war even began. And all of these factors are swirling round Europe and… And that’s why a lot of people voted for Hitler. And that’s why a lot of people who weren’t even in Germany to vote for him supported him and collaborated with the Nazis. We know where this goes, so time to get back to the 21st Century. Now if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in the world a lot of that story should be ringing alarm bells for you. There’s an ongoing refugee crisis and climate change, to which we are choosing to massively contribute,
is going to make it a lot worse. And a lot of the same mistakes are being made. For instance, we’ve got concentration camps where migrants are imprisoned without trial like, for instance, Yarl’s Wood, to name one of the ones in the UK, as well as concentration camps in Libya for migrants which my government is spending millions of pounds funding. We’ve got legislation like the 2014 Immigration Act, which allows the British government to strip British citizens of their citizenship even if that means leaving them stateless. Take for instance the cases of Mohamed Sakr and Bilal al-Berjawi – both British men, men who’d lived in Britain longer than I have. Stripped of their
citizenship by then Home Secretary Teresa May and, once they were no longer under the protection of the government, they were killed without trial or sentence in drone strikes by the Obama administration. We’ve got people denying our role in causing displacement and creating refugees: at time of filming the USA has recently announced they are gonna stop accepting refugees from five countries that they are also bombing – creating refugees and then refusing to help them. We’ve got
people blaming the refugees themselves for their situation. The Daily Mail is doing that to refugees today just like it did to Jewish
refugees who were fleeing Hitler, actually. You stay classy, Daily Mail. Be very clear about this: the problem in interwar
Europe was not the existence of refugees. The problem was that the nations of Europe were unwilling to help them. The countries of Europe could
have gone, “Okay, welcome, here’s a home and a job!” They could have done that. It would have been difficult, but they could literally have done it. Instead they chose to go, “Why should we take care of it? Let somebody else worry about them; we don’t want them. They are not like us.” What’s also interesting is that the treatment
of migrants often mirrors the treatment of indigenous peoples in settler colonist countries.
Migrant justice groups and Indigenous People’s justice groups in Canada for instance have found that they have common ground: the No One is Illegal Movement in Vancouver does a lot of work with Indigenous justice groups because they face a lot of the same obstacles – racism, bureaucracy, police violence – and so the resistance tactics that are good for one group are often good for the other as well. Another interesting area of overlap is with disability justice groups: a lot of migrants are finding is that their access to citizenship and therefore the means of living are dependent on their willingness to work, which is to say generate wealth for
someone else in exchange for often substandard wages. That’s a story that a lot of people with
disabilities can sympathise with. Alright, now, look, I know that there’s this rule on the Internet that if you mention the Nazis the discussion is over, which is why I’ve saved this bit till last – and also it is actually very relevant. If you ever get the chance to go to Auschwitz you should go. Every human being should go at least once, in my opinion. It’s…yeah. Go. The Nazis turned concentration camp into extermination camp. And they couldn’t have done that, they couldn’t have gotten in a position, mentally, to do that, unless there was already a widespread belief that some human beings are disposable. Political scientist Hannah Arendt writes, “This in
turn could only happen because the Rights of Man, which had never been philosophically
established but merely formulated, which had never been politically secured but merely
proclaimed, have, in their traditional form,
lost all validity.” The way we talk about the human rights of
people who have been displaced from their country is going to be life and death important in the next 50 years. Hell, it’s life and death today. That’s why in Part 2 we’re going
to take this story – this emotional, evocative, condensed story – and examine the philosophy
underneath it. But having seen this Part 1, you are now aware of just how high the stakes are for this discussion. If you could give me two or three dollars
a month at, that helps me pay my rent and afford food.
Anything you could do would be amazing. And don’t forget to subscribe.


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