This week the federal government is set to announce new refugee levels for the year.
Given the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS and the continuing carnage in Syria, the number of people seeking a new life in the West is only expected to grow – as will pressure on Western governments and societies to welcome more refugees.
One consequence of this need already witnessed is the rise of nationalist right wing movements, a Oxford fellow and internationally acclaimed scholar on forced migration and international relations, Alexander Betts told The West Block’s Tom Clark.
At the same time, the world is seeing more displaced people than at any other time since World War Two – a number that is increasing every year – although as a proportion of the world’s population, the increase is slight, he said.
“What’s changing is the reasons why people are moving. More people are moving because of desperation,” he said.
In the West, this has translated into louder calls from nationalists who fear the impact immigration might have domestically.
“Politicians have to address alienation and fear of immigration, but they also have to keep their countries open to an inevitable globalization, and that’s a hard thing to do,” Betts said.
Politicians and citizens alike have to recognize that it’s not just immigration that’s changing cultures and societies, it’s also things like globalization and the internet, he said. Perhaps more importantly, Betts said, they have to bear in mind migration is not new.
“We’ve seen mass migration since the end of the 19th century. The United States, Canada, or Australia is built on immigration. So we can’t pretend there was a moment in history in which culture was static,” Betts said.
“But I think politicians have to be brave in articulating to their publics what’s going on at a global level, what these trends are, why they’re challenging, ensuring those that feel left behind share in the benefits and are not excluded and alienated.”
One way to do that, he said, is to distinguish between people leaving homelands as refugees from persecution and conflict, and those fleeing for opportunity.
“The ideal solution is to end wars around the world and bring democracy to authoritarian regimes, but that’s hard and we’re not good at it,” Betts said. “So in the absence of those solutions to address room causes, we have to inevitably expect people to cross borders as a last resort and we need to provide sanctuary and safety to them.”
If, however, the mood is not diffused and no firm middle ground is established between the far right and left, the consequences could be dire, Betts said.
“We could end up with the election of extreme far-right parties, we could end up with the collapse of tolerance for minority rights,” he said. “We could end up with politicians like Donald Trump in the United States. We could end up with far-right politicians across Europe. And the last time we were there was the 1930s Europe.”