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Gordon Campbell on selecting refugees and Aussie generosity

Gordon Campbell on selecting refugees, Aussie generosity and a cat video

Now that we know how many Syrian refugees New Zealand will accept, the focus can shift onto how they’ll be selected, and the criteria in play. Some 600 extra Syrian refugees will be welcomed here over the next three years, and 150 more will enter as part of our annual UN quota of 750 refugees. When asked by Scoop on Monday at his post-Cabinet press conference about how this intake will be selected, PM John Key said that the UN would make the initial assessment, with further validation and checks by a New Zealand team working alongside the UN. It was unclear whether this system applied only to the segment of the UN quota intake earmarked for Syrians.

Already, the likes of NZ First leader Winston Peters have weighed in, and called for women and children to be given a higher priority than single men. (The UN quota criteria already contain a priority category for women at risk.) Across the Tasman, Australian PM Tony Abbott has said that the 12,000 extra Syrian refugees that Australia has now agreed to accept will prioritise women, children and families from persecuted minorities currently living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. If Key follows suit – as seems likely – this means that Britain’s David Cameron, Abbott and Key have all tacitly agreed to bypass the refugees in Europe (who remain Europe’s problem) and will concentrate instead on relieving a bit of the pressure on Syria’s neighbours. That seems a sensible use of scant resources.

Presumably, New Zealand will work closely with Australia in the selection process. So far, the response by Australia has put this country to shame. Australia has a population roughly 5 times bigger than ours – yet its special intake of Syrian refugees over and above its usual quota is around twenty times larger than our contribution. Alas, that’s all too typical. Annually we take in 750 UN refugees, with about another 350 on average via family re-unification and 120 asylum seekers, or about 1,220 all up. (We are reviewing the UN quota component of our refugee intake next year.)

That’s pretty pathetic. According to Abbott, Australia’s “existing [refugee] humanitarian programme [is] 13, 750 this year, rising to 18,750 in three years time.” Even by the most generous counting of our intake, Australia’s effort is therefore 11 times what we offer to the needy, and in three year’s time it has committed itself to boost that to 15 times what we offer. Oh, and Australia will also be offering $44 million to 240,000 refugees in cash, food and shelter to the Syrian refugees in camps around the Middle East, which is roughly eight times the cash donation that our government is offering. In sum… on a per capita basis, we are offering a quite miserly response, especially when compared with the effort that Australia is making.

As mentioned, persecuted minorities will have a high priority within the Australian special intake, but Abbott has ruled out selecting Christians ahead of Muslims. Christians make up about 10% of the Syrian population. Many were located in the town of Homs targeted by the Assad regime, and a sizeable number were also in Aleppo, where Islamic State and its rivals have wreaked havoc. Even so:

[Abbott] denied there would be any preferential treatment given to Christians over Muslims despite reports of some backbench anti-Muslim sentiment. "It's those who can never go back that we're focused on," he said.

Fort the record, Australia will also be bombing Islamic State targets inside Syria.

Declaring the need to act "with our heads, as well as with our hearts", Mr Abbott said air strikes would target Islamic State targets in eastern Syria. Mr Abbott said the legal basis for the air strikes is "the collective self-defence of Iraq".

As refugees pour in their hundreds of thousands out of Syria into Europe – across the Mediterranean, or overland via the Balkans, or north through Russia to Norway – the (lack of ) response to the outflow by the neighbouring Arabic-speaking countries (ie Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States) has been noticeable. Saudi Arabia is largely responsible for creating and funding Islamic State (as a tool against Iran and its ally Assad) but the Saudis have taken in zero refugees. Why is this?

Leaving aside the rank Islamophobic explanation, or the terrorists-in-refugees clothing conspiratorial one (whereby the refugee tide is an express attempt to destabilise the West) the best explanation I’ve read has been this one in Business Insider: which links the Saudi reluctance on this issue to the extensive and abusive use of migrant labour buy the Arab states in the Gulf:

"There are some Syrians who have found refuge in the Gulf, especially in Qatar, but they would all generally be on some kind of temporary visas," says Jane Kinninmont, deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in London. "The Gulf countries are not signatories to the international conventions on refugee rights that Western countries and indeed most world countries have signed up to." She says their position appears to be motivated by the presence of so many migrant workers in the Gulf states, including from countries like Pakistan, where there is political unrest and repression. "Their concern would be that if they started recognizing political asylum it could potentially open the doors for a multitude of their temporary workers to stay permanently, and that would raise a lot of quite complex issues."

The number of migrant workers exceeds the native population in every Gulf country except Saudi Arabia and Oman. In all of the Gulf countries, the vast majority of the workforce is foreign, ranging from 88.5% in Oman to 99.5% in the United Arab Emirates.

Kuwait, at least, is pulling its weight sending cash – and the others (Egypt excepted) are not all that far behind:

Kuwait is the single largest Arab donor to Syrian refugees, and the fourth-largest internationally, following the US, UK, and Germany. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also among the top 10 international donors.

Music, and cats

With cat videos reportedly accounting for anything up to 15% of all Internet traffic, even a boring political blog like this one has to think occasionallty of the bigger picture. Ergo, a cat video. Now, Parquet Court’s “Sunbathing Animal” song has a video consisting solely of a cat gazing out the window and scratching the sofa, but since the sofa was laced with food and catnip and the band played bird noises outside etc that counts as cheating. My favourite cat-in-a-video song would have to be “Ride The Darker Wave” – which Lou Barlow wrote and recorded years ago for Sebadoh… Look ! A cat ! Awww, cute.

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