Human smuggling is now said to have an annual turnover of over $7 billion — more than revenue from smuggling drugs. Caroline Moorehead's important new book looks at 'human cargo' from Afghanistan, Liberia, Palestine and many other places. She has visited war zones, camps, prisons — and the black Dinka families from the Sudan who were re-settled north of the Arctic Circle in Finland.
She follows the fate of 57 young member of the Mandingo tribe, who fled ethnic cleansing and ended up happily in America via Egypt. She is shown the graves in Sicily of drowned boat people, and examines the fence that has been built across Texas and into the sea to keep migrants out of America. She has interviewed emigration officials in Australia and members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva. Is there a valid distinction between 'good' asylum seekers and 'bad' economic migrants?
What happens to those whose applications are turned down? The difficult questions are asked, the horrible issues faced. But, above all, Human Cargo celebrates the courage, cheerfulness and will to survive of ordinary human beings.
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Caroline Moorehead wrote a column on human rights first for The Times and then for the Independent (1980-91) and made a series of TV programmes on human rights for the BBC (1990-2000). She has written the history of the International Committee of the Red Cross (1998); and has helped to set up a Legal Advice Centre for refugees in Cairo, where she has also started schools and a nursery. Currently she works as a volunteer on the legal team for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, while also continuing to review and write on human rights in many different papers.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Homeless and the Rightless
Displacement is like death. One thinks it happens only to other people.
When Henri Dunant arrived home from the battle of Solferino in June 1859, full of disgust and pity at the treatment of wounded soldiers, Geneva was a small, pious, scholarly city, where people lived modestly and regarded themselves as enlightened conservatives. In the narrow streets of the fine old town, up and down the Grand Rue where the rich, established families lived, they had long felt pride not only in the number and variety of their philanthropic endeavours, but also in the welcome they extended to the people they called ‘aliens’, the foreigners and political refugees such as Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who had come to settle along the shores of their lake, and whom they regarded as assets, not liabilities.
For all their instinctive misgivings about Dunant’s impetuousness and touches of vanity, the Genevois quickly perceived that there was much lustre to be gained for their city in his impassioned pleas for humane action in the conduct of war. Soon, committees were meeting to draft articles on the laws of war, on the care of wounded soldiers, and on injuries caused by particular kinds of weapons. They were not the first proposals dealing with the regulation of warfare, but they were more ambitious than most that had gone before, and the timing was right. By 1864, the Red Cross movement was born, and the first Geneva Convention had been drafted and presented for signature to the nations of the world. The Genevois took immense pleasure in their new initiative, though by now Dunant himself was an outcast, victim of a foolish financial speculation and consigned to obscurity until unexpectedly awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize as an old man over forty years later.
Geneva’s credentials for the new humanitarian movement were excellent. Switzerland was a neutral country strategically placed at the heart of Europe, its absolute neutrality sanctioned by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and again by the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, since when it had welcomed a steady flow of people at times of European unrest. It was prosperous and it was pacifist. Not surprising, then, that in 1920, when millions of people were made stateless by the dismantling of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and the collapse of Tsarist Russia, it was to Geneva that the world looked for the creation of an organisation to care for those fleeing chaos, famine and persecution. By then the League of Nations had been set up in the Palais des Nations, not far from the lake. For the International Committee of the Red Cross, just up the road, deeply involved in refugee matters and enjoying considerable international prestige as a result of its work during World War I, it was an obvious step to put pressure on the new League to care for refugees.
In 1921, the League persuaded the Norwegian explorer Fridjof Nansen – he was sixty and would have preferred to pursue his scientific interests – to take the job of negotiating the repatriation of some 500,000 Russian prisoners of war; the following year, he was appointed first High Commissioner for Refugees. Nansen received little funding, but he possessed a great deal of passion and energy. He persuaded governments to recognise travel documents for stateless Russians – the Nansen passport – and then turned his attention to the problem of the hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians, Romanians, Magyars and Armenians, survivors of the Turkish massacres, now wandering Europe and constantly turned away at borders. ‘Once they had left their homeland,’ wrote Hannah Arendt in the 1950s, ‘they remained homeless; once they had left their state, they became stateless; once they had been deprived of their rights, they became rightless, the scum of the earth.’
Nansen worked extremely hard all through the 1920s. By his death in 1930 he had almost single-handedly helped a large number of people and established a principle of moral responsibility for the displaced, but the organisation had as yet very little bite and could do little to help the Jews, who by the early 1930s were already looking for safety from Nazi rule and finding the doors of Western states closed against them. In 1933, the League of Nations set up a High Commissioner for Refugees from Germany, but so anxious was it not to offend the German government, still at this point a member of the League, that it agreed to regard the matter solely as an internal affair and to confine its attentions to emigration and travel documents, with no questions asked about the conditions and causes for flight. An outspoken early commissioner, James G. McDonald, resigned in despair in 1936. Two years later, the Germans left the League, but even so the Western governments remained reluctant to offend them. When it came to human lives, McDonald said bitterly but without effect, ‘considerations of diplomatic correctness must yield to those of common humanity’.
The economic depression that spread across North America and Europe in the 1930s did much to set back the refugee cause. National interests, governments argued, would be best served by imposing tough limits on immigration. One by one, ever more restrictive laws, aimed at keeping out all but carefully selected groups, were passed. It was only after considerable pressure from Jewish associations that President Roosevelt agreed, in 1938, to call an international conference at Evian to discuss ways to resettle the Jews now trying to escape Austria and Germany. Evian is a shameful milestone in the history of refugee affairs. It was there that delegates from most of the major Western powers rose, one after the other, to talk about their own national levels of unemployment and to argue that the movement of so many Jewish refugees could only be ‘disturbing to the general economy’. Evian offered no lifeline to the Jews of Europe. All it achieved was the creation of a feeble intergovernmental committee on refugees. It was unable either to persuade Germany to allow their Jewish citizens to emigrate with money or possessions, or to convince Great Britain not to curtail the immigration of Jews into Palestine. Germany, encouraged by the world’s evident indifference to the suffering of the Jews as well as the other unwanted members of its population, stepped up its own punishments and restrictions. Nansen’s dream, of a world that took responsibility for the fate of those who fell victim to human-rights abuses and were forced to flee their homes, lay in ruins.
By early 1945, there were over 40 million people drifting about Europe, stateless, displaced, lost. There were Germans trying to go home; there were survivors of the concentration camps; there were those whose countries and homes had been swallowed up, as borders had been redrawn and territory had changed hands. Many of these people, Russians and Czechs, Poles and Hungarians, Ukrainians and Romanians, gathered in Germany, a country in which almost everything – houses, roads, railway lines, water supplies, industry and agriculture – had collapsed.
The Western powers had been preparing for this moment. As early as November 1943, meetings had been held by the Allies to discuss what relief measures would be necessary when the Axis countries were at last defeated. Mindful of their lack of generosity in the pre-war years and appalled by the stories now emerging from the occupied countries of German atrocities, forty-four states agreed to donate large sums of money to assist and return home those who had been displaced by war. Between the autumn of 1943 and the summer of 1947, a UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, employing at its peak over 27,000 people, spent $3.6 billion, the bulk of it given by the United States. One of UNRRA’s many tasks, debated at some length at both the Yalta and the Potsdam conferences, was how to repatriate as quickly and as efficiently as possible all those wanting to return home at the end of hostilities. Unlike its predecessors, UNRRA proved effective. In the first five months of peace, three-quarters of the displaced went home.
However, it soon became apparent that not everyone actually wanted to go home, particularly as news began reaching the West that Stalin was sending many of those who returned straight to the gulags. By 1946 repatriation had all but stopped, and a million people were still in Europe’s refugee camps.
It was in New York and Washington, rather than in Geneva, that the next step in the refugee story took place. At the heart of the post-war sessions debating the new United Nations, and among those drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the talk was all about the rights of people, their right to flee from oppression, to express their own views, to practise their own faiths, and to choose for themselves where they wanted to live. Refugees, lacking protection, became people of international concern and protection. And it was no longer simply a matter of groups of people, fleeing and being assisted together, but of individuals with their own cases, their own choices and fears and anxieties. According to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration, every individual was to have the ‘right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’.
UNRRA had been established to deal with repatriations. As its chief funder, America now decided to wind up its activities. In the face of bitter opposition from the Eastern bloc, which continued to call on its former citizens to come home, the US voted to create a new body, the International Refugee Organisation. The IRO’s mandate was subtly different: to ‘resettle’ people uprooted by war. The Soviets refused to join, accusing the West of turning the camps into centres of anti-communist propaganda and using them to recruit the forced labour they needed to rebuild their shattered countries. But an importa...
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Book Description Vintage Books, 2006. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110099492873
Book Description Vintage Books. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0099492873 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW6.1036358