Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

UK Defence Strategy – Time To Get It Right

September 21, 2015


21 September 2015. London.

Tomorrow the British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon will set out his government’s view of the “strategic context” of the most important UK defence plan since the post Falklands War 1980s.  It will be the basis of a new Defence Review – the document that will say how Britain sees the world and in it the potential threats to the United Kingdom.

Today there are close on 40 wars around the globe. In each of a third of those conflicts as many as 10,000 are killed each year. British troops are deployed in 80 countries, most in peaceful roles but each with a security background.

It is very possible that a new deployment will be announced before this month is out; the UK has a request to supply a blue beret United Nations peace keeping force into Southern Sudan.  It is not a mission the British want but may have to take up.

Mr Fallon’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute, the London think tank on Tuesday will reflect the fact that three trigger words have to be in his thinking as never before on such a scale of importance: cyber, Daesh (IS) and refugee.

Cyber security is now so complex that the best Intelligence agencies in the world cannot cope with the way terrorist organisations are using this technology as part of attacking planning.  But cyber security threat is not all laptop terrorism.  Hacking units in China can get into the Pentagon and the British Defence Ministry the bastions of military opposition to state to state threats as well as the more complicated planning needed for asymmetric warfare.

Daesh can be disrupted but its true threat is that thus far there is little sign that regional governments can counter its ambitions without major military intervention from a coalition of Western forces. Few governments are willing to get directly involved at a level of eyeball to eyeball ground operations necessary to squash IS – a deceptively sophisticated enemy.

Perhaps of particular importance in Mr Fallon’s understanding of IS is that it constantly attracts men and women who see it as more than a cause.  Many of its recruits are young, educated and at odds with their own societies. In the UK for example, an IS recruit is typically the radicalised son or grandson of a family of sometime immigrants.  The radicalised generation says that the father, grandfather syndrome may live in the UK thankful for the shelter given by the British, but the young man – often with few long term prospects – has no deep identity and one who feels an alien and not willing to continue in that uneasy state as does his parent’s line. For Mr Fallon and his advisers here is a reminder of the threat of the enemy within. A mega buck defence budget cannot plan for that.  But it has to plan for the consequences of disaffection and radicalisation – the hardest aspect of his security diagram.

Refugees are not a direct military problem but they are destabilising. This phenomenon is not just about people escaping from war zones that Western governments have helped create either by commission or omission. It is not even about opportunism.  The greater and destabilising factor of mass movement of peoples is a reflection that most countries from whence they come simply do not work.  They come from corruptly governed states with individual high level corruption at an unprecedented level.  The refugee is in a mass movement that is already causing a long term schism in what was once a community of hope, the EU.

Here then the conundrum: at one time the British defence budget was simple.  The UK military had a nuclear deterrent system and then a traditionally balanced conventional tri-service that could honour post-colonial obligations and be part of that great coalition of the willing, NATO.  It may not have worked that well, but then it was not required to.

Today the British defence analysis  sees a world with uncertainty in Europe and not all the doing of President Putin of Russia.  It has to anticipate the consequences of a threat that it little understands – climate change and the imbalances of natural resources and changing societies.  Refugees are but one aspect of climate change. The Fallon plan has to look at the possibilities of conflict that are as yet quite unclear, for example, the grab for resources in the Arctic.  All this and more and not even mentioning the long term emergence of a Middle East and sub Saharan Africa with re-drawn boundaries.

In short there is hardly a spot on the globe that does not demand Mr Fallon’s attention. Hence his review. Hence his speech. The job of Britain is finally to decided how it sees its part in the world for the coming two decades and then to see if it has the military capability to support that vision.  Mr Fallon’s is an unenviable task.

Refugees? You ain’t see nothing yet

September 5, 2015


September 2015 London.The world of Tweets, texts and social media in 74 languages that started the Arab Spring is now doing what Europe’s political finest would not do- moving aside barriers. Even the UK’s self-confessed compassionate Prime Minsiter David Cameron has been shamed into executing the biggest u-turn of his Downing Street career on this.

Forty eight hours after saying that the UK would not take extra refugees he was promising that the British Isles will take “thousands” more refugees from the war in Syria. Poor chap must know that most will see this as a political u-turn and very little to do with compassion. Considering that compassion is the first duty of government that must be a harsh opinion to handle.

What remains a curious side to the events of the past few days is that so many European states have been caught by surprise by the size and complexity of the migration tragedy. For four years we have watched millions on the move from homelands struck day after day and night after night by terror seemingly from all sides. We watched and help cope with the movement of devastated peoples filling hastily built tent cities beyond the land borders of, say, Syria. We watched for eighteen months or so as refugee smugglers over-stowed small craft with refugees as far away as Ethiopia.

Yet still our North European governments failed to plan for what we now see. Yet the aid agencies, the network camera crews and the seemingly daily reports of tragedies said this was happening and was becoming an unmanageable crises. On the contrary, in the EU our governments did not stop a vote to reduce the humanitarian maritime watch over the crossings of the Mediterranean between North Africa and places like Lampedusa.

As an example of the frustration felt when evidence was ignored, I was part of an ad hoc group who sat in the University of Perugia studying the mass migration trends and predicted with uncanny accuracy the sort of scenes we have seen these past couple of weeks. In 2014 my paper on numbers and what should be the maritime response including the command & control structure plus the administration of land-based reception, recording and onward dispatch centers was not hard to write. Mass movement since Moses have had one distinction: no variation in the form and consequence of that movement. It is follow-my-leader on a massive scale that invites similar tragedy and consequence once the caravan halts.

The Italians took notice of what we were doing. A copy was sent to the NATO Secretary General’s office. The Sitrep programme on BFBS reported it. True the maritime effort was resumed and vessels such as HMS Bulwark did and are doing heroic work. But that was in response to the crisis, not the flashing lights two or more years back.

The cruel conclusion is that it took the body of a three year-old lad on a washed beach to move forward the action plot and the political up date. That is the way we are today.

The EU’s foreign affairs specialist Federica Mogherini said a couple of days ago that EU countries need to set aside their differences and stand together to deal with the problem.

“The time for blame games is over, it’s time for taking decisions, turning decisions into actions, and doing it united, as Europeans.

“Only in this way will we have the possibilities to face this issue, this urgency, this dramatic event, keeping faith to our European values,” she said.

Ms Mogherini is an Italian. In her words there was something very Italian. The Italians were in the first front line of this tragedy and they responded with great honour. The rest of us did not and mostly we still are not. Maybe we are all scared of what it could mean, the mass migration of peoples who are victims of war that we partly created.

Whatever the values Ms Mogherini thinks abandoned there are three truths we should all think hard on:

  • There was massive warning of what was about to happen
  • It took Twitter etc before most states reacted with compassion
  • 28 states of the EU are now caught in an East-West schism

There is something else to think hard on: today there are 60 million displaced persons in the world. What we now see is just the beginning.

Calais: Let Them In

July 31, 2015





31 July London. The Prime Minister David Cameron chairs a meeting today on what to do about Calais. The dilemma is self made.

For years the French unions have struck knowing that tactical advantage in such a sensitive area will always secure a result and it always has.

For years refugees have gathered in Calais knowing it is the final albeit cosliest push to get into England.  Some have been successful.

For years nothing has been done in France to sort the unions – because they cannot be sorted – and nothing has been done to clear refugees from the  jumping-off point from continental Europe – because there is no way to do it.

So there is the practical agenda for Cameron & Co: can the British (and mayber the French) sort the real problem?

The problem being of course two major wars zones, three minor asymmetric war zones, collapsed economies, Libya and a determination to reach the UK that by reputation is a safe and lucrative haven for those who have nothing, including hope.

Historically the British are part of the problem. In distant past colonial rule was rarely so bad as sometimes suggested today. During the two post WWII decades the British divested themselves of the right to govern 25% of the world.  In many cases the Empire had not done so badly by British rule. A few African states even to this day would like to see someting similar in place.

But the harsher truth is that without colonial masters despots rose and ruined their countries and fought other states. That is not a case for colonialism.  It is a fact.

More importantly, as the post WWII world prospered currupt leaders of former colonies (not just British) pocketed the proceeds of natural resources including oil in Africa and diverted  £multi million aid funds into their petty cash accounts.  With honourable exceptions (Botswana is one) countries and people suffered.

For the past decade we have added wars in which we have destroyed leaderships and landscapes to the misery of much that we have visited, intervened and then left without any pretence of putting the best of that which is our best in place of the bad that we claimed to have found.

And so the people have moved.  Today there are some 60 million displaced people in the world.  The population of Britain is 60 million.  Image that number with no home, no chance and a younger more savvy youth asking why this misery should be their lot?

That a relative few, if we can call tens of thousands that, have found their different ways to Calais is in these times of the spread of information, hardly a surprise – or should not be.

Given our history in the cause of this misery and given the impossibility of sending everyone home (and to what?) we have the obligation of only one answer at today’s downing Street Cabinet Office meeting: we should open the gate.

These people have come far. They have shown a resourcefulness inspired by possibility, the hope of work in what Governmenent press releases every day herald the best growing economy in the world. They have also left behind others, even the dearest, in wretched poverty and fear of air launched bombings often supported and even executed by our own government.

We have failed these people and their forefathers and now their children.

But would any British politician, community leader or churchman or woman even have the sense of dignity, imagination and courage to explain to the British poeple why we should open the Calais-Dover gate?

We should let them in and those who follow and do so not reluctantly but with open arms.

Of course no government will do that. No leader would do. No individual who arrived from other parts and now clutches a British passport would say so. But that is exactly what we should be doing. Open the gate and ask no thanks for so doing.


Christopher Lee

January 16, 2013


Children Raped In Syrian War – Terrible, But What Did Anyone Expect?

As the French in Mali would say: C’est la guerre

16 January 2013

This week, aid agencies report that women, girls and boys are being raped often in front of their families in the Syrian civil war. Just what do they expect? Have they not heard of nasty wars?  This is a nasty war.

In this sort of war, women and girls get raped.  Children get killed.  Please, will someone explain why should the Syrian conflict be any different?

More than 600,000 Syrians have got out of Syria.  According to the US-based International Rescue Committee refugees claim that for many, rape was the reason they escaped.  At least they escaped.  More than 60,000 did not.  They were, according to UN figures, killed.

In the meantime the UK Foreign Ministry under its hapless William Hague is urging other countries to get more involved. Clearly Mr Hague is being told what to say buy some fool who either knows nothing or is afraid to buck the Morocco conference decision by 100 other countries to take the side of the rebels.

They all talked about transition from Bashar al-Assad to the really nice rebels. No one at the meeting , nor since has had the guts to announce publicly that this war is fought on one side by a mixed bag of single minded killers and on the other side the legitimate government of Syria.

The international community may not like Assad and his henchmen – although there are numerous pictures of foreign diplomats and visitors fawning over the fragrant Mrs Assad – but let one of them explain what their government would do if armed rebels started shooting their way to a take-over.

They would defend their positions, just as the British defended their position in Northern Ireland in the 1970s when the IRA tried to bomb them out.

So, while the world sheds tears for rape victims, and starving and freezing children in sub-zero tents and of those left behind, maybe those same governments and common people who say it is an atrocity that must be resolved, should agree that instead of giving the rebels even more guns, they should have been starved of weapons.

Wimpish western democracies that talked of negotiation being the only way to change, could have better stuck to their beliefs. They could have said the rebels are a mixed, blood-thirsty bag who kill each other as well as Assad forces and if they get to power in Damascus they will do so on an even greater scale.

Again, when Human Rights Watch complain that Assad’s army is using cluster bombs, well, why shouldn’t he?  Who sold him the cluster bombs? If they’re so bad, why doesn’t the US government – that great liberal democracy – sign the international treaty banning them?

And here’s a further irony: Syria’s deputy foreign minister told the BBC that President Bashar al-Assad intended to play a role in any potential transition government and would stand for re-election in 2014.

“The president, and many other candidates who may run, will go to the people, put [forward] their programmes, and be elected by the people. The ballot box will be where the future of the leadership of Syria will be decided,” Faisal Mekdad added.

Maybe that’s just a con.  Most likely it is.  But does a single rebel leader talk of any form of voting? No way. In the meanwhile, the raping goes on. That’s just what happens in war and so-called thoughtful and helpful western democracies are keeping it going.

Christopher Lee

November 27, 2012


Boat People marooned on an old phosphate island while Australia thinks what to do with them – an impossible job for everyone?


27th November 2012

The Australian Government has admitted this week that it has a major problem with south east Asia boat people – illegal immigrants.  And the government in Canberra knows that it’s not alone in the increasingly destabilizing phenomenon of mass migration.

Here in Australia, a record number – more than 15,500 – have arrived in Australia so far this year and the government doesn’t know what to do with them.
Worse than that, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says his people are having to get rid of some of the influx to places like Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Given that mass migration is a feature and in many cases a major headache for immigration departments throughout the world, Australia’s boat people should not be such a special case.  But they are because Julia Gillard’s left of centre the government is losing control of the incomers and placing them in conditions that are so verging on the inhumane that some of the refugees have, reportedly, tried suicide rather than live as they’re forced to.

The old phosphate island of Nauru in the Pacific near the equator has been turned into a refugee camp. Reports here in Sydney say that people are living 14 to a tent in some of the most sweltering temperatures in the Pacific and at present predictions are likely to be kept there for anything up to five years.

Transfers from mainland infiltrators to PNG include families with children from Sri Lanka and Iran. The determination to get them out of mainland Australia has forced Prime Minister Julia Gillard to revive the once discredited island human dumping policy ominously called the Pacific Solution created by  the administration of former prime minister John Howard in 2001.  It was so internationally unacceptable that it was scrapped by Labour  five years ago.

But Ms Gillard has agreed to open the procedure in desperation to cope with the boat people, which is how 400 boat people are now forcibly marooned by Australian immigration officers on Nauru.

Nauru was never the best place to be even in the lucrative phosphate winning days.  As Amnesty’s Australian refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom apparently view it “Conditions on Nauru are grim. In the front of their minds is the fact that they’re not being processed, the uncertainty that’s facing them is clearly having an impact on their mental health.”

Ms Gillard’s officials say that island dumping and harsher immigration clearance policies are designed to deter refugees from Asia and the Middle East risking their lives and those of their families. But that is clearly not working.

Already there are mostly unbelievable horror stories about the island pens, including tales that refugees have been known to throw children overboard to force immigration off-shore craft to rescue the whole family from their sieve-like vessels.  The Australian MP for Manus Island, Ronnie Knight, warns about imprisoned boat people going “stir crazy” with all that might mean.

The primary difficulty is that the re-vamped Pacific Solution is not working. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has had to admit that this week and now says that the thousands of boat people arriving every month make it impossible to island-dump until the numbers are thinned out.  It’s a job that will take years.
“So some people… will be processed in Australia and processed in the community, but will remain on bridging visas, even after they are regarded, through the process, as refugees,” he reckons.

And not everyone who makes it to the beach is allowed to stay – even in the processing cage. The conundrum is to differentiate between asylum seekers and those just wanting a new economic life in Australia.  Consequently, people are being packed up and sent back to their original countries, for example, Sri Lanka.

“Our humanitarian programme is for people who are at risk of persecution, not for people seeking to undertake economic migration,” Bowen said.

The importance of the monitoring by Amnesty and Australia’s Immigration Commission is that this is not just an Australian problem that probably cannot be fixed.

Europe is also going through immigration scares. The UK sees it as partly a hangover from colonial days from which many surprisingly still have an historical claim on settlement in the UK.  Membership of the EU with cross-border transfer adds to the British dilemma.

Elsewhere in the EU, the Irish government of Enda Kenny skirts the problem but secretly worries about social unrest immigration is causing.  Dublin for example, has more and more non-white faces, Roma beggars at every other ATM and streets full of people without a word of English and certainly not Erse.

In Italy, boats arrive every day from Saharan Africa at about the same rate as Australia is getting them from Asia. The French government is reviewing its Intelligence and Security programmes as African Islamic groups promise to export their revolution into Europe starting with France.

There is no policy that makes a European nor an Australian version of the Pacific Solution work. What the Australians don’t yet admit, but European governments are having to take on board is that illegal immigrants and the mass movement of displaced peoples is more than a social invasion.  It is yet another very real destabilizing factor in a world barely coping with shifting economies and fiscal failures. Like the boat people, mostly the problem is not going away.