Recent statistics from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees relating to the dislocation of people gives one cause to ponder. What kind of world have we created? What have we done to our somewhat developed and civilized society?
This Commission reported that the refugee figures have now surpassed fifty (50) million people, with 3000 added each day of this past year; half of these were children.
This, I understand, relates to the victims of the many wars and the high number of people trying to escape abject poverty in places like Africa by boat and on vehicle and foot across the desert. Many are drowned every day in overcrowded and poorly constructed boats, while others perish with the heat or starve crossing the desert traveling in ill equipped vehicles.
This scenario is not unique to Africa; it is happening in the Americas and other areas of the world, perhaps played out in different ways.
Such is the plight of people unable to exist or even survive in their own countries. They just want a way out.
Many nations now refuse entry to these refugees, resulting in many unnecessary deaths. There are so many tragic horror stories that one has to wonder if human compassion is still alive.
But refugees fleeing poverty, suppression and war are only part of the story.
There are huge numbers of people, forced by local circumstance to move elsewhere to find work in order to provide sustenance to their families. This, in our sophisticated world, is called labour mobility.
We can point to Europe and the large migration of Eastern Europeans to other countries, both legally and illegally in search of paid work. They are often treated with scorn, even though the menial work that they do is not being done by locals.
In Canada, there is the now disgraced “Foreign Worker Program”, which encouraged workers in foreign countries to come and take up low skilled, low paying jobs, usually at wages less than paid to locals. Abusive conditions by many employers forced the government to all but abandon this program.
This program was the latest variation in government immigration efforts to lure foreign workers, many highly skilled and educated, to Canada. Most come for a promised dream only to find a nightmare. Many who come often have to overcome almost insurmountable odds to do well.
Migration is not a new phenomenon to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador or those from the Maritimes Provinces. Labour has always been their greatest export, despite the derision and ridicule often heaped upon each new wave of workers.
Prime Minister Harper referred to a “culture of defeatism”, in describing these most eastern provinces, despite the fact that the workers from this area have contributed more than significantly to the building of the rest of Canada
At one time most people would move their families, build new homes, or in many cases have house built for them by the companies who sought their labour. At that time workers had some value and families were important.
Now Eastern Canada has its own refugees, workers removed from their homes and families and staying in camps, even though they may be of a higher standard than the refugee camps seen on the news. But standards aside, these camps are temporary shelters built to get the most out of workers and give the least back.
It is much cheaper to house and feed workers in camps than build the infrastructure necessary to support their families. This way corporate investment is minuscule, and when downturns occur or when the minerals and oil disappear the companies can just leave the mess to someone else to clean up.
Refugees are and feel like refugees no matter the quality of their camps or the artificial wages they get paid to live in them.
What is paid out in construction wages is small change in comparison to corporate profits and executive compensation packages. In Canada construction workers pay the highest level of taxes in the country; a much higher percentage of their income than their corporate masters.
It is very easy to see that corporate power rules the world today with their huge amounts of cash and political influence.
The concept of “democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people” is an ideal of the past. Long gone is the concept of community rooted in people and place. The great wars fought to preserve this democracy and freedom were apparently a complete waste of human lives.
Profits and hordes of hidden cash will never compensate for the unnecessary poverty resulting in broken bodies, lost souls, and lives eliminated; nor will it replace the ruined homes, infrastructure and communities resulting from meaningless wars.
No amount of money, or life in a camp, no matter its comfort, will replace the lost time with family, the fellowship of building community and the need to call some place home.
A cold hard look is necessary at the human and societal impacts of this global phenomenon of dislocation and its impact on society. The question is: Who will take this cold hard look?
More importantly, is such a look even possible, when politicians must rely on corporate contributions to get elected and their governments are constantly under the guns of huge corporate lobbies?
Written by Bill Pardy
July 10th, 2014