This article belongs to With a Grain of Piquant Salt column.
I have already written about refugees before but this time I want to look at what do the Bangladeshi, Kashmiri, Tamil, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Refugees in India, Kosovo Albanian Refugees, Palestinian Refugees in various Arab countries, Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, Hutu refugees in Zaire, Cambodian refugees in Thailand, Cuban refugees in USA and all the other refugees all over the world have in common? Well, they have all been used by "other people" for their own needs and agendas. And these "other people" use these refugees as part of an explicit strategy, not for purely humanitarian objectives. I was quite surprised when I worked through the argument.
Using refugees for strategic purposes seems to have a very long history, especially in the post World War II period. And generally, if managed properly, it works. See the examples which we have? While the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war is considered by many as perhaps the best example of the "Just War" theory, the fact remains that India did use the Bangladeshi refugees as a reason to poke Pakistan in the eye. As a matter of fact, that entire episode of Partition with millions and millions of refugees is still being played out by strategic use of the refugees in Kashmir, Pakistan and India.
The Mohajirs in Pakistan are used as a strategic bloc by their own leaders, as well as so many other political and religious leaders in Pakistan. The ethnically cleansed Kashmiri Pundits are used in the greater strategic Hindutva discourse and are ignored strategically by the Indian government for the overall secular discourse. The Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were used strategically by the Indian central and State governments, as well as political parties to push their varied agendas just like the Singhalese and Sri Lankan Muslim refugees were themselves used by Singhalese politicians to push for a nationalist objective.
Pakistan, USA and Saudi Arabia used the Afghan refugees to push for their various nationalistic, ideological, autocratic and religious strategic objectives. It is quite well known how the refugees were armed and pushed into Afghanistan to fight against the Communist Godless Russians. So Pakistan wanted to do it to get its strategic depth and play to USA; and USA wanted to contain USSR, while Saudi Arabia didn't want the godless communists anywhere near them. Thailand used the Cambodian refugees as a buffer to the poxy gits in Cambodia, while the Hutu refugees (who were in turn responsible for the Tutsi genocide) were armed by Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko to fight an insurgency in Eastern Zaire! And all these cases generally worked for the strategy.
The entire Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Kosovo mess was and is heaving with refugees. The refugees have been pulled and pushed from and to all sides, and have been used disgracefully and hypocritically by almost all parties starting from the head honcho himself, Slobodan Milosevic. That was one spectacular example of ethnic cleansing and strategic use of refugees that went bad. The other two most hypocritical uses of refugees are the use of the Cuban refugees and second is the use of the Palestinian refugees. The Cuban refugees have been fleeing the totalitarian and authoritarian communist regime for the past few decades to the USA. And for purely ideological reasons, the USA has been using them to hit back at Fidel Castro and his regime.
Not that it worked. Fidel is fine and has retired with his Havana cigars. He is a happy man, and all those American presidents and other grand poo bah's who used the refugees have also gone. So I am not very sure now about what was the result of using those refugees and sending them to their deaths. Similarly, the Palestinian refugees. I have spoken about them and the actual whine to pain ratio is perhaps the highest with them compared to all refugees. But that is not the point. The point is that almost every other government has used them for their strategic needs. Your own citizens being restive about jobs or cost of bread? Use the refugees as a reason to rattle your sabre's at the Jews / Israel? Do not give them citizenship, treat them as bargaining counters, keep them in camps, use their people as propaganda, use their situation in the United Nations, etc. etc. And it is just not the government, but also the common people ranging from Journalist Associations in the UK to the USSR wanting to tweak the noses of the Americans to Saudi Arabian Islamic Charities to Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Economic refugees and migrants also get it in the neck, whether you are talking about the BNP talking about the Asian refugees or the Conservative Party talking about the Eastern European migrants. How about that Raj Thakerey fellow, who was recently fulminating about internal economic migration inside India?, Or the huge debates around the East German migrants into Western Germany and using them for political purposes?
But this essay is more about the political refugees who cross borders. Unfortunately, our international security and political institutions do not have anything functional to fight these nasty hypocritical folks who use the refugees for their own ends. At some point in time, it is but natural that the legal and political framework will extend to cover the use or rather the abuse of these poor displaced refugees. And it is at that time that decisions taken today will come back to haunt them. If you do not believe me, just see Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein, who tried to use population transfers as a weapon of war and politics… So whenever you hear anybody fulminating about refugees, do not take them at face value, there is almost always an ulterior motive.
All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!