Flat White

Tricky tragedies: Ukraine and Afghanistan

23 March 2022

2:00 PM

23 March 2022

2:00 PM

Six months ago the West’s media was focused on the unfolding tragedy in Afghanistan. The evening news was full of images from the fall of Kabul and we will never forget the sight of people clinging to the wheels of the giant C-17 as it took off.

David Patrikarakos, the journalist and frequent Speccie contributor, claimed on Twitter that, ‘This footage will still be played in 100 years. It now joins images of the retreat from Saigon and the naked Vietnamese girl as one of the west’s most shameful moments in modern history.’

William Dalrymple, also on Twitter, wrote, ‘Just seen the most heartbreaking footage from Kabul airport: terrified Afghans clinging to the undercarriage of US planes taxiing along the apron, then falling to their death, one by one, as the plane climbs. The most tragic symbol yet of the whole US betrayal of Afghanistan.’ It is undeniable that the collapse of American support for Afghanistan led directly to the tragedy which we all watched as it happened.

Whether this collapse was a ‘betrayal’ or ‘one of the West’s most shameful moments in modern history’ is a much more complicated issue. However, what is also undeniable is that the decision of America and its allies to cut and run immediately added another 500,000 Afghan refugees to the millions that are already registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). For several weeks after the fall of Kabul, the nightly news was full of harrowing images of beautiful malnourished Afghan kids in the arms of women dressed in shrouds with something akin to a fly screen covering their faces.

According to the UNHCR, ‘Afghans make up one of the largest refugee populations worldwide. There are 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees in the world, of whom 2.2 million are registered in Iran and Pakistan alone. Another 3.5 million people are internally displaced, having fled their homes searching for refuge within the country.’

There can be no doubt that, in the years to come, the number of Afghan refugees languishing in camps around the world will increase but that problem isn’t getting the attention it deserves because, right now, several hundred thousand Russians and Ukrainians are trying to kill each other and this has resulted in what is already the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war. Estimates are that more than 5 million Ukrainian refugees will need accommodation and support in the near future.


And so the nightly news is now full of images of equally beautiful but well-nourished Ukrainian children and their pretty mothers trudging into Poland and being welcomed by Europeans with a sincerity that they haven’t shown to any of the millions of refugees that have turned up in the past few years from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Inevitably it will be asked why Europeans who have, for the past decade, been doing their best to keep out refugees, are suddenly throwing open their arms. It can be argued that the Ukrainians are no more desperate than the Afghans fleeing the Taliban or Sahel Africans fleeing the chaos caused by Boko Haram. Therefore why are the Europeans willing to aid the Ukrainians but not Afghan and African Muslims?

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Europeans have decided that the Ukrainians are like them and can therefore be welcomed. Actually, to be honest, it isn’t difficult, it’s impossible.

The global refugee industry had its origins in the introduction, in 1951, of the UN Refugee Convention which transferred the responsibility for refugee processing to an army of bureaucrats which has grown with the ever-expanding number of refugees around the world. The collapse of colonialism in the middle of the last century resulted in instability in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East which continues to this day. It is the main reason why 82.4 million people are currently either refugees or are classified by the UN as ‘internally displaced’ due to conflict. Nearly all of them want to get into Western democracies.

So should the Europeans be able to decide who gets into Europe and the circumstances under which they arrive, or should this decision be made by the bureaucrats at the UN?

By continuing to stop some refugee arrivals while simultaneously welcoming others, Europe has emphatically answered that question. It is time that the West had an honest look at what to do about the millions of refugees trying to escape the failed states, tyrannies, and collapsed economies of the post-colonial era by moving to the promised lands of Europe and the Anglosphere.

The willingness of the Europeans to help the Ukrainian refugees has brought home that the current ways of addressing the global refugee problem solve nothing and it is time that the West started an honest debate about why some countries are able to avoid burden-sharing. Turkey and Pakistan and Colombia are hosting 6.8 million refugees, and while the UN does provide most of the financial support for these vast numbers of refugees, the disruption to the lives of the citizens of those countries is considerable.

The poem at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty claims to welcome, the ‘huddled masses yearning to be free … the wretched refuse … homeless, tempest-tost’. But today, they are no longer as welcome in America as they once were. Nor are they exactly beating a path to China, Russia, or any of the world’s other socialist worker’s paradises.

If the current growth of refugee numbers continues, the 26 million refugees languishing in refugee camps around the globe will, by 2050, number more than 50 million homeless, desperate people enduring wretched lives and the number of internally displaced people relying on UN support will be anybody’s guess. But there is no doubt it will be considerably larger than the 48 million who are currently in this appalling situation.

It is becoming increasingly evident that Putin cannot win this war he has stupidly started. It has galvanised Western democracies into finally recognising that totalitarian tyrannies cannot ever be trusted and, when the Russians finally leave Ukraine, there will be conferences about how to prevent this situation from recurring anywhere else.

But the contrasting responses of European nations to the Ukrainian refugees as compared to the rest of the ‘tired and huddled masses’ must make it obvious that the UN Refugee Convention is no longer workable. The Europeans have had enough of third-world migrants pouring in. The tragedy in Ukraine has many lessons for the world.

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