Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Refugees and the Difficulty with Having a Country

The New York Times brought some of their people together to talk about Ukraine, and the interesting thing that came out of it for me was their consensus that the Russians are intentionally creating millions of refugees as a way to put pressure on Europe:

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: I want to turn to the refugee crisis, because as you have mentioned — all three of you — this is the third front of this war, where people are being killed and displaced by Russia in order to change the course of the war. It’s estimated that nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced by the invasion, including half of all Ukrainian children, and three and a half million of those people have left the country entirely. And we know that in recent years immigration has been a really fraught topic in Europe.

Tom, you have talked about the pressure this influx of refugees will put on European countries and how it might be part of Putin’s strategy to fracture NATO’s response to the invasion. Do you think that Europe can continue to absorb these numbers? The United States has said that they are going to be admitting 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, but that’s a drop in the bucket.

Thomas L. Friedman: It’s a real problem. We live in an age where it’s just harder and harder to be a country, to hold together as a country. And we see the stresses and strains on weak and frail states now and in places like the Middle East. I point to Lebanon, which has received a huge influx of refugees from the Syrian war, which the Russians were also involved in. These kinds of pressures on countries at a time of climate change, at a time of economic stress, they make it very hard just to be a country in general. Then add on that suddenly the pressure of having to absorb not 100,000 but several million refugees all at once, many of them women, children and elderly — not working males, because they’ve stayed behind in Ukraine. And you have just enormous pressure.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: At the same time, though, there is massive public support of Ukrainian refugees right now. Farah, what was the sense you got from your recent trip to Poland about the continuing appetite to support them? Do you sense that there’s a sell-by date?

Farah Stockman: I saw a huge outpouring that was in many ways unexpected. A lot of Ukrainians living in Poland have experienced discrimination. They tend to work low-wage jobs. And they said Polish people tended to look down on them.

But all of a sudden, as soon as Russia invades, they were welcomed. And they were seeing Ukrainian flags flying from the Warsaw city hall. C.E.O.s and software developers were taking off work and going to the border and offering people rides and putting people up in their homes. So there has been this extraordinary outpouring, partly out of gratitude. I think Polish people know what it’s like to be invaded by Russians. And they were happy that the Ukrainians were putting up such a fight.

But I do think there could be a sell-by date. The mayor of Warsaw told me that he’d been getting calls from people who said, I put these Ukrainians up for a couple of days. Where should I take them now? What should I do with them now? So it’s going to require a huge effort. And in Poland, it’s very polarized there, just like it is here. The city of Warsaw is liberal, and the government itself has historically been very anti-immigrant and more far right.

So it’s going to be a challenge for Poland to navigate this. Right now they’re holding it together and putting on a united front to face the crisis. But a year from now, or two years from now, I wonder what it’s going to look like.


G. Verloren said...

This entire line of thinking seems at odds with the fact that Russia doesn't like how Ukraine is seeking closer ties with the West. For whatever theoretical friction this might produce within Western countries, it has just as much potential (if not far more) to simply draw Ukrainians and other Europeans closer together through shared experience.

If your goal is to isolate two groups of people, how does it make any sense to create a situation which forcibly brings the two of them as close together as possible? This is going to build far more bridges than it strains to the breaking point.

szopen said...

There are two things which I'd want to comment in this talk. First, situation in Poland; second, whether Putin really wants create refugee problem. Sorry for chaotic writing and errors, I am falling asleep as I write - the F16 (I think) were flying over my head since 5:30am

Government is not far right and is not anti-immigrant. In context of Polish politics, it's quite regular boring Polish right. We have Confederates which are much more to the right from the Law and Justice (and while they include some far right, there are political parties even MORE to the right). As for immigrants, Law and Justice are in fact very pro-immigrant (when seeing the policies and effects) - worth to stress however _immigrants_, not refugees. It just caters to certain kinds of immigrants. In fact, this Farah Stockman should notice that it would be very strange to have anti-immigrant government and somehow at the same time having million-plus Ukrainian immigrants living in Poland before the crisis started.

Moreover Ukrainians are really not that different. The language is similar, they look almost identical, they share with us good part of the history.

One thing to consider is that right now most support was grassroot - from the individual efforts by people to at most efforts by some counties. Government support is meagre, but I think not because of bad will, but because they are really not that competent. They passed bunch of laws which seem to be beyond critique. For example, all Ukrainians are getting free public transport, no matter how long they lived in Poland. Whether this is reasonable or not is one thing, however it seems that even trying to start a discussion what would be best way to help Ukrainians given our resources is met with storms of outrage (recent example: during a panel on refugees one rightwing journalist said something in the sense of "come on, on this panel we should discuss this without emotion, because this is not program 'open your heart'" to which he was countered with "but it's neither a program 'who is the biggest 'motherf*r'").

My neighbours accepted an Ukrainian family btw. A grandparents with two grandchildren (their parents are divorced). My wife already digged all the shoes and fitting clothes we had, because the children left everything back in home.

As a side note, if Fara Stockman talked to the people from the Warsaw' mayor entourage, she has very skewed perpective. Trzaskowski loves to blame everything on everyone else.

As for the refugee issue, there is a question whether Putin really believes what he says. If - and this is not really big if, BTW - he really thinks about Russians in Ukraine being "culturally genocided" then he might want to get people, and using heavy artillery etc is just a way to force Ukraine to surrender. I am not sure the refugee crisis is his intended goal. I think it's possible he still thinks he can get most of Ukraine. I've read gossips about preparing a referendum for establishing another people's republic in Kherson.