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Refuge: To Flee or Not to Flee

No society is perfect.

  • In the United States, African-American men are at greater risk of police violence.
  • In Saudi Arabia, a woman who commits adultery might face public execution.
  • In Russia, dissidents who denounce Vladimir Putin may find themselves jailed, or worse.

But regardless of their flaws, these societies don’t suffer the problem of mass displacement. 

The reason?

Their social institutions are fundamentally strong. When a hurricane hits the United States, Americans don’t flee their homeland.

But in fragile societies like Haiti, when a natural disaster strikes, citizens rush to leave because they know the state lacks the money and means to provide for their most basic needs.

“Global modernity has not only produced technological miracles like the iPhone, and more than 1,800 billionaires; it has broken all records for the human tragedies that constitute displacement.”

A variety of social, political and economic factors can push unstable societies into full meltdown.

Attempts to institute democracy in formerly autocratic nations can spark chaos, as happened in Iraq after the US invasion or in Libya following the Arab Spring. 

Commodity booms, such as spikes in oil prices, can also make frail nations more fragile.

This was illustrated in Syria, where ISIS seized oil fields and used oil revenues to fund a campaign of violence that drove scores of Syrians from their homes. Though in Syria’s case, most of the 11 million displaced people stayed within the nation’s borders, so they’re not officially considered refugees.

Yemen offers another prime example: a notoriously freewheeling state governed by a tribal system, Yemen saw 2.5 million people, or about 9% of its citizenry, displaced by violence in 2015.

“When fragility crystallizes into mass violence, civilian populations need to flee their homes.”


Categories: Book Review, Reading Notes

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