The origins of the world refugee crisis


Once a majority of the world’s refugees came from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now these countries are overshadowed by refugees pouring out of Syria.

The top chart shows a history of refugee crises in the past generation.  Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent, noted that most of the world’s current refugees come from majority-Muslim or partly-Muslim countries, most of them in the grip of civil war, as indicated in the chart at the right.


Some people I know say that these conflicts are part of age-old hatreds that go back to the split between the Sunnis and the Shiites soon after the death of Mohammad.

But there have been many centuries in which the varied religious and ethnic communities lived together in peace.  They mostly did so under the Ottoman Empire.

Cockburn wrote that the conflicts grew out of the breakdown of Middle Eastern governments, which created a lawless environment in which terrorist movements such as the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), Al Qaeda and their imitators could flourish.

He attributed this to the fact that these governments were organized around Western ideals such as nationalism and socialism, which failed to win the loyalty of the Muslim masses.  No Iraqi was willing to die in defense of the Iraqi government, although many Iraqis were willing to fight and die on behalf of their religious sect, their family or their local community.

I think there is truth in this, but he overlooks the role of the U.S. and other governments in breaking down the social order.

The current refugee crisis in Afghanistan began with the U.S. occupation.   The current refugee crisis in Iraq began with the U.S. occupation.  The current refugee crisis in Libya began with the overthrow of the Qaddafi government.  The current refugee crisis in Syria began with the uprising instigated by the Saudi and and Gulf state monarchies.

I would never have wanted to live under the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qadaffi or Bashir al-Assad, but there was no refugee crisis under their undisturbed rule.  Their subjects were willing to endure their tyranny, but not war’s killing and destruction nor the reigns of terror under the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and their imitators.

At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Al Qaeda was an obscure criminal organization.  Now Al Qaeda and its imitators have a mass following throughout the world.  I think U.S. policy has failed and should change.


Refugee crisis: Where are all these people coming from and why? by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

CNN and the NYT mis-report the Syrian refugee crisis by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.


As a matter of full disclosure, I admit I once thought that the U.S. invasion and overthrow of Saddam would  liberate the Iraqi people, and I admit I even thought there was a possibility that the overthrow of Qaddafi might result in the liberation of the Libyan people.

I hope I can learn from my mistakes, and I hope the decision-makers in government can learn as well.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: