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For US and Britain, refugees are a burden

Nov 10,2021 - Last updated at Nov 10,2021

The Rogue Valley in the US state of Oregon once boasted a moderate climate, excellent for growing grapes and pears, a permanent theatrical company performing plays by Shakespeare and other dramatists, and fine facilities for tourism. Climate change is transforming the valley. Fires began some seven years ago, morphed into a fire season three years ago, filling the valley with smoke from fires in California and Canada. High heat and drought intervened three years ago, depriving farmers of water for their crops .

COVID finished off theatrical performances in the small town of Ashland and cut the flow of tourists to a trickle. Some restaurants adapted by providing take-away and deliveries. Pubs and tasting rooms at the valley's many wineries closed and many shops cut opening hours.

On September 8th, 2020, a brutal fire swept from the edge of Ashland along route 99, killed three, and burned 2,800 homes and 300 businesses in the tiny towns of Talent and Phoenix before halting at the southern edge of Medford, the main city in the region. About 4,200 became refugees that day.

Some refugees found shelter with relatives or friends, others were put up at hotels, motels and homes offering bed-and-breakfast. The Red Cross was first on the scene to offer shelter and succor; local people and businesses donated food, clothing, blankets, books and toys for children, and other supplies. The state took over and, eventually, the national government became involved. But, it took the federal government nearly a year to provide temporary accommodation in mobile homes for all the fire refugees approved to receive a unit which are meant to provide shelter until mid-March 2015. Other forms of aid are provided to people who do not qualify for a temporary home.

Bureaucratic red tape slowed the federal response by meeting housing needs and providing funding for reconstruction while refugees struggled with local and state authorities to replace essential documents burned in the fire and with insurance companies to extract compensation for repairing and rebuilding. Insurance generally does not cover such costs while refugees cannot afford to buy new built and mobile homes and pay high fees for parking the latter.

One refugee told Medford's Mail Tribune that she could have a mobile home but she would have to prove on a monthly basis that they did not have a home. In reply, she said, "It's obvious I didn't have a home."

A young businesswoman interviewed by this correspondent said she and her partner were rescued by firms and individuals in the local community of winemakers when their winery and tasting room were destroyed although their insurance did not cover the costs of reconstruction and the state and federal authorities provided no financial assistance. Householders who lost their dwellings were given priority, she said. They received some aid from payments for businesses harmed by COVID.

Although the US has suffered numerous fire, hurricane and flooding disasters in recent years, the country, at all levels, has responded poorly to the plight of refugees from such disasters. The US does not admit it generates refugees. In the view of US officials, refugees are,  apparently, "foreign" problems.

Perhaps, the US should take advice on handling domestic refugees from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) or from governments which have had to deal with tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people, hundreds of thousands of them at least partially caused by US policies. The most recent lot are escaping Afghanistan following the precipitate US withdrawal from that country in August and the Taliban take-over.

Palestinians are both the largest and longest refugee people on the globe. Some 750,000 became refugees during Israel's 1948 war of establishment and another 250,000 during Israel's 1967 war of expansion. Today, UNRWA provides for more than five million Palestinian refugees living in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. 

However, the very existence of Palestinians who are recognised by the international community and UN as a national grouping deserving of self-determination poses a challenge to Israel which had tried to erase Palestinians and Palestine from the map of the earth.

Prompted by Israel, the Trump administration attempted to eliminate UNRWA in 2018 by cancelling US funding amounting to $365 million a year, about one-third of the agency's budget. Fortunately, UNRWA managed to replace the lost funds through an emergency appeal. However, since then agency efforts to maintain funding have not been fruitful and, despite drastic cuts in staff and services, the agency is now in a desperate situation.

While the Biden administration has restored a portion of US funding, this has not been enough to compensate for losses sustained during the Trump administration. To make matters worse, Britain, which supported the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, has halved its donation from £42.5 million in 2020 to £20.8 million in 2021. This amounts to a major blow to UNRWA and reveals that Britain, under Trump ally, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is trying to eliminate the Palestine problem by forcing host countries — Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon — to absorb them at a time these countries are struggling economically and while Israel is tightening its grip on the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza with the aim of forcing more Palestinians to migrate.

For the US and Britain, refugees of all types — climate and conflict, domestic and foreign — are a burden for whom Washington and London are no longer prepared to accept responsibility. Britain shuns refugees seeking sanctuary from wars in Africa, this region, and the Indian Subcontinent while the US rejects refugees who flock to its borders from across the world, particularly Latin America, where US governments have been backing coups and dictators for decades.

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