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Forty Million Refugees

There are no less than forty million refugees in the world today. Forty million people living in misery and hopelessness. Such is the appalling truth revealed in a little book recently published—Refugees 1960 (Penguin Books, 2s. 6d.).

It is written by Kaye Webb with sketches by Ronald Searle, and covers forty-eight pages. In no sense, therefore, can it be described as an exhaustive work, but in the available space, the authors at least leave us in no doubt about the plight of these our fellow humans, condemned to rot away their pathetic lives in squalor and degradation. Disused army barracks, decaying hotels and (grimly ironical) even former concentration camps—in fact, any old building the authorities can lay hands on—have been pressed into use to accommodate these poor souls. Ill-fed, ill-clothed and ill-housed, it is small wonder that the health of many of them suffers, and with it their chance of escape.

For it is the lucky few only who manage to break through the mass of regulations and restrictions which the various powers insist on observing before they will allow a refugee to settle within their boundaries. For instance, they must not be too old or too young. They must not be ill. They must not be "immoral," nor illegitimate children. These are just some of the obstacles to overcome before the unfortunate person can gain entry into one of the major capitalist states.

Generally, the fairly young and healthy are the ones who manage to get away, because as the book tells us, they represent an economic gain to the state which accepts them. In other words, they can be employed profitably and the majority of those who remain, cannot. Socialists find this hardly surprising. Human considerations take a back seat in an inhuman world, where our whole lives are dominated by the profit motive.

The smallest camp in Greece has fifty-seven families of Assyrians who came from Mesopotamia forty years ago, and whose youngsters recently refused to emigrate rather than leave their sick and aged relatives behind.. This is a reminder that, like many of capitalism's evils, the refugee problem is not new. It is still with us, only more so than before, having been greatly accentuated by the last great war and the carve-up which followed. Many more were then "displaced" and will probably never be able to return to their former homes. And as we have seen, the chances of making a new home for themselves elsewhere are pretty slim.

Yet, despite this, the authors fondly hope that in this world refugee year, the camps can be emptied and the conscience of the capitalist world stirred so deeply that every man, woman and child will be resettled. Just listen to this:

“Every country with room to spare should ease open its bureaucratic door and undertake to accept without ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ a percentage of the sick or economically useless human beings, to balance what they have gained from the young, healthy immigrants who will be benefiting their economy without any cost to them in education or training.”

A tall order indeed. It is hopeless to appeal to the conscience of a society which has been directly responsible for such a monstrosity. Far better to have a world where man can be free to travel over its surface without the futile restrictions of nationality, and where he can satisfy his needs from a sufficiency of wealth that only Socialism can make available.

But when all this has been said, it is still worthwhile to read Refugees 1960. Mainly, it is a plain, straightforward statement of very unpalatable facts, and no attempt has been made to grind a political axe. Yet by its very simplicity of style and presentation, this book shouts a condemnation of capitalist society from every page.
E. T. C.