In the world of health care, a well-informed and accurate diagnosis can save a life. It is also true that a wrong diagnosis can be quite harmful.
The same is true in the world of politics and refugees.
It matters if we diagnose refugees to be potentially dangerous people. Such a diagnosis leads us to conclude that we must protect ourselves from them.
However, if we diagnose refugees to be people fleeing from dangerous people, we will conclude that we should offer them protection.
By definition, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her homeland due to a well-founded fear of persecution and/or to escape war. So our default diagnosis should be to offer them protection. In fact, it is our obligation according to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Of course, it is a bit more complicated when it comes to diagnosing asylum-seekers. They are people who flee to another country (like our own) and claim to be refugees (i.e. forcibly displaced).
It is standard practice for countries (like those in the EU, Australia, the US and Canada) to assess whether such asylum-seekers are truly forcibly displaced (i.e. they would be in real danger of imprisonment or death if they were in their homeland). It is incredibly important that we get that diagnosis correct – for it is a matter of life and death.
But as politicians repeat the refrain that refugees and asylum-seekers are potentially dangerous people, many countries are putting their time and precious resources into preventing them from ever crossing our borders. We are treating them the same way we treat the Ebola virus. As a recent example, consider yesterday’s BBC report on Hungary’s draft legislation to treat as criminals those who assist asylum-seekers.
But the diagnosis is wrong. And people are dying because of it. We are protecting ourselves from people who need protection. That is not only cruel and heartless. It is insane.