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Seeking refuge

By Guy Hallowes - posted Friday, 2 May 2014

For months now we have been assailed by news of refugees arriving by boat or more recently not arriving by boat. Whilst this may play out as an important issue in domestic Australian politics in terms of people arriving here in this way, the numbers are almost irrelevant (say 20000 per annum) in view of the huge swathes of people worldwide looking for a safe place to live. The pressures will grow enormously over the next few years for the so called developed world, including Australia, to take more refugees, either legally or otherwise.

Consider the following: The population of the world has already grown to 7 billion.The developed world accounts for approximately 1.1 billionor16% of the total and the developing world approximately 5.9 billionor 84%.

Almost all the population growth in future will be in the developing world: according to UN estimates by 2050 the world population will have grown to 9.4 billion, 8.1 billion(86%) of which will be from the developing world and 1.3 billion(14%) from the developed world. More importantly 2.2 billion (92%)of the increase of 2.4 billionis projected to come from the developing world.


This is important to Australia because according to the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) the number of displaced persons in the world has now reached 45 million and is growing at twenty thousand per day.

Many of the developing countries, that have and will continue to experience massive population growth, have harsh regimes, where corruption is rife and where the elite are focussed on either their own personal sectional or tribal situation rather than the interests of the country as a whole. This means that of those outside the favoured few will inevitably look for alternatives, including a move to a developed country. This criticism applies to almost every country in Africa, for example, and many countries in the Middle East.

Take Kenya where I was born and brought up and know reasonably well. The population at independence in 1963 was 9 million; today fifty years later it is about 45-50 million. So the population has grownfive fold in fifty years. The same pattern is being repeated throughout Africa, so the pressure is relentless. It is impossible to see how any country can hope to provide much needed infrastructure (roads, schools etc.) under normal circumstances with such population increases. What makes the situation worse is that the elite in Kenya steal the country blind at every opportunity. (Ref: 'It's our Turn to Eat' by Michela Wrong).

The amount of Aid provided by countries in the OECD (i.e. the developed world) is about $US130 billion per annumor about 0.31% of the combined GDP's of all OECD countries. The promise from the countries of the OECD is that this will be lifted to 0.7% of GDP, which would more than double the amount of Aid to almost $US 300 billion per annum (Plus say 20% from private Aid agencies). The trouble with the money spent on Aid is that there is no international focus or objective as to what the Aid is for, so much of it is duplicated and wasted; also many countries specify that Aid money they provide is to be spent on often overpriced or inappropriate goods from the donor country. Sadly significant amounts merely get paid to the 'fat cats' in recipient countries, for real or imagined services.

The amount of money spent on Aid should improve the situation. Many think it makes the situation worse by encouraging countries to reduce infrastructure budgets assuming that the Aid contributions will make up the shortfall.

In conclusion without doubt the number of 'displaced persons' will increase dramatically even over the short term - 20 thousand people per day is about 7 million people per annum - so at this rate it won't be very long before the current number of 'displaced persons' doubles and doubles again, so a figure of 100 million 'displaced persons' is not inconceivable in less than ten years. Inevitably this will greatly increase the number of refugees looking for a better life in the developed world.


Everything said in this article is well known. What I find most depressing is the debate in most developed countries is mostly about stopping boats and dealing with the results of the many conflicts in the world. In other words the symptoms of the problem not the real causes.

The focus could be redirected to persuading the developing world that it is in their very best interests to reduce population growth (It is notable that places with high female literacy have a low to zero population growth. e.g. the Indian State of Kerala).

The one huge exception to the general trend in the developing world is of course China and what they have achieved is astonishing: due to the 'one child' policy they have substantially curbed population growth and in terms we can understand there are probably five hundred million fewer people in China today than there would have been without this policy. Also and even more astonishing the economic growth China has achieved over the past thirty years has taken seven to eight hundred million people out of poverty. Surely the other members of the developing world and indeed the developed world can see what is possible with this example.

I could suggest that, as a test, the Aid agencies of the OECD countries cooperate and choose one or two countries in the developing world and channel all the Aid for those countries through one agency in one well thought through programme such as population growth.

But no! Cooperate? I'm dreaming! Instead of cooperating countries are generally competing with one another in this arena. We are probably stuck with the current situation where there will be an increasing flood of desperate people trying to escape the mayhem in their own countries and are looking for a better life in the developed world (including Australia).

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About the Author

Sydney-based Guy Hallowes is the author of Icefall, a thriller dealing with the consequences of climate change. He has also written several novels on the change from Colonial to Majority rule in Africa. To buy browse and buy his books click here.

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