As civilization developed and populations surged, a standard practice emerged among wealthy nations’ relations with poorer countries. The rich nations could pay poorer nations to manage their trash. The definition of “trash” has changed over the decades of the industrialized and tech eras, but the practice continues.
In the modern era, wealthy nations transferred their hazardous waste to poorer countries for a fee. While the Basel Convention eventually limited the practice, the pattern continued with plastics, recyclables, and even technology waste. As Americans and Europeans carefully separated their plastics for recycling, governments and industries often paid poorer nations to receive the transfer of this plastic waste and manage the “recycling” effort. Often that recycling meant little and recent reports found European plastics in Asian dumps withering away with the rest of the garbage.
Poor governments take the payoffs, and affluent societies satisfy themselves with an “out of sight, out of mind” illusion regarding their realities and responsibilities for stewarding the planet.
Same Plan, Different Garbage
Today the nature of human garbage has taken on a new definition – human migrants and refugees. As the world’s wealthy nations face a bombardment of immigrants and refugees from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the political systems of the rich countries have proven incapable of meeting the challenges of modern immigration.
As a result, a growing number of wealthy nations today are using the time-tested practices of waste disposal to handle the influx of migrants and refugees they are confronting. They are paying poorer countries to take their human waste and adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” sense of satisfaction toward the concern.
This month the United Kingdom and Rwanda announced plans in which the UK will provide $157 million of financial aid to Rwanda, which will receive migrants transferred from the UK to the east African nation. The humanitarian problem that has confounded UK politics for the last decade will now be outsourced to Rwanda, out of sight and out of mind.
Israel confronted incoming refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia and presented an ultimatum of returning to the countries they fled, prison, or voluntarily transferring to Rwanda. The financial arrangements between Israel and Rwanda in the exchange are unclear. Denmark is also seeking a deal with Rwanda like the UK government recently announced.
Current US immigration law currently does not allow the government to expel immigrants who are not from Mexico, Guatemala, or Honduras. The US has offered a capitalist alternative to deal with those it perceives as human garbage. For-profit prisons have been built where migrants and refugees are now being held at the US border. Since President Biden took office in 2021, asylum seekers have been held in these prisons for an average of 3.7 months.
The world’s poorer nations already host a disproportional share of the world’s refugees. African countries host 85% of the world’s refugees, while developed nations host only 15%. Among the top 15 host nations for refugees in 2020, only one classified as a wealthy nation. France ranked 15th on the list and hosted nearly a tenth of the refugee count hosted by Turkey.
A recent editorial in the Inter Press Service News Agency noted that many of the refugees fleeing to the developed world are fleeing wars launched by the US and international coalitions that included the very nations now turning them away at the border. In other instances, even when the US did not start the wars, these refugees are fleeing it did play a crucial part in financing and arming the combatants.
In other words, this is not a situation in which the wealthy nations have clean hands. They played vital parts in the root issues driving the refugee crises.
As the world continues to confront a refugee crisis unprecedented since World War II, politicians and national politics are proving themselves not up for answering the question of what to do. The recent decisions by policymakers in the wealthy nations of the world appear to show that morality and human decency are also not up to the challenge.