Category Archives: children

our treatment of refugees is a yardstick by which future generations will judge us

D Berger
Any observer of today’s spiraling refugee crises in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia must agree with Hegel that “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” At the Evian conference of 1938, the US encouraged representatives of 32 nations to find a solution to the Jewish refugee crisis in Europe but refused to relax its own, severely limited refugee quotas, as did Britain.1 2 The other participating nations followed suit, except the Dominican Republic, which agreed to take 100 000. In the summer of 1939, in the first act of a “stop the boats” doctrine that still plays out today, the St Louis, a German luxury liner carrying over 900 German Jewish refugees, was refused entry by Cuba, the US, and Canada and returned to Europe, where a large number of the would-be refugees were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust.3 This hypocrisy sent a clear message to Hitler that no one else cared about the Jews, or at least not enough to do anything, and he correctly concluded he was able to act with impunity.

Today’s failure of moral leadership by the Western democracies is spearheaded by the Australian government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and scrutinised both by other leading democracies and far less savoury regimes, which can only draw the conclusion that, “If Australia can disregard human rights and suffer no consequences, then so can we.” Australia’s policy is to turn back what it terms “illegal” refugee boats, full of “illegal” or “back door” arrivals and to subject those who do get through, including children, to indefinite detention in privately run centres on remote, impoverished Pacific Islands, territories of nations that are effectively financial vassal states of Australia. Here, at a cost of nearly $A900 000 (£450 000; €640 000; $700 000) a year for each detainee, over 3000 people are housed in appalling conditions, abused and maltreated and repeatedly informed they will never be allowed to settle in Australia.4 5 They are being made an example of, solely “pour décourager les autres.” Laws are being introduced that may give free rein to guards in private detention centres to beat asylum seekers to death for non-violent protest if they feel justified in doing so.6

In an act of perfidy worthy of a ruthless despot, not of the elected prime minister of one of the leading and wealthiest liberal Western democracies, Abbott claims this is a compassionate policy designed to prevent drowning at sea, to puncture the market in people smuggling, and—in a cynical play for Australian public opinion—to give everyone a “fair go” by preventing “queue jumping” by “back door” arrivals, even though there is no identifiable queue or front or back door, just many ordinary people fleeing for their lives.7 The government is spending a large amount of money on propaganda to publicise its policy and inform potential refugees that they will not make Australia home, “No Way.”8 Meanwhile, the true intent is revealed by the assertion that his government will not “succumb to the cries of human rights lawyers”9 and a shocking encouragement to Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia to continue to turn back boats full of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma), one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, who are dying in the Andaman Sea. Abbott emphatically refuses—“Nope, nope, nope”—to entertain the idea of resettling any of them in Australia.10 In a painful irony, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry of Indonesia, which is not a signatory but was cornered into providing temporary shelter for Rohingya refugees by global public opinion, lambasted Australia: “You signed the UN Convention on Refugees. Act on it!”11

It would be less hypocritical of Abbott to admit Australia’s refugee policy is an extension of the historic White Australia policy by other means, to satisfy a conservative domestic agenda (would this position have been taken if the refugees were white, English speaking Christians?). And it would be arguably more humane to destroy the refugee boats at sea than to leave their occupants to die a lingering death from starvation, thirst, and exposure.6 12

Surely the West has reached a level of absurdity in this grotesque episode from which it can only retrench. There must be statesmen and women in Western democracies who understand that there comes a time when moral leadership and global statesmanship must supplant a self interested, parochial political agenda. History ought to have taught us that stopping the boats and pretending nothing is happening does not make these problems go away. They only get worse and eventually blow up in violent and entirely predictable ways, as the deaths of millions during the second world war and subsequently attest.

The temporising must stop, from the refugee boats of the Mediterranean to those of the Andaman. The health and welfare of refugees is a test of our humanity, a test that we are failing once again. The Western democracies must send a clear, unified message, in actions as well as words, to the autocrats, despots, and warlords that persecution and genocide of minorities is no longer acceptable. If they continue to shirk their responsibilities to shelter the persecuted, then open season is declared once more on the vulnerable and dispossessed, just as it was when the St Louis was turned back 76 years ago. No one says this is going to be easy, but the alternative will be far worse.

History tells us so.

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2907

Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare DB is a non-executive director of BMJ. The BMJ board has no role in determining The BMJ’s editorial policy. DB’s grandfather, a Jewish doctor from Berlin, was refused entry to Britain in 1936 and his grandmother, who was separately refused entry, committed suicide. He is a recent immigrant to Australia.

Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

↵ US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Evian conference.
↵ Mondale WF. Evian and Geneva. New York Times 1979 Jul 28:17.
↵ Miller S, Ogilvie SA. Refuge denied: the St Louis passengers and the holocaust. University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.
↵ Evershed N. Mandatory immigration detention is a billion-dollar business—analysis, Guardian 2014 Aug 25.
↵ Ackland R. Scott Morrison thumbs his nose at Indonesia, and sets back the only humane solution for refugees. Guardian 2014 Nov 9.
↵ Appleby G. Australia’s rigid immigration barrier. New York Times 2015 May 8.
↵ Radulova L. “Stopping the boats is compassionate,” claims Tony Abbott as protestors clash with his security team over refugee turnback policy. Daily Mail 2014 Jul 12.
↵ Laughland O. Australian government targets asylum seekers with graphic campaign. Guardian 2014 Feb 11.
↵ Madhora S, Safi M. Tony Abbott declares only the coalition strong enough to stop the boats. Guardian 2015 Apr 9.
↵ Cox L. “Nope, nope, nope”: Tony Abbott says Australia will not resettle refugees in migrant crisis. Sydney Morning Herald 2015 May 21.
↵ Topsfield J. Indonesia to Australia: “You signed the UN Convention on Refugees. Act on it.” Sydney Morning Herald 2015 May 21.
↵ Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Fact sheet 8. Abolition of the White Australia policy.

evidence for past lives

There is much evidence for the existence of past lives much of the best coming from the work of the late Ian Stevenson.  In some cases the situations may be quite dramatic, for example the child who confronted its murderer in a previous life.  The evidence was so accurate that the man confessed and was convicted of the crime.



the disparity between the rich and the poor is increasing.



neuroplasticity, environment, genetics and the development of children

This is an important and timely contribution to the debate about the effect of the environment on the development of children. The significance of neuroplasticity cannot be underestimated. Some individuals are more influenced be their environment than others. Resistance to the effects of a negative environment (poverty, no exercise, unemployment, high incidence of smoking and drinking) correlates with the levels of self-control present between 3 and 11 years of age.
This and other evidence leads to the postulation of the existence of an ‘executive network’ linked to the prefrontal cortex that regulates behaviour and thought. Essential for the inhibition of impulsive and negative behaviour, those individuals starting life with the strongest executive functioning are more likely to behave in ways that protect and nurture the brain and lead to better long term health in general.
These ideas link well with the concept of self directed neuroplasticity developed from studies later in life in for example the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders. Another strand of evidence derives from the changes found in the brain following meditation.

It seems the ideal environment for a developing child is a wild garden allowing contact with nature in a safe and secure space.

‘you can enter, there are no ghosts here’

higgsheraclitusHeraclitus said this to some young men who came to see him in his remote hermitage. He had acquired a reputation for being irascible and distant, really because nobody understood his ideas which were far ahead of their time.   A theory of constant change: A form of monism based on energy, and he often used as an example the energy of fire.  Of necessity he spoke in elliptic fashion using allegory, for example “You cannot step into the same river twice, for all is constant change!”  In a sense it was not until Spinoza that there was another philosopher expressing these ideas!

He only ever wrote his ideas down once, on a scroll deposited in the library in Ephesus which is now lost.  So we know of his doctrines from quotations and references in the writings of others.

These young men were charmed by him however as he patiently explained his philosophy the long day through; and they remembered that day for the rest of their lives.  What they experienced was far from the ideas they had of him when they approached his abode.   The only way people could rationalize Heraclitus’ independent thinking was that he had some kind of miraculous contact with the gods that were the basis of the Greek religion of the time.  His greeting was aimed at putting these fears to rest and welcoming them as fellow-enquirers and equals.  People rarely  visited him so fearsome was his reputation!   He had a child-like quality about him and had often played with the children in the  town square.  He had  great sympathy with the freshness of spirit of the children and their openness to new ideas.

In a real sense the approach used by Heraclitus is the same as that used by modern physics to explain how our universe works. The link between matter and energy and the development of the concept of spacetime having been postulated by Einstein at the beginning of the last century.  The developments in our understanding continue to the present day.  Most recently with the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson.  Modern science uses the same openness and patient enquiry based oh the evidence to hand that Heraclitus used.


the sages of old, they could fly !


Bronze :Sage in contemplation by M J Jaquemart

In days gone by the power to fly seemed to rest with a special few.

These old sages made their destiny their own in knowing what to do.

They flew because they understood and were aware of the world around them.

Like the birds in the sky or the fish in the sea or grass growing on the hill.

In past days only the rare, gifted and lonely spirits broke the mould.

This mould that held lesser mortals gripped, condemned to walk the byways.

Seen as dangerous, the gifted few were often burnt as witches were of old.


In the Axial Age there came the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Zoroaster,

Heraclitus, Plato, Socrates and the rest, also Testament Prophets of Old.

Whether they met and talked is now beside the point. Probably not:

They did not need to. There was a spirit moving across the world, awakening

Slumbering minds to the interlinked nature of all things: like Indra’s net.

The ancient sages understood, using just their minds, more than we know now.

Such ones appear but rarely, if ever. For sometimes the lifespan of a universe

Can pass without such a one appearing. The rest condemned to live in ignorance.


Some sages taught to those who listened, but they did not hear or understand.

Today’s scholars know more of what there is. What we see and feel is coloured

By our senses and by our past. Of that there can be no doubt, no doubt at all.

A question is how modern sages compare with those of the past? Was William Blake

A sage? Or Emanuel Swedenborg or Krishnamurti? and what about the current ones.

One can hardly hear at all, rather like a modern Tower of Babel! The Dali Lama?

And what about Maitreya who placed the foundation stones of the lives we live now?

We know nothing, though our history is in the rocks around us if we could but read.


How can one learn to see this world around us for what it really is?

That was not what made the ancients understand, for what they

Saw was not of this world but another, less distinct, beyond, like shamans

Beyond the bounds of normal human understanding and description.

More people are alive now than ever lived in all our ancestral lineage.

Can thoughts add up together? If so the intensity of thought is greater now than ever.

Many have struggled and died in past years to allow us to be free.

Do we dare? Do we measure up to what we have been bequeathed?

Often the chains that bind our thoughts exist nowhere but in our minds.

Sadly it takes more to unlock these hidden shackles of the brain

Than to rescue scarred and damaged bodies ground down by lives of toil and torment.


Often we value the things we CAN see higher than those we cannot.

What price the freedom to roam and soar in the sky like a bird?

What price to have those things we take for granted? Warm in winter,

Cool in summer, clean air and water and enough food for all to eat.

It ain’t going to be so for ever. Who will go to the wall?

“They” will try and own these necessities and make the others pay.

All use what mother earth provides as if its free, and will be there for ever.

Blinded to the fact that mankind is fast destroying the hand that feeds.


Its the wear and tear of those lives so unlived by so many

That destroys the insides and brings tears to the eyes from grief.

A lived life grows and brings such sweet ties that bind with others.

There is someone there, someone inside living a life, and looking out

To welcome those passing by along on the road of time.

So there is someone to care for those who need help. Does anyone not?

“They” can never command those who fly free with the winds in the sky

And sail over the sea to the end of the world and beyond in their thoughts.

looking towards Syria, dawn 21 august 2013


Blood red towards the east was the sky that morning

But here was no blood, just desperate writhing bodies

Foaming at the mouth and gasping, struggling there.

Looking towards Syria that fateful morning.


But there was no blood, so why the red?

Perhaps it’s Gaia‘s blush of shame.

An attack at night on sleeping children.

Looking towards Syria.  She tries to understand.


In future years the old soldier talking with yet unborn children….

Oh yes!  He said, I was part of the brigade that did the gas attacks.

For there were many!  He talked,eyes shining, standing straight.

“I saved my country then and I am proud to tell you that.”

Looking towards Syria and trying to understand.

Text and photographs geoff clements

reestablishment of polio in somalia- MSF withdraws because staff being killed. Who will control this outbreak now?

MSF pull out from Somalia
MSF pull out from Somalia

The attention of the world is at present on Syria and the use (or not) of nerve gas against a population indiscriminately.   However there is a threat that is perhaps even more insidious emerging in Somalia.  Declared Polio free  by the World Health Organization in 2009, Somalia is experiencing an explosive outbreak of Polio with at least 105 cases this year, over half the cases that occurred in the world in 2012.  Polio is considered endemic in only 3 countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, but now the virus has returned to Somalia.

This is an enormous reverse for the Polio eradication programme, with the virus reestablishing itself in an area considered free of Polio.  Remember that for every symptomatic case of Polio there will have been 100 asymptomatic cases, implying widespread dissemination,of the virus.

The outbreak is largely occurring in the area controlled by the Islamist group Shabab

Medicine sans Frontières, which has worked in Somalia for 22 years, has withdrawn all it’s staff because of the extreme danger, sixteen staff members having been killed.