Category Archives: civil war

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.

the amazon rainforest is burning: we need it for our survival: act now

Resources are limited on this earth we all share. Tha Amazon rain forest, one of the biggest of the earth’s ‘lungs’ is burning and dying. Take note and act before it is too late. Humanity must find some way of valuing the environment and pricing it’s destruction into our economics. Continual economic growth is just not possible. While the newspapers are full of the damage humans do to each other, we are sleep walking to an environmental and economic disaster.

Burning rainforest-001a
Burning rainforest

nelson mandela

This is his full length funeral in Soweto as presented by ITN.

Nelson Mandela is dead.

Father of the Rainbow Nation

Nelson Mandela is dead!

His shadow covers us all.

Nelson Mandela is dead!!

Implacable defender of liberty.

Nelson Mandela is dead!!!

Respected by his enemies.
Nelson Mandela is dead!!!!!

He was magnanimous in victory.

Nelson Mandela is dead!!!!!

Reconciliation the only way.

Nelson Mandela lives on.

New movie: The Long Walk to Freedom.

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.

all the world’s a stage!


All for one and one for all!

Appalled the world watches while children burn!

Horrified the spectators stare!  So many maimed.

This is not a Virtual Reality show!

This is real! in living rooms everywhere!

Now!  Do something! and act decisively!

But how?


Albi cathedral The Last Judgement.


No quiz show with the answer there!

Real people dying on-screen now!

Death is no bluff to be postponed!

Or a political position

Taken at one’s choice!

It is there! Inevitable! For us all.

But now?

Standing over Syria

Syrian traditional costume.

Details on Syria and an interactive map..

Is there no other way but force?

So many have died already.

Use our imagination and humanity.

Syria is a country of the bible,

Proud peoples with an ancient history.

The world wishes that no more should die.

Gassed in their sleep like rats.

A dirty deed that no one claims.

Women and children are fleeing

Leaving their men behind to fight and die.

Let us think. There are other ways.

Who is standing for what over Syria?

Stand up! Stand up and be counted!

Geoff Clements

refugees from syria


160 000 Syrians living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. A picture giving an idea of the scale of the problem caused by the war in Syria. In all more than 1.5 million people have fled to neighbouring countries or further afield since it started and approximately half of these are registered as refugees. The United Nations High commissioner for refugee’s estimates of the size of the problem just continue to rise month after month. In addition the United Nations estimates there are over 4 million displaced civilians remaining within Syria.

evidence that poison gas has been used in syria by assad’s 7th army: individuals are responsible and should be prosecuted at the hague

Do we need to revisit the horrors of poison gas used in war?poison5

No one in their right mind can support a state using poison gas against its own people.

The response is simple, effective and non-violent: those states, organizations indeed all entities and individuals supporting Assad in Syria from now on should be deemed to also responsible for the use of gas.

These leaders or Heads of State all will be held individually responsible and will be prosecuted at the Court of Human Rights;
No more planes flying from Iran.
No more boats or planes from Russia
No more blocking of the UN Security Council by China

Support in the UN Security Council is moral support and individuals who provide this moral support should also be held individually responsible.

I have seen sufficient evidence of poison gas usage on the BBC News, Sky News and the Times correspondent among others to put this beyond reasonable doubt. Assad’s government must take the responsibility as the only side to have this material in Syria. It is their duty to secure, or destroy it. Implicit in referral to the Hague would be a full investigation of the facts and testing of the evidence.

added 29 04 2013 Confidential document from Commander of 7th Regiment Assads Syrian army. All soldiers are ordered to wear gas masks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta……