Yet what I found far more shocking was the US’ unilateral plans to solve the Palestinian refugee crisis through long-distance resettlement. Almost impossible to believe that it could be true, that Condoleeza Rice – acting as Middle East peace broker – could suggest that Palestinians refugees from Israel could be resettled in South America
. Why? Because that’s how the international community tried to deal with the Jewish “refugee problem” in the 1930s
, as European and North American states prevented Jewish immigration. Hardly the League of Nation’s finest hour.
We are brought up, in the West, to believe that the 1930s were a terrible descent into human evil that we can ward off with our mantra: “never again”. Yet while there is no doubt that the horrors of that emerged from that decade were unique, I think our own migration politics are closer than we would like to believe — and closer than it is acceptable to admit
— to those that fuelled crisis in the 30s. The rise of the xenophobic right; a general consensus that there is “too much migration”; economic crisis; increasing impatience with the niceties of asylum… complaints that once again that “the lifeboat is full”.
There’s another irony in the fact that while we won’t let the Palestinians return, we’re desperate to send every other refugee and asylum-seeker “home”, despite their accounts of persecution and oppressions . Here, the 1930s offers us a second lesson. We would do well to remember why we have asylum; why we have international human rights law. These protections were established by a community aghast at what the paralysis of the 1930s had cost in human suffering. This is why we must defend both the right to return and the right to seek asylum – to make sure that no more history repeats itself.