Who are the Good Guys?


We tend to think of ourselves as the good guys. In fact this prejudice—and that is all that it is—is not based on evidence it is based on bias. We naturally think of ourselves as the good guys even when we are not.

For example when the Trump administration retaliated in April of 2018 against Syria’s suspected chemical weapons attack on Syrians within their own country, by launching missiles, President Trump boldly and proudly asserted, “This is about humanity, and it cannot be allowed to happen.” The fact is that the US cares about the Syrians only when they are bombing their own country. They don’t care about those fleeing the country. Those Syrians are subject to the Muslim ban.

As National Public Radio (NPR) in the US reported, “In 2016, near the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, the U.S. resettled 15,479 Syrian refugees, according to State Department figures. In 2017, the country let in 3,024. So far this year, that number is just 11. By comparison, over the same 3 1/2-month period in 2016, the U.S. accepted 790.”

“Lebanon, a country smaller than Wales hosts over a million Syrian refugees, who make up a quarter of its entire population. Between them, Kenya and Uganda also host a million refugees—almost as many as the total number of asylum seekers to enter all twenty-eight of the EU’s member states during 2015, the peak of the ‘European refugee crisis.”[1]And these are not rich countries. But they are, in this respect at least, “good guys.” The United States, and Canada for that matter, not so much.

One of the problems with the refugee crisis is that the “countries of first asylum” are expected to host the refugees according to EU policies. As Betts and Collier have shown, “the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees are in countries that neighbour conflict and crisis. These ‘countries of first asylum’ in developing regions today host 86% of all refugees, up from 72% a decade ago.  In consequence, it is the countries with the leastcapacity to host refugees that bear the greatest responsibility.”[2]

Yet to whom does the world pay attention?  The refugees in the developed world of course. They want to boast about how generous and good they are. Around 0.5 per cent of the world’s refugees resettle to developed countries. Less 10% of those refugees move there spontaneously as asylum seekers.  As Betts and Collier said, “Those people arriving in Europe or North America are often extremely vulnerable and their lives matter, but so do the lives of the nearly 90 per cent left behind. Today the world spends approximately $75 billion a year on the 10% of refugees who moved to developed regions and only around $5 billion a year on the 90% who remain in developing regions. This works out to a ratio of about $135 spent on a refugee in the developed world to every $1 spent on a refugee in the in the developing world.”

Who are the good guys again?

[1]Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, Refuge, (2017) p. 128

[2]Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, Refuge, (2017) p. 128

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