War creates refugees. When the Communists won in Vietnam, two million people fled. Three decades of war in Afghanistan created a wave of 6 million, whilst only three years of war in Syria and Iraq has created another wave of the same size.
Of the current conflict, over one million are stuck in camps in Lebanon, a further million in Turkey and over half a million in Jordan. A tide of 300,000 has now reached towards Europe. Aside the risks of Yemen and Libya completely spliting and haemoraging hundreds of thousands of helpless people, if peace and a stable and an inclusive society is not found in Syria and Iraq, it will get much worse in Europe.
If Assad's forces collapse, we will see millions trying to force their way into Europe as radical religious groups seek to cleanse the area. Many of those fleeing either these groups, or the forces of Assad, will have a well founded fear that they will be killed or severely persecuted if they stay.
The global community, with New Zealand at the forefront on the Security Council must redouble our efforts to find a meaningful peace in that part of the world. If this is not achieved, the flow of people will get much worse.
As we try to stop the war we must also soak up the victims who spill over the borders. The problem is that this is getting increasingly difficult to do. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its subsequent protocols never foresaw the type of nightmare scenario we are now in.
After the Second World War, there was a limit to the numbers, the people were broadly of the same culture and many were repatriated. There was also an assumption that all nations would equitably share the burden. The 21st century is very different. Not all nations feel the same humanitarian impulse to help.
Some are good. Pakistan and Iran both hold more than one million refugees each from the wars in Afghanistan. Many are being stretched, and the limits of empathy are being tested. This is evident throughout Europe, and even the United States, which takes over 70,000 people per year.
Others nations are not engaged. India, like Malaysia, has not even signed the 1951 Convention. Indonesia creates more refugees than it takes. China has signed the Convention, but takes very few and views the current disaster in the Middle East as the fault of the West, for which they must clean up. Russia has minimal engagement.
Countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, take less than 1000 between them. Saudi alone could soak up more than double the number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe, simply by replacing the number of illegal migrant workers who have been roughly ejected, en-masse, since 2013.
It is not fair that many of these countries are not behaving humanely or equitably. But New Zealand is not like these countries. Aside the fact that we have a special obligation to do more than others because we are on the Security Council and we are helping in the fight in Iraq, we should also open our door wider because of who we are. We are a multicultural, cosmopolitan, freedom loving society that likes to give people a fair go. If those in need can accept our values and laws, we should be more welcoming.
Our benchmark for how many we take should be Australia, for which we should compete in gestures of humanity, like we do in sport. Our ANZAC neighbour with a population of 23 million people take 13,800 refugees per year. We, with a population of 4.5 million, should therefore take about 3,000 people per year. We should not get ahead, or behind, the trend of like-minded countries.
Although this number may serve as our target for now, the bigger problem is just around the corner. The population of the Middle East and North Africa is projected to go from 241 million today, to 589 million by 2050. Syria will increase by a third to 36 million, and Iraq, will more than double to 71 million. Unemployment for those under the age of 25 is already 27 per cent.
The climate is inhospitable, and getting hotter. War must be controlled and the magnets of strong economies and civil societies must be created. If not, these populations will spill over in numbers we can barely comprehend. This is is a warning call.
Alexander Gillespie is a law professor at the University of Waikato.