Lisa Owen: Our next guest has one hell of a CV – doctor, humanitarian, diplomat and writer. As one of the cofounders of Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, and France's ambassador to Senegal, Jean-Christophe Rufin has travelled to some of the world's most troubled spots, but this weekend he too is in Auckland for the Writer's Festival and is with Phil.
Phil Vine: Well, welcome to New Zealand, and welcome to The Nation.
Jean-Christophe Rufin: Thank you.
So, we've been talking about wars that go wrong. Now, France didn't get involved originally in the invasion of Iraq. Is there such a thing as a good war or a bad war from a humanitarian point of view?
The war in Iraq, you mean?
Well, any of those wars.
There was a great mistake made in Iraq by this invasion, and at that time when we refused to participate, we had great problems with the United States. Finally, I think we were right not to go. They have destroyed the power, the Saddam Hussein power. They have not been replaced by someone, just the havoc. And we have done the same mistake by ourselves in Libya, and that was also a great disaster.
So, you've written about that recently, but you described it – I don't know whether you were being ironic or not – as a humanitarian war. Isn't that a contradiction in terms?
Yeah, of course. And I think now we must not accept this use of humanitarian reasons to make wars. War is war. I mean, when you try to put it under the flag of humanitarian action, mostly you create more problem than you solve problem. I'm not sure, for instance, that today the Libyan population is in better condition than before the collapse of the regime. The regime was terrible, okay, but at least there was a structure existing and the population was not suffering as it suffers today. So humanitarian is not the right word to describe such kind of adventures.
Okay. So, moving on to the war in Syria. There have been grim reminders of the dangers of working as a humanitarian. There's been an attack on an MSF hospital in Aleppo. And also last year people might remember the attack…
Yes. 42 people dead, and 14 of them your MSF staff. Have you been shocked by these attacks?
Yes. Shocked, yes, but surprised not, because we experienced last year a considerable reduction of the area where you can send volunteers from abroad. You're speaking about Middle East, but you can also talk about Sahara region. You don't send people in the north of Mali or in Niger or in any of these places where people are suffering. But you can't help them.
They're no-go zones?
No. Because there are security problems, which really are terrible, and hostages are taken among our staff, and this we cannot do. So there is a terrible reduction of the places where you can really have a humanitarian efficiency.
So, as a result of the war in Syria, there's five million Syrians heading towards Europe out of their country. That's a humanitarian crisis that's not in one of those countries. It's come home. It's come home to France. What sort of effect is it having on your country?
Well, the migrant problems and crisis is not only those migrants from Middle East. It's broader than that. We are facing a very terrible situation, because today it's not only from Balkan and from Syria that they are fleeing, but also from Africa and Libya. And probably in the next few weeks, you'll see that the flow of refugees from the south, from Africa, will be broader, will be bigger than the flow from Syria. Because around Syria, of course, there are terrible problems, but also there is a possibility to help the population on the spot in Lebanon, in Turkey, in other places. And also we can expect, we can hope that the situation in Syria can find a solution within a few weeks or months. But the situation with Africa is much more a kind of demographic gap, terrible. We are in front of a continent of one billion people, you know. Most of them are desperate because there are no jobs, there are no prospective for the young, and then they cross the Mediterranean. And this is a terrible state for our nation, because can you imagine that in Austria, for instance, last year there were more migrants coming from abroad than births in the country. It changes completely the balance of population in such kind of old countries, which are fragile. We must take care.
What does this mean for the idea of multiculturalism? The humanitarian thing to do would be to take these refugees, to take all of them. But what's the cost of that? What does it do to your society, your culture?
It's impossible, anyway, to take… It depends what you call a refugee, first, because refugee, according to the Geneva Convention of 1951, a refugee is an individual who has been prosecuted for religious or ethnical or political reasons. We are speaking about migrants coming by a whole population of 10,000 million, 10,000 people. And this is different. These whole populations, we cannot afford to take them as a whole. We must keep this individual decision of taking the refugees, those who really seek asylum because they need it, and those who come for economic reasons; and those, we cannot really afford to take them.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks and the bombings, they have been linked, rightly or wrongly, with an influx of migration and the communities in which these migrants live. Is that fair to make that connection?
No. It is true that part of the terrorists who have made terrorist attacks in Paris, not only the Charlie Hebdo, but those also of last November, some of them came through the migrant route. They took the Balkan route to come from Syria and commit their attacks. This is true. Which doesn't mean that all the migrants are terrorists. Of course it's not. The majority of those who have committed these attacks were people born in France, who were brought up in France, and most of them, they were very well integrated. They had jobs. It's not a matter of they were marginalised, they were in a marginal position. No, they were integrated, and this creates real deep questions for us.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
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