Helen Clark calls for radical re-think in refugee crisis

  • 29/08/2015
Helen Clark calls for radical re-think in refugee crisis

By Kim Vinnell

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is calling for a radical re-think of the way we deal with the global refugee crisis.

She says money should be spent on helping countries bordering Syria to cope with the refugee influx to dissuade people from trying to cross to Europe.

The bodies of 71 refugees have been taken to an Austrian morgue, the youngest victim just 18 months old.

Their search for a better life ended in the back of a truck on an Austria to Hungary highway. The cause of death was mostly likely suffocation.

"We have confirmed the insulating layer on the sides of the truck did not allow any air to pass through," says Burgenland police chief Hans Peter Doskozil.

Syrian travel documents were found inside, indicating some or all of those inside were escaping the brutal war that has killed more than 100,000 people. Austria wants Europe to open its borders.

"I think the best thing is to build legal ways to Europe," says Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, "with legal ways we can protect the refugees."

But Ms Clark, who heads the United Nations Development Programme, told The Nation we should be helping countries bordering Syria, so refugees don't need to make the dangerous journey.

"Take Lebanon, which has a population around the size of New Zealand, but the geographic area might be the size of the Waikato. With their 4.2 million population, they have another 1.2 million refugees. So if we put ourselves in their shoes, imagine 1.2 million people on these shores. We would be sweating. Lebanon is sweating. Jordan is sweating."

The former Prime Minister is also calling for investment in sustainable development, and not just emergency aid.

But that call has for a long time gone unanswered. In 1970 the United Nations asked for developed countries to give 0.7 percent of their GDP to help developing countries. Forty years on, few nations meet that goal. New Zealand remains one of the worst, handing over 0.26 percent as of 2013.

Meanwhile on the shores of Libya, dozens of bodies washed ashore after two cramped boats capsized. It is feared hundreds could be dead.

One survivor, a Syrian father, says the route is now called the grave of the Mediterranean.

It's a frightening reality, but those who must decide between death at home or a chance of Europe and life say they have little choice.

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