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In his Editor’s Letter (NI 516) Dinyar Godrej makes the unsubstantiated allegation that charitable organizations provide coarse $2 blankets to refugees after disasters. I have a leaflet sent to me by UNHCR in which they state that they provide high-thermal fleece blankets, warm winter clothing including thick socks and shoes, tarpaulins to help families insulate their shelters, and stoves suitable for both heating and cooking. The list of all useful items is much longer.

The disturbing thing about his wild allegation is that it may discourage people from making donations to such worthy causes. After all, if these NGOs are not able to help these refugees, who will?

Adrian P Wolfin Bellingen, Australia

[The point being made was in relation to the sorry state of clothing recycling rather than an attack on aid agencies. The short piece made clear that plastic, fleece blankets from China were taking over. They cost $2.50. – Ed]

Not sharing the world

Reading your article ‘Between the devil and the deep blue sea’ (NI 516) about the treatment of Tamil refugees in Britain, I was reminded of John Lennon’s line: ‘Imagine all the people sharing all the world.’ Sadly, this much-to-be-admired notion is slipping further and further from our grasp.

In Australia, the situation is not much different. Refugees arriving in makeshift vessels are either turned away at gunpoint or incarcerated on islands such as Manus and Nauru. The local people there, engaged by the Australian government as prison officers, unfortunately have little sympathy and treat the asylum-seekers badly. Reports filter back to Australia that there is a very high instance of self-harm and suicide. Although children as young as five are included in this category, the Australian government continues to turn a blind eye. Doctors were recently dismissed by the Australian government, who labelled them as ‘spies’. When will there be an end to this cruel treatment of our fellow human beings?

Trevor A Scott Castlemaine, Australia

Work at it

John F Schumaker’s essay ‘The personality crisis’ (NI 516) was fascinating and compelling. The problems he outlines are real and well argued, and the trends he identifies deeply disturbing.

But I cannot agree that ‘democracy is proving worthless, and even counterproductive’. The alternatives to democracy are far, far worse. We need to make democracy more democratic; register everyone to vote; inform everyone about the issues; and, if necessary, run for office. Democracy works if we work at democracy.

Nor do I agree that young people are especially disappointing in this generation. Schumaker argues that they are ‘the most conventional and conformist generation in history’. But the young have always confounded the old in new and unexpected ways, so perhaps this generation will confound their elders through their conformism? We need to teach and trust them more.

Schumaker concludes that ‘we are the people of the apocalypse’. That is only true if we want it to be so. We still have agency, power and knowledge.

Brendan Kelly Dublin, Ireland


Vanessa Baird’s article ‘What if people could migrate freely’ (NI 515) unfortunately provides a fanciful prediction of the effects of free migration.

Full free movement would undoubtedly trigger massive levels of migration (potentially 13 per cent of the global population, a figure Baird dismisses as ‘quite a lot’). Anywhere near this level of migration would cause severe social problems in the recipient countries (and probably also in the source countries). Even the limited level of current migration has caused a significant fissure in social cohesion across Europe, triggering an unwelcome rise in Far-Right political movements.

The economic argument for free migration is also shaky. Data illustrating that immigration improves the UK economy is based on the current profile of immigration, which is skewed towards working-age EU migrants. This data cannot be generalized to a scenario where full free movement is permitted, as in such a scenario greater migration would occur from populations whose demographic structure and more complex social needs would reduce their economic contribution.

The only solution to the ‘immigration problem’ is to work to reduce the severe global inequalities which drive the widespread desire to migrate.

Robert Hoskin Yorkshire, England