Intended for healthcare professionals


Refugees: time for moral leadership from the Western democracies

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 28 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2907
  1. David Berger , district medical officer 1,
  2. ​Kamran Abbasi , international editor 2
  1. 1 Emergency Medicine, Broome Hospital, Robinson St, Broome, 6725 WA, Australia
  2. 2 The BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. Correspondence to: D Berger daveberger{at}

Australia sets a disgraceful example in its treatment of refugees

Any observer of today’s spiraling refugee crises in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia must agree with Hegel that “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” At the Evian conference of 1938, the US encouraged representatives of 32 nations to find a solution to the Jewish refugee crisis in Europe but refused to relax its own, severely limited refugee quotas, as did Britain.1 2 The other participating nations followed suit, except the Dominican Republic, which agreed to take 100 000. In the summer of 1939, in the first act of a “stop the boats” doctrine that still plays out today, the St Louis, a German luxury liner carrying over 900 German Jewish refugees, was refused entry by Cuba, the US, and Canada and returned to Europe, where a large number of the would-be refugees were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust.3 This hypocrisy sent a clear message to Hitler that no one else cared about the Jews, or at least not enough to do anything, and he correctly concluded he was able to act with impunity.

Today’s failure of moral leadership by …

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