The situation in South Africa, particularly the shantytowns that are taking over got me thinking about this topic. It is an ugly, unpleasant one but refugee camps are a sore that if allowed to fester will plague all those near them. In uncivil and dangerous times, disagreeable and unsavory tactics may need to be used to protect you and yours. Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Suburban Defense: A cop's guide to surviving riots, civil war, SHTF, or modern urban combat, available on Amazon.
From the Syrian Civil war on back through history, civilians who have lost their homes or are seeking to avoid becoming a casualty of conflict have sought refuge in areas less affected or unaffected by tragedy. This means that if dense urban areas become battlegrounds or unsurvivable, the residents will move out to the suburbs and countryside.
The overwhelming majority of people will be unprepared for even short term disruptions in the financial and logistical systems. Even those who did prepare may find themselves dispossessed of home and supplies. You may even become one of the destitute. Having nothing and limited prospects of survival makes people desperate.
A desperate band of refugees who has been camping in a field next to your neighborhood and starving may one day decide to try and overrun your defenses in order to kill you, eat your food, and live in your houses. While this sounds extreme, it is not outside the realm of possibility and violent attempts to rob or loot are of very high probability.
Refugees [excluding property owners and allowed relatives] should never be admitted to your neighborhood unless the refugee has a specific, specialized skill that your group needs and that person will add significant value to your group. This could be young veterans for security in a senior community or a physician when hospitals are closed. Bringing in unskilled persons for manual labor so residents don’t have to toil is a bad idea. Skilled persons who are candidates should be vetted carefully and the community should vote to include them or not. It is preferable that any refugee who is admitted has their own supplies.
Moving them along
Requests will be made for food, water, shelter, and supplies. With the exception of maybe water—if in ample supply and easy to provide—requests should be refused. Beggars should be directed to a charitable distributor (see below). Those requesting shelter should also be refused. If you house them, expect to be feeding them and there is a major possibility they will refuse to leave and will require forcible eviction with all its attendant problems.
You will face beggars at your gate asking for food, water, and other items. I would highly recommend denying these requests politely (and appearing you are equally desperate). Not only does this kind of charity deplete your resources, but as mentioned elsewhere, your neighborhood could get a reputation as a place for handouts.
There is no long-term management of refugees within your abilities. If you allow them in, permit them to setup a camp or set one up for them, they may never leave. They may begin to agitate for homes in your community or for you to supply their needs. You will need to be ruthless. Unless they have something to offer that makes you stronger, move them along.
A camp in the immediate vicinity of your home is a danger. Homeless camps that abut residential areas are already problematic, bringing theft, drugs, and violence into the area. Now imagine that instead of vehicular burglaries, these people are jumping your fence, stealing your vegetables, and some of them are even robbing homes. If you have open land or a park near your home, ensure it does not become a place for refugees.
You may need to burn out camps or terrorize these people to avoid them being a threat to you. Polite efforts to establish them elsewhere can be used, but ultimately having a horde of desperate “have nots” next door to the “haves” is a bad combination. The potential for trouble is just too great to risk. Any refugee camp that is a necessary evil in your area needs to be established far from your neighborhood or any other locals who are surviving. Harden your heart.
Refugees should not be allowed to camp more than overnight and should as humanely as possible discouraged from remaining or extending any camps. If they don’t take the polite hint, escalate force. Usually destroying their shelter and physically moving them (“floating”) down the road will do it. More coercive measures are dependent on the law enforcement situation, the age/sex composition of the group, and the behavior of the group.
When the rule of law is weak or absent, displace any existing homeless camps near your home/neighborhood. Do not let it grow into a shanty town. Cut down vegetation used to conceal camps and make the area undesirable for occupation.
I realize that this is all very uncharitable but survival of the prepared (and lucky) often involves ugly, selfish, and harsh measures. As to the contemporary homeless problem, our society has failed due to the naïve “do gooders” who think that freeing the mentally ill and addicts from institutions was a good idea. We treat stray animals better than we do the homeless of whom most are on the streets by choice and not misfortune.
For those in the “but for the grace of God go I” camp, in a major domestic refugee crisis where people have been displaced because of circumstances beyond their control, well-planned charity can alleviate some of the moral and emotional quandaries. Create camps far away from existing settlements and keep order there. Get the people living in the camps to contribute to the running, improvement, maintenance, and sustenance of the camp. Get them working in the area if possible. Don’t let them just sit and rot or collect benefits.
There are some good examples of such camps from the Great Depression era (see The Grapes of Wrath, for example) and even in South Africa, displaced whites have orderly refugee camps. Good social cohesion and strong authority is necessary to run these kinds of places effectively and efficiently. Any motley, unorganized collection of squatters is likely to present a problem that will have to be dealt with as above.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.