Refugees from Revelation
Just north of Akko are two huge refugee camps, Camps Aleph and Beth, collectively holding more than a hundred thousand impoverished souls who have been virtual prisoners of the camps for nearly 80 years. These are the descendants of the ordinary citizens of Revelation, poor folk who were evacuated from the Holy City when it fell and were ultimately taken in as charity cases by the Crusader State.
Note, however, that the refugees are not the only group of exiles from the Holy City, and they are not to be confused with the Exodites, who are descended from wealthy Revelation merchant families that left with their wealth intact before the city's fall. The Exodites and the refugees have an unsteady relationship, with the Exodites looking down on the refugees yet using them sometimes as political pawns to score points.
History of the Refugees
The refugees' history is studded with tragedy, reaching back to well before the fall of Revelation, and their modern descendants represent the lowest remnant, people who truly have no way out.
While the refugees are conventionally said to be the citizens of the Holy City, their origins in fact start much earlier.
When the Second Republic collapsed and the gate was sealed, millions of pilgrims were trapped on Yathrib, many without resources or ties. Some of these pilgrims became the serfs of the various Yathribi lords, while others became outcasts like the badlanders or joined the desert tribes. Still more were absorbed by the Holy City, which had massive hostels and other facilities that became over time tenements for their new citizens, even as the clergy used their wealth and influence to support public works projects that kept the people of the city fed and clothed. The holy necessity of supporting these people -- as well as the manpower they gave the Apocalyptic See -- served a political end, giving the Archbishop of Revelation influence over planetary affairs. While over the centuries many of the pilgrims' descendants established trades and businesses, 'pilgrims' alms' were still expected from the lords of Yathrib and the city bought and subsidized food and other goods for its people to keep them content.
When the Kurgans first arrived on Yathrib, Revelation's population swelled. The Guardian made the hard decision to strip the Pearl Cities of their anti-space defenses, moving them to the Shining Gulf, and due to this 'Spoiling of the Pearls' they were left undefended before the Kurgan attack. People fled the Pearl Cities en masse, taking the old Second Republic monorails into Revelation, where they sheltered against the Kurgan onslaught.
Over the next generation, this influx was absorbed by the poorer classes of Revelation, even as the capture of the Pearl Cities and then the Antipodes devastated the Holy City's economy by eliminating its traditional trade partners. Pilgrims' alms went from a source of civic wealth to something essential. As the Kurgans got closer to Revelation, the situation became even worse as the monied merchants who became the Exodites fled the city, taking their wealth with them.
When the fight reached the Holy City proper matters became truly dire. Bombardment from the Kasbah began to reduce the apartment blocks to rubble, killing citizens by the hundreds, and people began to flee the city, descending on outlying villages in droves. In turn, those towns -- desperate to save themselves -- began to deny refugees entry, turning many of them into roving bandit gangs. When the city fell and the Kurgans took over, the continuing chaos just deepened; by that point, many refugees had made it around to the west side of the Shining Gulf, joining with badlanders and others to raid the fertile lands yet untouched by war.
The humanitarian crisis was so great that at the Peace of the River of Joy in 4940 the topic of the refugees was a major item. An agreement was made to set up four camps on each side of the river where the refugees could live, and that they would be fed and housed by the Crusader State and the Caliphate.
Two of those camps were on the outskirts of Akko itself; another was set up on Cape Hattusas, and yet another in the foothills of the Mountains of Moab. Refugees who had sheltered in the badlands or had been taken directly from Revelation ended up in the Akko camps, while rural refugees ended up on the Cape or in the mountains.
The Camps Are Established
The people in the camps were desperate and hungry. By the time of their creation, nearly a generation had passed since Revelation fell, while almost three had passed since the Spoiling of the Pearls. The camps in Akko had already been a sort of refugee squat that was cordoned off by the Crusader State; as a consequence, some of the orderly creation that went into Camp Gemmel in the mountains and Camp Daleth on the cape was impossible.
Still, for the first decade or so life in the camps was not terrible. There was a lull of sorts on the constant campaign, and so those in the refugee camps from trade families were recruited by local merchants to serve as apprentices and workers, though most of the bonds of trade had been broken in the fifteen year gap between the fall of Revelation and the establishment of the camps.
The Kurgan takeover of the eastern side of the Gulf meant that many serfs had fled to the west, leaving most of the baronies without a need for more serfs, but at Camp Gemmell model fields were established and a systematic effort was made to find refugee families serfholds in newly-reclaimed lands.
Camp Daleth became a naval and military base for growing operations in the gulf, and many of the refugees there became part of that life, serving as labor and indeed soldiers in the armies of the Crusader State. Fields were planted outside the camp, and other families settled down to begin to farm.
In Akko, however, there was little room to grow. There, the camps were bordered by wasteland, and many of the refugees had ties to badlanders who pressed in on the outskirts of the city. The inability of the camps to plant their own fields meant they had to rely entirely on Akko for alms, and food shortages led to riots in 4948 and 4952. The walls around the camps grew higher and Justinian soldiers were imported from the Vale to guard the camps so that the families of local troops could not be targeted by angry refugees, and also because the Vale lords felt that if the refugees were released the rich lands of the Vale would be their first target.
The poisonous climate inside Camp Aleph and Camp Beth meant that apprenticeship programs did not flourish, and families that sought a better life sought and often received transfers to Camp Daleth or Camp Gemmel.
In turn, difficult refugees in the outlying camps were sent to Camp Beth, which became a sort of 'prison camp'. Criminal elements -- present in all the camps -- were particularly disruptive to the military order at Camp Daleth, and so 'undesirable' families were uprooted and transported wholesale to Akko. Once it was determined that Camp Gemmel would be shut down, the remaining families were also moved to Camps Beth and Aleph, where they immediately became prey for the criminal gangs that largely ran the inside of the camps.
Outside groups also saw opportunity in the camps. Sathraist smugglers saw the camps as a place to sell low-quality, cut-rate selchakah, and the lack of administration inside the camps meant that addiction rapidly became common and widespread. The Crusader State was able to keep the drug largely out of the more isolated camps Daleth and Gemmell, but they could not keep it from Aleph and Beth -- and so whenever someone was found to be an addict in the outlying camps they were moved to the central camps.
This outlet for money hampered internal development in the central camps; even when people learned a trade or began some sort of cottage commerce, that money often ultimately disappeared into drugs, rather than being put back into the camps, creating a vicious cycle that persists to this day.
By the 4980s, the tide had turned decisively against the Crusader State. More and more land was being lost and the treasury was dwindling with a need to fight the war. The Chancery enacted a much-hated 'Almoner's Tithe' to support the camps, but the monies brought in were about half what was really required to feed people adequately. Riots became more common, and at the same time the need to put more soldiers on the front meant that the camps were left more and more to govern themselves. Local criminal gangs became the de facto rulers inside Camps Aleph and Beth, and popular sentiment ran sharply against the Crusader State.
Attitudes towards the refugees had never been good, but around this time popular opinion really soured. The Almoner's Tithe meant that every citizen of Akko was paying for the refugees, and so public perception of the refugees as lazy and shiftless skyrocketed, which in turn made it much more difficult for refugees to find work outside the camps. Several publicized incidents where Kurgan or Sathraist sympathizers were able to find shelter in the camps further turned popular opinion against the refugees.
During the Betrayal, the camps rose up in revolt as the Kurgan forces swept south; the gates were locked and guns turned on the refugees, killing thousands. When the Justinian armsmen who guarded the walls finally had to retreat, the Kurgan just kept the gates locked, unwilling to even deal with the situation until they had conquered Akko -- though they sent in much more massive food shipments, essentially looting conquered lands north and south of Akko to feed the refugees, which further hardened rural serfs against the refugees.
When Joscelin's Crusade arrived and the Kurgans were pushed back, the guilds saw opportunity in the camps. The Muster took over the contract to guard the camps, seeing them as a lucrative opportunity for slaving, while the Scravers began to make inroads among the criminal gangs inside the camps.
While the Scravers still have a great deal of work to do before they have brought all the criminal elements under their control, the League has pushed back against efforts to change the camps, seeing them as a potentially limitless profit source in both crime and slaves, largely unregulated as they are.
Additionally, ideological groups from the larger Known Worlds have fixated on the camps as a place to flourish. Third Era Republicans, Mercurians and other revolutionaries see the camps as the place where a new order can be forged, and their agitation - as well as that of liberal priests and others - have raised unrest to never-before-seen levels.
Life in the Camps
Life in the camps is nasty, brutish and short. With maxicrete and barbed wire walls keeping the refugees penned inside, they are virtual prisoners, though the gates to the camps are kept open during the day. Muster guards watch the entry plazas and man high towers at intervals along the camp walls, while the interior is either intermittently patrolled by the Muster or run by camp gangs.
While originally the refugees lived in tents, the Peace at the River of Joy required that all refugees be given permanent housing. Construction began on shacks; while each camp was built differently, those in Pilgrims' Landing were made of metal, looted from decaying starships and then recycled into corrugated steel. In order to keep the heat down and lower rust the metal was painted white, but all the same the hot equatorial sun means the shacks are extremely hot during the day.
As a consequence, much of the public life in the camps occurs outside, either on the porches and stoops of the shacks or in the streets and alleys between them. The camps were planned as temporary spaces, and so there are very few public spaces outside of the streets; to combat this, some shacks have been torn down and turned to impromptu parks, and others have been combined to create larger buildings.
There is no running water in the houses; instead, at the entrance plazas there are public spigots available for people to fill jugs of water, and there are several buildings at places inside the camps that also have public spigots. The lines for water are always exceedingly long, and so enterprising refugees have always made a business as water-sellers. Since the arrival of the League, the Muster has gotten in on this business, rolling water tankers down the main road to sell water. The water trucks have driven down prices with the independent water-sellers, though in turn the gangs have taken to sabotaging Muster trucks when they can.
On the main roads, the Crusader State periodically pays to upgrade and repaint houses, though their crews rarely get to side neighborhoods. As a consequence, the father away from the main avenues one goes the more ramshackle the shacks become, often patched together by hand from materials scrounged from the badlands.
The refugee week begins each Sunday, where many of the refugees attend church services in one of the many open-air or tent-covered ceremonies at crossroads in the camps. Some of the refugees instead attend services at the Exodus Cathedral; while the Cathedral can holds thousands, it still could not hold the whole of the camps.
After church, alms are distributed in the form of food. The Muster in charge of distribution, bringing trucks to each tent church, and lines form to have food handed out. Food is only given to adult women, who have their fingers dipped in indelible ink after the week's parcel is given out, and generally the trucks run out of food before everyone has gotten their ration. While the weekly food distribution varies, generally it is milled flour, millirice, or beans, though sometimes fresh fruit or vegetables appear.
In order to keep food distribution from becoming a riot, the Muster rely on neighborhood leaders to keep order -- generally local gangsters -- rewarding them with extra food as well as cash disbursements. Between these extra shares, debt payment and general extortion much of the weekly ration ends up in the hands of the gangs, who in turn give food to their followers in exchange for cash, services, or just as a way to keep the loyalty of ordinary people in the camps.
Despite the harsh conditions of the camps, there is a vibrant community in existence. Children play in the streets, usually games of pick me-up ball with stuffed skins and constantly variable goals. Indeed, camp-ball -- which bears resemblances to soccer, mob football, and rugby -- is a welcome diversion in the camps, with games played between neighborhoods and then several times a year in matches between Camps Aleph and Beth.
At night -- particularly on Sunday nights, after food is distributed -- music and dancing is common. Fiddles and percussion are the most common instruments, but the refugees the rare wind instruments they can get their hands on. Horn-blowers, particularly, have a sort of storied place in refugee music, often taking center stage with elaborate brassy riffs. Refugee dirges are perhaps their most famous songs, though in up-tempo music vocal scat is a common accompaniment, as are folk songs from all over Yathrib.
Drugs and Alcohol
Substance abuse is endemic in the camps. Alcohol and low-grade selchakah are the most common intoxicants; alcohol is generally grain moonshine, made in home stills, called fondly by some 'camp lightning'. It is often watered-down and/or flavored with citrus to make it drinkable.
Selchakah is perhaps even more common, imported into the camps in large quantities by smugglers from the Sathraist kingdoms. In the early years of the camps, authorities turned a blind eye, seeing selchakah as a way to keep the people in the camps quiescent, but illegal trade has caused far more problems than it solves. The low-grade selchakah is usually called 'Cut', 'Chak', or 'Kah' in the camps, and it is the vegetable remains of the opiate poppy after most of the narcotic resin has been extracted for sale; crushed together to extract the last of the juices, it is sold as a crumbled mass of resin-coated fibers.
Other drugs are less common but still prevalent; with the planet at war, zip and other combat drug derivatives find their way into the camps, and many of the gangs use such drugs recreationally as well as to prepare themselves for fights. Some of these in turn become zipheads, burned out souls looking for their next fix.
Perhaps ten to twenty percent of the adult population of the camps have work outside in the city, often in Engineer- or Scraver-run rerolling mills in Pilgrim's Landing that work on reclaiming metals from the vast starfields. Other major sources of cash income are the payments made by the Muster to neighborhood groups for protection, the sale of drugs and alcohol, prostitution, and the slave trade.
The flesh trades deserve special mention. Inside the camps, prostitution is stomach-churningly common, and outside the camps a narrow majority of prostitutes were once refugees. While in-camp sex work is mainly for food, those who work outside the camps -- particularly in places catering to guilders and other wealthy elites -- are substantial income-earners for the camp economy, and in turn tend to often pay protection to people inside the camps. Even that money, however, pales compared to the slave trade; the Muster pay between ten and thirty firebirds for children and young adults, with young men preferred. That money is a huge injection for the camps, and is what keeps the camps' population (where families often have a dozen children) from skyrocketing too quickly.
The money that does come into the camps is generally spent on food, drugs, alcohol, and water, ultimately either enriching the guilds, the gangs, or Sathraist smugglers. Addiction, particularly, serves as an enormous drain on the economy, with the majority of the income that comes in ultimately ending up smoked or drunk, sometimes after passing through several hands. The League, particularly, profits, with the Muster, the Scravers and the Charioteers having the largest payouts from the camps' existence.
Problems and Solutions
The refugees represent, to be blunt, a problem. They are an enormous drain on the Crusader State; while they are partly funded by a special tax levied on the people of Akko (which in turn has economic impacts) the funds used to pay for them could put thousands of more soldiers in the field, making a huge difference on the front. They generate crime in enormous amounts, and the humanitarian problems make many uncomfortable while giving the Church leverage to preach against the nobility.
Of course, some see upsides: the Muster have a very lucrative contract, while the Scravers see greatly increased profits that increase each year as they make inroads among the gangs. The Charioteers, with ties to smugglers, profit from the selchakah trade, and even the Reeves and Engineers see ancillary benefits as the Crusader State takes out short-term loans to cover cash outlays and the Engineers have cheap, replaceable workers for factories.
Still, many efforts have been made over the last eighty years to solve the refugee problem. Here are their results and possible ways they could be made to succeed:
Costs and Support
Right now, the Crusader State pays about 500,000 firebirds a year to support the refugees, or roughly 5 firebirds a year per person. Much of that disappears into overhead and upkeep such that roughly 3 fb/yr is actually spent per person, or about a quarter-firebird a month. Serfs, by contrast, live on around a firebird a month, with the poorest serfs living on perhaps a half a firebird each month.
This half-million firebirds is strictly speaking not a line item for the Crusader State; it is paid for by the Almoner's Tithe, a relatively punitive tax on the people of Akko, thought the Almoner's Tax does not entirely cover the cost of the food contract. Additionally, Akko spends another 100,000 firebirds a year contracting Muster guards and fortifications to defend the camps.
Increasing these payments or reducing overhead could directly benefit the quality of life of the refugees. With another 300,000 to 400,000 firebirds a year spent on support, the refugees would live like poor serfs; with another 900,000 to 1 million firebirds a year (roughly the discretionary military budget of the Crusader State), they would live well and be in a position to make dynamic changes inside their community. If the State could maintain the refugees at that level for two or three generations they might be able to reintegrate into society, with costs decreasing to the state after a generation has passed.
With a hundred thousand refugees in the camps and a war being fought, conscription seems like an easy solution. In part, that's occurring; many of the Pilgrims Landing Volunteers are from the camps, and Refugee Battalions are raised with reasonable regularity to fight on the fronts. There are concerns; drug and alcohol abuse among the refugees can be pernicious in military settings, and while many refugees are hard-working volunteers who stand their post there is an element who can be disruptive to unit cohesion.
Mostly, however, the issue is cost: mercenaries and crusaders arrive on Yathrib every day trained to fight but seeking pay, and they allow the Known Worlders to rapidly bring units back up to strength either by granting parcels of land to military tenants or hiring soldiers outright. The refugees need to be trained; they do not know how to sit a horse, use a sword, fire a rifle, or any of the other myriad of skills expected from an armsman or legionary, nor can they perform the peacetime tasks expected -- managing a farm and distributing justice in the case of armsmen and patrolling towns and ensuring law and order in the case of legionaries.
This is not to say that refugees cannot be turned into soldiers. They can -- indeed, the Muster often recruit them, among others. Generally, refugees can be put in training and will serve effectively as legionaries after between six months and a year of training.
Mechanically, once someone begins to train a company they pay to maintain that unit. Staff will make rolls for the unit each season, and once a certain VP threshold is reached the unit will be combat-ready.
The other option, of course, is to form a refugee battalion, which is a unit of essentially untrained refugees. Refugee battalions vary in effectiveness, but when placed at the front lines count essentially as equal strength with the other units, though they tend to suffer very high casualties. Several models for paying refugee battalions exist, though in all cases their morale is low and they need to be watched carefully by officers and vintenars to keep from breaking and fleeing in battle. As a consequence, they are often sent to Revelation, where they have nowhere to run.
Broadly, conscription is a double-edged sword; it provides an out for some refugees, who will in turn remit some of their salaries, but it does not solve the entrenched problems inside the camps, and may have the effect of stripping some of the folks best suited for leadership out of the camps. Of course, that's been going on for some time -- the best and brightest of the camps are their greatest asset, and they are wasted, some argue, on the refugees -- and so it may represent a way to salvage value from this mass of humanity.
The guilds, particularly the Scravers and Muster, have long looked for the best and brightest among the camps for recruits, as did their predecessor native trade organizations. Like conscription, this is an effort with a fundamentally limited solution, one that drains the leaders of the camps with little reward for the camps -- though sometimes great reward for the individual or the league.
The great success story is resettlement. Taking families wholesale out of the camps and putting them in unclaimed land to colonize, or to fill in places where war has devastated the population is perhaps the single most successful option; it lead to the emptying of Camp Gemmell and dramatically reduced Camp Daleth.
Eighty years of creating refugee settlements -- 'colonies', they are often called -- has led to a series of lessons. First, it is best not to mix refugees in with one's other serfs, as they tend to integrate poorly while learning to farm, and the rate of refugees turning to banditry is high. Second, there is a risk factor -- around twenty-five percent of colonies fail, though depending on management that number can reach as high as fifty percent and as low as ten percent. Failed colonies usually result in the refugees turning to banditry. Third, crime will go up, at least for the first few generations, as inevitable bad eggs make their way to the colonies.
With all of these caveats, however, colonies are generally entirely self-sufficient by the second generation they have been established. Until then, they need to be supported, usually with a combination of cash aid and direct food grants.
Mechanically, each colonist household will cost around 60 firebirds a year to support for the first three to five years, with that amount decreasing after that point ultimately to nothing in ten to twenty years. Setting up a colony also costs money; if they are reclaiming wild land, it could cost as much as one hundred firebirds a household to set up a homestead, while resettling a vacant village might be as little as twenty firebirds in initial costs. Income from lands will also take a while to grow; at first, there will be very little income from a colony, but by the time a decade or two has passed they will be providing the same 25 to 30 firebirds a year in income as does any household, as well as sending armsmen to their lords' armies.