Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Discussing Movement of People

The refugee crisis has dominated the news but has now disappeared from the headlines despite the fact that scores of migrants/refugees have just drowned this week. The underlying causes of the crisis has not changed. 33,293 people have died since 1993 as a result of militarisation, asylum laws, detention policies and deportations. Wars produce refugees. People will continue to move to improve their quality of life – not only because of extreme poverty, but because they are connected to global culture and global networks of communication. Climate change has the potential to create far greater displacement than we have seen in recent years; as with refugees from war, it is likely to be poorer countries who feel the greatest impact.

From the 1990s, the borders have been fortified within Europe and increasingly militarised. Amnesty International estimates that, between 2007-2013, before the crisis, the EU spent almost €2bn on fences, surveillance systems and patrols on land or at sea but spent only an estimated €700m on reception conditions for refugees. In 1990 15 countries had walls or fences on their border; by the beginning of 2016, that number had risen to almost 70. Refugees have the right to cross borders in search of asylum under international law – should be exempt from these controls. But the EU has tried to prevent asylum seekers from reaching its territory wherever possible: by closing down legal routes, such as the ability to claim asylum at overseas embassies; by introducing penalties for transport companies that allow people to travel into the EU without the correct documents; and by signing treaties with its neighbours so they control migration on the EU’s behalf. And within the EU, an agreement called the Dublin regulation forces asylum seekers to apply in whatever country they reach first. Europe has continued to make security its priority, rather than the protection of vulnerable people. Border defences often produce or exacerbate the very problems they purport to solve, by forcing irregular migrants to take more dangerous routes, often with increasing reliance on people smugglers. Europe has continued to try and push the thousands of uninvited migrants who try to reach European shores further and further away from the continent. 

 UNHCR, says there are more people displaced by conflict in the world today than at any point since the second world war. This is true: an estimated 66 million people are currently displaced, either within their home countries or abroad. But 86% of these remain in the developing world, not in wealthy regions such as Europe. And despite recent conflicts refugees account for around 0.3% of the world’s population; a small and relatively stable proportion. The problem is one of resources and policy, not overwhelming numbers.

The term "economic migrant" has taken on a new and pejorative meaning since the refugee crisis. It is often deployed in much the same way that “bogus asylum seeker” to suggest that people are trying to play the system, that their presence is the cause of problems and that if we could only filter them out, order would be restored. In fact, the history of migration is a history of controls on the movement of all but a wealthy elite. The movement of people across international borders is tightly controlled and regulated. As a proportion of the world population, the total number of international migrants – of any kind – has stayed relatively steady: roughly 3% since 1960. Although the proportion of migrants has not grown significantly, the origin and direction of migration have changed. They are going to the places where power and wealth have become concentrated. Europe is one of those places. It is by no means the only destination – most African migration, for instance, occurs within Africa. And most migration to Europe takes place legally: an estimated 90% of migrants who enter Europe do so with permission.

In recent years, “European values” have been invoked. Demagogues such as Hungary’s Viktor Orb├ín have positioned themselves as defenders of a Christian European civilisation, enacting anti-migrant policies to protect Europe from being overrun by Muslim 'hordes'. The presence of millions of displaced people has become a powerful tool for those regimes that wanted to undermine the idea of universal human rights. “Look,” they could say, “there’s no such thing; you only get rights by being part of the nation”. Instead of resolving this problem, governments cracked down on unwanted migrants, giving police forces extensive powers that were eventually also wielded over their own citizens. Britain’s “hostile environment” and laws criminalising European citizens who help migrants to the “temporary-stay facilities” that Italy’s new, far-right interior minister has proposed as part of a plan to increase deportations – that European governments are creating.  Anyone who says: “We should look after our own before we look after refugees,” probably isn’t interested in doing either. 

Politicians may try to draw a distinction between “genuine” refugees and other irregular migrants, and our economy may assign relative values to people’s lives based on their use as workers, but that doesn’t mean we should accept that one of those people is any less a person, or that their experiences are any less real. Refugee law provides an essential protection for some kinds of displaced people, but not all of them. Drawn up in a world where power and wealth are unequally distributed, it has always reflected the concerns of the powerful. The more rigidly we enforce distinctions between the deserving and undeserving, the more likely we are to accept the violence done in our name.

Taken from here

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