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(co-written with Sarah Fine, Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College London)
Only two months ago Europeans were shocked by the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee lying dead on a Turkish beach. Then, there was a profound sense that more should be done to help people fleeing Syria’s civil war. Now, in the immediate aftermath of the ISIS murders in Paris and with unconfirmed reports that at least one perpetrator may have travelled through Europe disguised as a Syrian refugee, there are loud calls to close our doors. For some of Europe’s politicians, such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National, and the new right-wing Polish government, enough is enough: refugees trying to get to Europe should be stopped and nobody should be resettled here. There are demands for Schengen to be abandoned, together with current rules about freedom of movement within the European Union. In the United States, a similar debate is playing out, as a number of Republican governors, Presidential candidates and members of Congress push back against President Obama’s plans to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees. With so many in Europe and across the world outraged at the atrocities in Paris, these voices will be seductive, but if heeded they will lead us towards policies that would be profoundly mistaken and counterproductive.
Clamping down on refugees fleeing the region will not prevent acts of terror. In the European case, if ISIS and similar organisations wish to engage in further attacks, they do not need to bring anyone in from Syria to do so. The perpetrators who have been positively identified turn out to have been lawful residents of France and Belgium.
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This is more of a bleg than a post, I’m looking for contradiction. One of the often-claimed worries about immigration is of cultural loss, that the incomers will overwhelm the natives who will then lose the distinctive identity that they value. Supposedly, open borders would lead to the erosion of difference, people would lose their countries, and be bereft. But thinking about it, I’m struggling to think of any cases of cultural extinction due to the kind of immigration that results from individuals and families simply choosing to move to another country for a better or different life. Open borders within Europe haven’t caused the Germans and French to disappear. Open borders within the UK (and with Ireland) haven’t led to the demise of the Scots, the English, the Welsh or the Irish. And such immigrants as have come, have just turned into regular folks with slightly unusual names or atypical appearance within a generation. Not that there haven’t been historical cases of some peoples chasing out or killing other peoples, of course there have. But all the instances — at least all the modern ones — I can think of are state-sponsored projects of colonialism, genocide, forced relocation and the like. In the absence of deliberate state action and political mobilization, peoples of ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic distinctiveness seem to be pretty robust entities. Though Henry Sidgwick and Michael Walzer seemed to think they needed borders and border control to preserve themselves, mostly they don’t.
(for a much better photograph of a similar subject in a nearby location look at this picture by Harry Gruyaert via the Online Photographer, and then buy his book!)
I spent a good chunk of yesterday reading the second half of Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. I’d been reading it a few pages at a time for the previous week, but then I just got carried away and had to read right to the end. As CT readers know, I’m keenly interested in photography, but it is also the case that reading accounts from war photographers (and seeing their pictures) has changed the way I think about war and conflict.
After September 11th 2001, the blogosphere erupted into being a thing, and several hundred part-time pundits spent a good period of their time arguing with one another about Afghanistan, Iraq, the Islamic world, military tactics and a thousand other things they knew virtually nothing about. Some of them are typing still. I penned what I now regard as an unfortunate essay on just war theory and Afghanistan, unfortunate because there I was applying abstract principles to conflicts where I hadn’t a clue about the human reality. I hope I’d be more careful and less reductive today, and that’s partly as a result of people like the photographer Don McCullin, and his autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour. I’d heard of Addario’s book a few months ago, but then I saw some of her pictures at a festival of documentary photography in Perpignan, France, and decided I had to read it. [click to continue…]
If you want to understand what’s going on in the world of migration, one thing you need to do is to read Hein de Haas’s blog. His latest post is a sharp corrective to the people who believe that the smugglers are to blame, that inward migration threatens cost the taxpayers on wealthy nations billions, that the solution to the desperate people from the Middle East or Central America is to build bigger and higher fences and to militarize our borders. As he argues, increased border security simply generates a market for the services of smugglers to evade the new measures, and pushes desperate people to seek even more dangerous routes. This, in turn, leads politicians to pledge more border security, leading the cycle to repeat itself.
Who profits from this? Not migrants or refugees, certainly. The smugglers, a little. And the big contractors and militarized agencies who “defend” the borders, run the detention centres and other facilities a lot. And the people who are paying for all this financially are the citzens of wealthy nations who then get a “solution” that makes the problem worse.
We urgently need to explore alternatives, such as flying refugees to Europe, as Alexander Betts argued in the New York Times the other day.
I’ve been invited to give a TED-style talk tonight on whether there’s a right to free movement. Given the format, I don’t have a text and I’ll be speaking to a series of slides. But here are the basic points I’ll be making, for better or worse. (There’s no great claim to originality here, and my final slide will tell people to read Carens. Lots of undotted “i”s and uncrossed “t”s too.)
At the present time, they key norm governing the international migration regime is that states have a discretionary right to allow or not allow non-members onto their territory and to grant such members rights of residence, or not. The global refugee and asylum regime is a partial exception to this rule, but only a partial one because states have voluntarily agreed to be bound by the provisions of the Convention and could, if they chose, renounce it.
Clearly, most politicians and most voters, at least in rich countries, believe the norm is justified, with a lot of public debate focusing on whether the refugee regime is too permissive. Any party that tried to run on a policy favouring more open borders would get slaughtered at the polls, because more people think that democratic electorates have the right to exclude. But just because most people believe something, doesn’t make it true. And past consensuses on slavery, women’s suffrage and against gay marriage now look like the moral abominations they are.
But border and citizenship regimes have a prima facie case to answer because of the fatefulness of citizenship for life chances and the way in which they coerce people. Whilst some people are lucky enough to be born in, say, Belgium, others have the comparative misfortune to end us as citizens of Burundi or Bolivia. Some people get the valuable citizenships of states with wealth and which respect human rights; others end up with North Korea or Eritrea.