A report on the United Nations University Conference, 5 March 2015 – Migrations
On March 5th, a delegation of Raising Peace Steering Team members (Zhuoling You, Oriol Josa and Paul Winter) attended the UNUC, at the UNESCO headquarters, a Conference on Migrations with presence of hundreds of institutional delegates, expected to be a working and constructive dialogue space on the topic of Migrations. The present article is a personal report by Paul Winter on such experience
Welcome…(to the conference)
The invitation to attend a conference in UNESCO House, Paris, opened with the sentences,
The year 2015 began in the same way as 2014 ended: abandoned cargo ships in the Mediterranean Sea drifting towards the shore, full of hundreds of migrants deprived of water and food, transported like cattle in inhuman conditions. Last year, a record 350,000 migrants took the seas, often with tragic results. Over 4,000 people were swallowed up by the Mediterranean in 2014. Our “Mare nostrum” has become a cemetery. And since, in the first half of 2015 these outrages have multiplied.
It continued to point out that this woeful pattern was repeated in various other regions of the world and promised a programme of speakers, political stakeholders, international experts and academics who would adopt “a forward looking approach”.
The programme listed a series of presentations and discussions. In the event although there were linking comments from the chair, each speaker expounded his (alas, apart from the opening welcome this was an all male affair) own thesis from the silo of his own experience. While from the speeches we heard some contrasting and even opposing points of view there was nothing in the way of challenge or debate to develop the dialectic.
Yet a debate did take place. It’s just that it was wholly within my head, as I reacted to, questioned or even, occasionally, approved, what I was hearing. What follows has been extracted from the notes I made of my reverie. The speakers are not given in the order in which they presented.
Storming between the Dark Continent and Climate Change
Jean Louis Borloo, politician, appeared against a huge backdrop of a night time map with Europe in the north and below it the vast continent of Africa. Europe was punctuated with many little orange lights while very little light shone out of Africa.
For M. Borloo the solution to migration is for Europe to build power stations throughout Africa thus promoting development, factories and jobs. The implementation of this scheme would not only benefit Africa but the enhanced trade that would ensue would give Europe itself a 3% economic boost.
I blinked in disbelief. So we are truly back to the “dark continent” beloved of nineteenth century missionaries and colonialists. The light polluting Europe on the map is glowing from fossil fuels pumping out noxious greenhouse gases and nuclear energy leaving toxic nuclear waste. Is this a pattern of development to be imposed on Africa? I suspect Africa is finding its own way to develop. In many countries of Africa mobile phone ownership is over 90%. They are all accessing power to charge their devices. It is Europe that now needs to learn from Africa about sustainable development.
Another politician, Brice Lalonde, presented a stark picture of a world undergoing climate change. He warns of an impending unavoidable catastrophe as greenhouse gas emissions persist for a thousand years. Thus an altered planet will emerge. Global warming of 4-6C will result in drought, floods, hurricanes; the sea will rise by between one and two metres. Already there is migration caused by desertification and marine
inundation. Not only peoples migrate; plants, animals, even diseases migrate away from the equator as climate zones advance in a northerly or southerly direction towards the polar regions. A Pacific Islander whose whole island home is threatened by rising sea levels recently presented his claim for asylum to a New Zealand court. It was rejected. But there will be many more such claims.
On both climate change and on migration the EU has struggled to agree policies. Worldwide, the reaction of nation states is to shelter behind the “Westphalia Doctrine” i.e. each state has the sovereign right to decide its own policies for application within its own borders. A Breton who has espoused the green agenda, M. Lalonde closed his address with the rousing slogan, “Mangez les huitres!” [“Eat oysters!”]
Some interesting ideas here, especially on the relationships and parallels between migration and climate change. Is it as crazy for western states to try to protect their wealth, welfare and living standards by preventing the entry and settlement of people as it is for them to think to avoid climate change by escaping from greenhouse gases emitted by their neighbours? Greenhouse gases, insects, migrating birds, plant seeds and microbes travel freely without passports or visas.
Going towards policies: from pseudoscientific mathematical calculations to long-term policies
A third politician, Hubert Vedrine, advocates Europe setting fixed quotas for the number of migrants to be admitted according to qualifications in a trade or profession. He believes that the appropriate quantum can be arrived at by employing a mathematical formula that relates the speed of migrants’ integration to their length of time in Europe and the width of the cultural gap that has to be bridged.
An inane proposal seeking to cast pseudoscientific respectability over repressive conditions for entry. And he is not the first speaker to insist that migrants must be “integrated”. What right have our present day European politicians to make this demand? I lived in central Africa for four years. The climate caused a modification in my manner of dress. My diet adjusted to locally grown and available foods. I learned a minimum of the local language to show respect when meeting and greeting those among whom I lived and worked. But that was not “integration”. I retained my political, philosophic and ethical views. I kept my own culture even while first respecting and then growing to love the culture of my host community. To require integration is to require the abandonment of a fundamental human right.
M. Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta, sees the current situation as a breakdown in law and order with hundreds of thousands seeking to escape war, persecution and violence by hazarding a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean. They put themselves at the mercy of smugglers and people traffickers who become ever more demanding, daring and merciless. The response of the international community is hopelessly inadequate. Even if promises are made it fails to deliver, for example of the pledges of finance to rebuild Gaza following the August 2014 destruction hardly 5% have so far been met.
M. Miguel Angel Moratinos, former Foreign Minister of Spain, urged that solutions had to be found through foreign policy and diplomacy rather than seen merely as home affairs and border security issues. We cannot be Eurocentric but require a world strategy on flows of populations. To succeed we need a vision, a strategy, sincerity,
even a modicum of cruelty. In time of war, diplomacy struggles to achieve a ceasefire, but it can be done, e.g. Cyprus, Korea, Palestine. Peace building and development are grounded in long-term global policies, and never occur as a response to emergencies. That’s why M.Moratinos advocated putting the topic of Migration as the first priority for a long-term foreign policy and international cooperation by the European Union.
Understanding migration flows as linked to regional identities
In a total population of 4 million there were nearly half a million Palestinians and now over one million Syrians. Since the beginning of the year it had been necessary to close the border with Syria. The Middle East was witnessing a failure of nationalism and a rise of hegemonic radicalism with roots in the deprivation suffered in Palestinian refugee camps. Middle East Christians who believe in pluralism are being forced out of the region. Inter-confessional dialogue has become virtually impossible.
Professor Andrea Riccardi of the St Egidio Community, Italy, rejected the treatment of migration as a security issue, an approach which erroneously conflates migration with terrorism. We are seeing a decline in traditional borders as economic migration slows while there is a quickening of refugees fleeing war and oppression. The traditional historical role of the Mediterranean Sea is to unite peoples, not to divide them.
M. Youssef Amrani. Member of the Royal Cabinet of Morocco, pointed out how his country, for many years a source of migration, had then, from the south become a transit country to the north, and finally itself a country of final destination for sub Saharan migrants. He extolled his government’s policy of cooperation (e.g. with Spain, France, Senegal) to establish a legal framework for asylum and exile and to combat the criminal networks engaged in human trafficking.
A policeman talks about policies and a Libyan diplomat’s scepticism
We heard from M David Skuli, head of the Central Directorate of Border Police for France. He listed the various measures that have been taken to prevent migrants from crossing his border. He called for more cooperation between the countries of Europe to develop a common policy on migration and asylum. He believes they should make joint propaganda to tell potential migrants that life is not that much better in Europe so they should really stay where they are.
I am sure M. Skuli is very good at his policeman’s job. But does he ever think who and what he is trying to protect and what he is trying to protect them from? Probably not; that isn’t any part of his job. Does he really believe that life where you are starving, have no job prospects or are shelled, bombed, shot, raped, tortured, is hardly worse than life in Europe? Is this the reason our countries discriminate, incarcerate, humiliate migrants, to make their lives a hell hardly better than the hell from which they have escaped?
As we adjourned for lunch I spoke to my neighbour. He introduced himself as the UNESCO representative for Libya. I sympathised at the plight of his nation, a victim of tyrants and of western intervention in the easy role of dropping bombs and grandstanding plaudits on the change of regime. Then the west turns its back on the difficult task of nation building merely clicking tongues as the state descends into chaos. Observing the crowded hall I expressed the hope that we would find a place on returning for the afternoon. His laconic reply was that there would be plenty of space.
And he was right, the afternoon saw many empty chairs; no chair was occupied by my Libyan friend. I could understand his frustration listening to speeches that were largely self serving and in no way addressing the problems of his own beleaguered country. But his absence was a pity as he missed the most worthwhile analysis of our theme.
Not denying migrations but advancing with them
This came from Professor Bertrand Badie of the University College of SciencesPo, Paris. In a wide ranging and discursive address he began by pointing out that to take the view of an individual nation state is no longer appropriate. The international phenomenon of migration requires understanding from the international community. We have to lose our fear of migration and start to understand its mechanisms and appreciate its benefits. Migration cannot be governed or controlled; such laws as are necessary must be fitting for a new international order.
Oppressive border controls lead to a questioning of the very existence of borders. So migration is seen as a transgression of international order when it is in fact an expression of globalisation, of movement in a shrinking world of easy communication
and transport. We fear the “other” existing as something different from ourselves. Only 40 countries have signed the UN Convention on Migration.
Migration is an undeniable historic phenomenon. Today’s two hundred million migrants represent just 2 to 3% of the world’s population. For hundreds if not thousands of years the proportion of migrants has changed little. Why demonise them? In a country such as Niger, with a population explosion, what do the people do, where can they go to sustain themselves? With aging populations and declining fertility Europe, USA, Canada and Australia require additional millions each year to maintain their current wealth and growth. It makes no sense that our policies are resulting in great suffering for migrants who have no voice, no vote, no trade union or professional association to speak for them. As we live in a pluralist world so we have to accept increasing pluralism within our nations. We are engaged in creating a new social fabric. In many EU countries mediation and appeals processes have come to be regarded as mere mechanisms for delaying the legal system. A more generous approach is required in which, identifying with the migrant and in a spirit of solidarity, we move from stake holding to stake sharing.
The ovation for Professor Badie’s contribution was loud, long and well deserved.
Some more deep analysis comes from the IOM
A consenting voice was heard from M. Eugenio Ambrosi, International Organization for Migration’s Regional Director for Europe. He sought to bring a historical, social and political perspective to migration. That migrants are willing to risk their lives despite publicised drowning from capsized boats indicates that policies of border tightening are not working. Why does Western Europe regard itself as under some kind of assault? Compared with sixty years ago migration has only increased from 2% to 3% of the world’s population and those who arrive in Europe are but a small proportion of the 86% of refugees who do not move by choice.
There is an inappropriate use of language. Migration is neither “massive” nor does it constitute a “crisis”. If there is a crisis it is a European crisis of memory and of political responsibility. Forgotten is the substantial European migration following World War Two when, through the 1950’s, migrants streamed out of Europe to America north and south, to Australasia and Africa, all in search of a better future.
Migration has become a political weapon so that by feeding on xenophobia – the fear of the other – politicians win votes promising protection, a chance to live “secure” lives behind closed walls. Within those walls we undergo a crisis of identity. Who are we? What are we trying to protect? Migrants successful in reaching our shores are classified as “irregular” or even “illegal”. That classification is then used as an excuse for denying them their fundamental human rights.
Neither does a policy of limiting the flow of migrants make any sense from an economic perspective. With aging populations and slowing birth rates the European workforce is in decline. Within the next decade Europe will require an additional five million persons to maintain its output and standard of living. Migrants set up enterprises that create employment opportunities for all. A London School of Economics study found no adverse effect on British employment from inward migration to the United Kingdom. In 2003 the Argentine government opened its borders, regularising its resident migrants, as a result its economy flourished.
Much to ponder. How can it be that we have allowed ourselves to come to think of fleeing migrants crammed into leaking hulks as a cargo of worthless ballast or worse still as toxic waste that will poison our settled communities if allowed to disperse within our shores, to be “disposed of” anywhere else but here? It is so easy for the media to seize the narrative, undermining confidence and playing on fear, so that even hitherto “moderate” politicians believe that to gain popular support it is necessary to ride the tiger of extremism, offering evermore ferocious controls while turning a blind eye to the oppression and injustice of the systems they introduce.
Even an elected democratic government can rule dictatorially without respect for human rights
When Prime Minister David Cameron opined that loss of refugee lives in the Mediterranean would serve as a useful deterrent to those seeking to embark on similar voyages I recalled the observation made by the eponymous hero of Voltaire’s “Candide” on witnessing the execution on board his own ship of Admiral Byng by a British naval firing squad, “Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.” [Trans: “In this country (meaning England), it is good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.”] (Ill equipped and greatly outnumbered, in 1756 Byng had declined entering into battle with the French fleet off the Balearic Islands. He was court marshalled and convicted of cowardice.) Even within the United Kingdom Cameron’s remark was greeted with outrage to the extent that he has since had to relent from his initial refusal to take any part in naval search and rescue operations. However he continues to deny UK resettlement for any of those rescued.
Confronted by piracy off the coast of Somalia the international community rallied to protect the wealth lying within the holds and containers of their commercial fleets. Does not the world’s humanity comprise a yet more precious resource that under treaty law is entitled to find refuge in a place of safety? Anxious to contribute to the wealth and well being of the communities in which they aim to settle, why keep migrants in poverty, denying ourselves the benefit of all they have to offer?
In London thirty years ago I got to know many refugees from Chile, East Timor, Namibia, South Africa. They are not in London now. Once the conditions in their homelands made it safe for them to return they did so, grateful for the asylum they had received and keen to bring their experiences to bear in rebuilding their shattered countries.
That is the overwhelming mindset of the refugee: to return home and live in peace. It is one that must be respected by an international community dedicated to bringing about the conditions for it to come to pass. Too often the task seems impossible. In a recent television interview a woman who with her children had fled from Syria produced the key with which she had locked the door as they left their home. In silent comment the screen switched to pictures of her ruined city. Visiting Palestinian refugee camps wherever they are to be
found, time and again families bring out a treasured box containing the keys and sometimes even the deeds of title to the properties they and their forefathers left in flight or forced eviction almost seven decades ago. The international community has suffered a moral collapse in failing to demand, let alone enforce, restitution or recompense, over ensuing years silently conniving in further appropriations.
Borders and the national identities that shelter behind them are challenged by forces of globalisation and internationalism. The planet is made smaller by the speed and ease with which the wealthy traverse it. Information technology gathers the world and its peoples into a device that sits in your pocket. Trade and commerce, the arts, sport, entertainment, academic research and scientific discovery all render meaningless the artificial barrier of a state’s border.
Yet we persist in putting our faith in national entities basing their identity on a single hegemony whether of dogma, ethnicity, culture, religion, belief or national narrative. Those perceived as having different identity face discrimination, persecution, enforced conversion and indoctrination, incarceration, death and expulsion. While the most extreme examples are seen in entities such as ISIL and Israel, intent on increasing and establishing borders as yet without international recognition, the move to entrench and protect a country’s perceived common identity is worldwide. It is seen in the rise of right wing nationalist movements and in the fearful introspective self questioning that seeks to identify and define separate identity. In the United Kingdom this has resulted in the doctrinal elevation of the nebulous ill-defined concept of “British Values” – a shibboleth to test acceptance in the community as against rejection as a potential terrorist, and requirement for indoctrination and re-education.
The past century started with the dissolution of land based empires in Europe and has more recently spread to the breakdown of artificially created states in the Balkans and the Near East. The result has been the same: the disappearance of a patchwork quilt of communities of varying ethnicity, culture and religion replaced by the establishment, real or attempted, of state entities espousing a uniform identity. The process has witnessed vast population movements in ethnic cleansing whether enforced or “voluntary”, of refugees without homes or on the “wrong” side of a border, of those such as gypsies with no refuge or option but to face and endure the new regime.
More than one speaker made reference to the seventeenth century “Westphalia doctrine”; a nation’s insistence that it has a sovereign right to formulate and follow its own policies and actions without regard to views and opinions beyond its borders. Ironically some centuries ago Westphalia lost the power to enforce its own doctrine. Sic transit gloria mundi. Nation states, even those established on an island, do not continue forever. Beware the tyranny of a democratically elected parliamentary dictatorship.