Birthplace may have significance for the individual as part of her or his history, but its use beyond that should be merely administrative and statistical. A dot on a map, a map defined by arbitrary lines that divide, should not determine anything of someone’s life other than what that person chooses it to mean. Concepts such as ‘home’, ‘community’, ‘nationality’ and the history of them are often important, psychologically, throughout someone’s life, but a connection to such concepts is a personal decision.
Nation states exist to divide and control
Practical necessities for survival had required geographically-distinct and organised communities to protect themselves and, consequently, to subdue other communities; today, similar practical necessities do exist for many communities, but both these communities and their disputes have no connection to the division of the world into nation states. However, the powerful have always recognised the usefulness of separation and ‘otherness’ and it is they who sought the creation of nation states and an exhaustive division of the world.
The different processes for creating nation states include a historical connection with violent feudal dictatorship (e.g. Britain, Russia, China), small states combining for greater power (e.g. Italy, U.S.A.) and, most numerously, imperialist demarcation of others’ land (e.g. states created in Africa, South and Central America, Asia, etc.). Whatever process created a nation state its role is to divide and control people by describing other states’ people as enemies and competitors, military or economical threats, less civilised, less moral and generally too different. Consequences of this false division of people residing in different places are an excuse for war, thereby intensifying control and also lubricating the lucrative arms manufacturing business, and an excuse to impose a fiscal economy that favours an elite by claiming it is needed in order to compete with other states. The latter consequence can include a clawback of vital public services alongside criminally negligent tax-avoidance law for business. The existence of the state is a tool to exercise power and control over the ‘citizens’ of the state. The elephantine contradiction is that, in the capitalist world, business is international and stateless and yet it requires the spurious entities of states in order to help it to control.
An immigrant is a person who has come to a country to live having previously lived in a different country.
That is the entirety of the definition of an immigrant. In other words, the majority of the people in the history of the world have, at some point in their lives, been an immigrant. It is normal human behaviour. People move for many reasons including finance, career, a sense of adventure, education, love or just for the hell of it. Some people move for safety and security. Whatever the reason is, people moving from one country to another is normal and uncontroversial.
Each of these six people pictured above – Bank of England governor Mark Carney, head of state’s husband Prince Philip, ex-mayor of London and foreign secretary Boris Johnson, singer Sir Cliff Richard, actress Emma Watson and tour de France and Olympic champion cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins – has a prominent role in British society and each is admired by many, although some are, admittedly, also disliked. They came to live in Britain for different reasons. Of course, a banker, the queen’s hubby, a multi-jobbed Eton-educated politician, a veteran pop singer, an actress in a hugely successful film franchise and Britain’s best ever long-distance cyclist – all caucasian – are not the people who are the targets of the bile and anger emitted by opponents of immigration.
Nomenclature of classifying humans, socially and/or politically, is usually infused with ulterior motive; the word immigrant is overloaded purposefully with malignant meaning. Politicians and agenda-infested think-tanks and media present the word as if it is defined wholly negatively. For them, an immigrant is assumed to be problematic. Any debate starts with that premise. The immigrant is defined, impersonally, as a threat, economically and physically, and immigration is presented as an alien invasion. The ulterior motivation for such a pre-determination of the terms of any discussion is to try to ensure that any focus of complaint for a country’s problems can be directed away from the culprits and onto an otherness: the immigrants. It is a well-worn tactic. No argument against immigration has any reason or validity attached to it. Anti-immigration rhetoric is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing except a repeated pointing at one group of people – the immigrants – in order to distract and deceive another group of people – the current residents of a country.
Refugees and economic migrants
The UN chose to define refugee at its 1951 ‘Convention relating to the Status of Refugees’. (A full description is here: Convention for refugees). Prince Philip would have been classified as a refugee if the convention had existed when he left Greece.
By describing what a refugee can be, the UN simultaneously (deliberately or otherwise) described what a refugee isn’t, or who isn’t a refugee. That is, limitations were placed on whether a person can claim to be classified as a refugee, thus providing any country, which the person wishes to enter, an excuse to refuse entry.
The dichotomy of refugee and non-refugee is usually offered up, by those wishing to use immigration as a political scare-tactic, as a difference between refugee and economic migrant. The absurdity of the phrase ‘economic migrant’ is not apparent to its users. They fail to realise that most migrants throughout history could be described as economic migrants and that moving to financially better oneself is surely an intelligent and natural endeavour. Instead, the phrase ‘economic migrant’ exists in a linguistic Carrollian rabbit-hole.
cross-border movement of people in 2015
To escape wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan there exists a mass exodus of people whose destination is Europe. Via boat, lorry, train and on foot thousands of people have attempted the journey, many using the trafficking services of criminals. Hundreds and hundreds have died as a result of the unsuitable transportation coupled with the completely exploitative attitude of the traffickers. Most deaths have occurred at sea due to capsized overfull and unseaworthy boats; several dozen people died when travelling in a lorry whose container was a refrigeration unit and, thus, completely airtight.
Until recently the British government and media wanted only to spread fear about ‘migrants’ gathered in Calais who were trying to get to the UK. The British prime minister was very comfortable using the word ‘swarm’ to describe the people in Calais, and the media dutifully joined in. The plight of British lorries being delayed in ports and of British tourists in Greece finding tired, hungry migrants at their holiday resort seemed to be much more of a problem than the lives of the people who had made long arduous journeys. A gormless twerp from immigrant-hating UKIP went to Calais to harass and provoke the people.
As the deaths have increased in number there has been a change in presented stance by governments, including the British government, and the media, a change that is partly a result of pressure from the public. Photographs of the body of a young Syrian child washed up on a beach in Kos filled the front pages of many newspapers in Britain. The publication of and focus upon such photographs and the use of the child’s death as a catalyst for a stated (but not necessarily sincere) change in attitude toward the people travelling to Europe are problematic. Why do adults need to see a dead child in order to understand what is happening? There has never been a lack of clarity about the reasons for and the quantity of people within the mass exodus from the countries named above, nor has there been doubt about the horrendous scenarios they encounter continuously on their journeys. Brendan O’Neill’s concise comments on what he calls “moral pornography” relating to such photographs is here: Brendan O’Neill. Chimene Suleyman highlights both the contrast between the media’s promotion of the photographs of a dead child alongside thousands of words attacking immigrants and the differences in media presentation of the deaths of people dependent on their respective race, Chimene Suleyman.
Public pressure has contributed to a change in the presentation of views of European governments and their media cheerleaders but the repositioning is informed by a continuing determination to restrict immigration and to describe immigrants as ‘others’. All the utterances of compassion, sometimes through gritted Bullingdon teeth, are juxtaposed to an assertion to divide immigrants into two distinct categories: Refugees and economic migrants. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has published a proposal for how European governments could best act in response to people arriving in Europe. Most of the proposal is positive but one point reveals the UN’s complicity in division of immigrants into categories:
5) Those who are found not to be in need of international protection and who cannot benefit from legal migration opportunities should be helped to return quickly to their home countries, in full respect of their human rights.
The full proposal can be read here: UNHCR Proposal. If the UNHCR is comfortable excluding people from travelling because they are unable to classify themselves as victims of war and persecution then no European government will suggest otherwise.
It is not only right-of-centre capitalist governments and dog-whistling newspapers that are hurrying to assert the division between refugees and economic migrants. People assumed to be more attuned to the plight of humanity, whether liberals sat reading Guardians in an ungentrified café-bar or left-of-centre activists and writers, have sought to stress that most of the people travelling to Europe are definitely refugees and not economic migrants. This is partly a reaction to the frothing bug-eyed hatred being spewed by Nigel Farage and his mob wherein they demand no compassion and everyone kept out of Britain, Farage No Compassion. The liberals may be sincere in their laudable support for refugees but their acceptance of the separation of refugees and economic migrants is helping governments to continue to adopt a general anti-immigrant posture.
European governments are praising themselves for allowing refugees into the respective countries and there are unedifying displays of one-upmanship between governments and between different political parties as various politicians put on a show to compete to be the least uncompassionate. Aided by direction from the UNHCR, state agencies are deciding which immigrants are allowed and which are not. However much this may assist the relatively small number of people who have escaped from wars, the selective nature of the classification of refugees perpetuates the spurious axiom that immigration is intrinsically negative.
To repeat what I said earlier, immigration is normal human behaviour. Any restriction on it is wrong.