The problem is not migration but the system that breeds it

Western countries, which have been presenting themselves as true upholders of human rights and freedom, have failed in adopting adequate policies to assist beleaguered countries.


2017/10/22 Issue: 128 Page: 20


The Arab Weekly
Iman Zayat



Illegal migration, undocu­mented workers, perilous journeys, rubber dinghies: These expressions have become increasingly common since 2015. In Western countries, migra­tion has often been perceived as a scourge. For migrants, the prospect of relocating to the West represents an opportunity and a dream of a better life in a safer home.

“You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” wrote Somali- British poet Warsan Shire.

Unfortunately, the water has become safer than the land in conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Libya and Iraq, where violence is perpetrated indis­criminately.

Despite the world’s uproar about the dangers of harga (il­legal migration), the trend con­tinues. The dream of a distant land — even one that must be travelled to in rubber dinghies over the depths of the sea — has become more clement than the economic and social realities in many countries.

If Arab countries continue to fail their youth, kill their dreams and rob them of their collec­tive and individual rights, why would they be expected to stay?

The blame, however, cannot be levelled on Arab countries alone. The responsibility for the rise in migration flows falls on all parties without exception.

Western countries, which have been presenting themselves as true upholders of human rights and freedom, have failed in adopting adequate policies to assist beleaguered countries. They have instead tightened their focus on protecting Europe from migration influxes.

When did “illegal” migration really start?

Migration has existed since the earliest days of humankind when people moved from one place to another due to chang­ing climates and landscape or in search of food or resources. Mi­gration only became “legal” or “illegal” when restrictions were imposed on free movement.

By the end of the 17th century, some “liberal” thinkers, notably John Locke, questioned the rul­ers’ rights to restrict movement. This intellectual cause was reinforced by a new school of economics led by Adam Smith, who preached the virtues of free trade and free market econom­ics. As countries embraced these principles, border controls were relaxed and people in the West were largely free to come and go as they pleased.

The 19th century, however, was marked by significant changes in the flow of migra­tion. No longer were Europeans relocating from developed coun­tries to the various regions of the Americas but migrants from less developed regions were streaming north — from Africa to France. With this shift came in­creased racism and xenophobia.

Some European countries that had been open to political refugees during the second half of the 19th century imposed restrictions on immigration. This was compounded by a series of revolutions in 1848 that produced a flood of political refugees in Europe.

It now seems that history is repeating itself: A series of up­risings that began in 2010 in the Arab region yielded economic crises, social unrest and, in some cases, violence that mor­phed into civil wars. Increased hardships led to an unprec­edented wave of migration to Europe, which was labelled “a crisis” in 2015.

An irrational fear of Muslim migrants was especially pal­pable, even as migrants were drowning in record numbers. Antagonism towards Muslims grew even more following an unprecedented series of attacks by Islamist terrorists.

The European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol said Islamist attacks in Europe increased from four in 2014 to 17 in 2015. In 2016, a total of 135 people died in ten Islamist at­tacks in Europe.

History is also repeating itself in terms of reactions: National­ists and far-right groups are capitalising on “terrorism” by pointing to security concerns that migrants might pose in host countries. The end prod­uct is the same: Racism, fear and tighter restrictions. Not the slightest attempt is made to understand migration as a phe­nomenon, including push and pull factors.

Stability, security, reform, justice, economic opportunities and respect for human rights are the keys to stopping this phenomenon.

It is time for the West to re­consider its bigoted stereotypes. Since 2015, public opinion in the West, influenced by nationalist movements, has shifted towards endorsing these stereotypes, reducing Arab migrants or refugees to the most negative qualities of a few.

Travel bans, tighter restric­tions and naval patrols do not constitute an adequate response to “illegal” migration. What is needed more than ever are measures to make all lands safe and prosperous for their inhabitants.


Iman Zayat is the Managing Editor of The Arab Weekly.


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