Last week, I caught a sound bite on the radio of David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, saying ‘British jobs for British workers’. Immigration, is yet again, a major theme in UK politics. Being one of the main concerns for voters, it never strays far from the centre of attention. It was a key theme in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions with regard to the backlog of asylum seekers and the EU laws. But this is not an issue only relevant to the UK. Movement of people started with the migration out of the Horn of Africa 1.8 million years ago and migration has been a key issue ever since. This is the reason why humans have populated each continent. In 2007, the UN estimated that there were 200 million migrants globally, including 9 million refugees.
Each migrant comes from a source and will leave due to a variety of push factors such as poverty or the pull factors of better prospects elsewhere. Some countries will encourage their nationals to leave as Morocco, Turkey and the Philippines did in the 1960s as economists thought this would help development as it would ease overpopulation and result in remittances. This had little factual evidence and the wave of labour does more good for the host country than the source. Other people have little choice but to leave. In the UK last week, Ed Miliband, the leader of the UK Labour Party, drew attention to the fact that the number of asylum seekers awaiting a decision has risen by 70% in the last year. They seek asylum, safety, freedom not free money, no matter how the media portrays them.
No matter the reason for leaving, record numbers of migrants are crossing the Mediterranean and record numbers are dying in this process. This highlights the pressing issue which migration can be. Yet this death and desperation is covered far less frequently than people whining about how migrants are scrounging from the welfare state. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of people come here to work and not claim benefits.
Life for an asylum seeker or even an economic migrant, especially for those from outside Europe, is difficult. The journey over is a desperate one as the multiple shipwrecks and bodies washed up on Libyan shores attest. Smuggling across the Mediterranean has increased drastically in the last decade. The majority come from Eritrea, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, The Gambia, Somalia, Egypt, Palestine, Pakistan and Senegal and they are either trying to escape conflict, personal persecution or abject poverty. Getting to the shores of North Africa is only part of the difficulty. Sometimes, the smugglers give the keys of a boat to the migrants, with no sailing experience, and to leave them to cross the Sea on their own. The Italians set up Mare Nostrum to patrol the Mediterranean because of the high death toll. They rescue stricken boats, drop the passengers in Italy and turn a blind eye to their lack of citizenship.
So let that bring us now to migration within Europe. The lucky migrants who reach Italy, continue on, and they need somewhere to go. They have worked hard and risked so much to get here. Whether you feel that they deserve it or not, they arrive in a place which they thought would be better than their home, for whatever reason. So let us now look at the borders within the EU which David Cameron, last week, says he wants to close – or at least put a mesh up through which only the rich can pass. He wants to put restrictions in place so that the common right to free movement is tied to the wealth of the potential source country. That is, those from poorer countries and so the ones with more need to move, have increased restrictions upon their mobility. The rich, as always, can visit or live anywhere they choose.
The EU is supposed to be a community. There are not any limits on a family moving to a different part of a city – a part which is better suited to their needs and tastes. Or across the country, and goodness knows megacities are swamped by migrants far above any estimates of their carrying capacity. These do not have specified limits. They respect the idea that people move to seek out a better life. So why then, do our borders try to restrict the movement of those with the virtuous goal of a better life, who plan to be a hard-working, taxpaying citizen? And these borders were often arbitrarily drawn onto a map with a rule and pen or are the legacy of long distant wars. Obviously, there are many exceptions but still, borders are decided from above, not the individuals on the ground, yet it is these individuals who have their lives and experiences defined by the side of an invisible line on which they live.
The EU was set up with the free movement of its people as a central tenant. As José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing president of the European commission, explained, they would be flouting this if they gave into David Cameron’s plan which is in turn him giving into pressure from Nigel Farage and the far right of UK politics. It is the right of any EU citizen to go live and work (or retire) in another part of the EU.
And it is not as if the UK receives nothing in return for allowing people to live amongst other people in a part of Europe where, as luck would have it, they weren’t born. Firstly, the host country gets people who are generally young and have energy (and at the beginning, optimism). These people, by moving, have made a massive investment n their future and have taken a huge and scary step. They aren’t going to sit idly by and scrounge benefits happily when they came here to work. So they take jobs far below them and work cheaply.
So here’s where the British jobs for British workers sound bite comes in and my main disagreement with nationalism. If you are hiring someone and you have two candidates, you should choose the person most suited for the job, the person you and the rest of the team feel you would get along best with, the person who will do the work well. Race should not come into it. Positive or negative discrimination should not come into it.
The other side of the labour coin is that British companies can also go to Europe. On one side, labour is free to move; on the other, capital and corporations. If you limit labour, the free movement of corporations becomes highly unjust.
But don’t think that I am skating over the costs of immigration to the host country. Yes, it is far more pressure on our resources, whether this be jobs or our welfare system. My point is that such countries and systems, with a little ingenuity, have the capacity to cope with these extra demands. When you bring it down to the individual level, why should people be differentiated depending on where they are born? Should we not try to help as many people as possible?
There is also the point of emigration from the UK – you can’t have free migration out but not in. And we export our elderly which puts much more of a drain on other countries’ resources than young independent workers coming here.
Life is about taking the good things with the bad and trying to improve them as well as we can but if individuals did what was in their own best interests at the expense of all others, it wouldn’t sit well with the people around them. Take the bankers for example. They are hardly the most loved people of all time, are they?
Global democracy is about everyone being a citizen and everyone having the rights, which goes with that. These rights should be based on the fact of your existence and your inclusion within the human race not based on the luck of your birth.
Photo credit: John Englart (Takver) https://www.flickr.com/photos/takver/9377527390/in/photostream/lightbox/