it is important to remember that human history is a story of migrations
Once more, a European political party with a strong position against immigration has improved its electoral performance. In parliamentary elections held on September 9 the Sweden Democratic Party increased its vote percentage from around 13 to about 18, indicating a growing harshness on the immigration issue in a country known for its liberal openness. The party will now have 63 of the Swedish parliament’s 349 seats. Importantly, Sweden is following the general trend in Nordic countries where right wing parties with sharply negative positions on immigration have gained influence. In Finland, Denmark and Holland such parties won respectively 18, 21 and 13 percent of the votes cast for the countries’ parliaments in their last elections. The Dutch party leader, Geert Wilder, was in the news recently for sponsoring a vile anti-Islam cartoon competition which he later cancelled.
Other parts of Europe are exhibiting similar tendencies on the immigration question. The issue came to the fore in 2015 when thousands of Syrians along with others, including Afghans, fleeing from their conflict ridden and troubled countries especially Syria, sought to move into Europe via Turkey. The migrant situation divided Europe. Under Angela Merkel’s leadership Germany took a sympathetic position; other countries like Hungary bitterly opposed accepting refugees. While those divisions continue, the sentiment in the continent, as a whole, is against migrants reaching Europe. Consequently, Merkel has had to harden her position.
In the United States President Trump is in the forefront of the move to tighten controls on immigration though there was no sudden migrant rush as in Europe in 2015. He is targeting different kinds of migrants for different reasons. His core constituency is against poor migrants for they undercut them in the job market. Trump has responded to them and is determined to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to prevent them from reaching the US. Trump has greatly restricted migration from some Islamic countries for what he has said are security reasons. He has also moved against well qualified migrants under his America First programme. It is uncertain if the US economy and society will be able to go along with Trump’s approach in the long run. The overall economic price may just be unsustainable.
The increasing and recent xenophobic tendencies in Europe and the US are also part of the reaction against the processes of globalisation. Large numbers of even skilled people simply cannot keep up with technological change. This is leading to insecurities which are manifesting in anti-immigration postures. The problem is that the current forces of globalisation are fed by technological change which require movements of peoples of different skill levels. European countries with ageing populations need immigrants but want to control the process. The US also seeks to attract high level talent but in a controlled manner. These factors may contain the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment.
Particularly, European countries with sizeable immigrant communities also need to ensure that second-generation immigrants are integrated in their societies, economies and polities. While doing so they have to be sensitive to the immigrants’ cultures. Integration failures lead to the spread of extremist ideologies among second-generation immigrant youth leading to radicalism and violence. It is interesting that first-generation immigrants are generally so focussed on improving their condition that they were not as assertive as their children are.
While considering contemporary approaches to migration and the contestations and violence that it is generating it is important to remember that human history is a story of migrations. Human DNA bears evidence of these migrations. I was struck by how people move while on an official visit to Prague in 2010. After the talks, over lunch, the conversation between my Indian colleagues and their Czech counterparts turned to how human DNA offered clues of migration patterns. One Czech official said that he had sent a sample of his saliva to check out his remote and recent ancestry. The examination revealed that he had 70% of his DNA in common with Kashmiri Pandits!
People migrate for better opportunities or for survival in the wake of man-made or natural calamities. This process has always gone on and continues today. Inevitably when it has been uncontrolled it has led to conflict between migrants and the older inhabitants. Political entities in the past have tried to manage migrations from adjoining lands but were never fully successful. Today, the international community has sought to devise norms to manage migrations. International instruments focus on the welfare of refugees, rights of migrant workers and the suppression of human trafficking.
India is a country from where migration takes place and which receives immigrants both legal and illegal. The country has not signed the Refugee conventions because they were discriminatory in their origin and fail to address security concerns. However, India’s record of dealing with refugees is excellent. This is informally acknowledged by the concerned UN agencies. Where India needs to do much more is in the disruption of human trafficking networks taking, in many cases gullible, Indians illegally to foreign shores and to periods of great misery. Equally, the human trafficking of people, especially young women, from some neighbouring countries to be condemned to physical exploitation has to be eliminated. Here too the state needs to do far more.
National security or social equilibrium require border controls but a balanced and pragmatic approach is essential even for those who came in even illegally a long time ago. This would protect all concerned and be fair for how would deportation of large numbers be accomplished?