Saturday, July 28, 2012

A good analysis to understand migration issues of our time by Sue Ballyn


Dr. Sue Ballyn of Barcelona University has done an excellent job in her article - The Why and the “Therefore” of Human Migration. A Brief Overview (Lives in Migration: Rupture and Continuity) - providing an overview of the migration issues of our time. In what follows I capture some salient features of her article.

She writes that human beings have been on the move since the beginning of time. What is of interest to us is that our recent history has proved to be a period when more people have migrated than at any time before in human history.

She writes, "How do we define migration? What classifications of migration exist? What are the factors that contribute to migration? What kinds of migration are we dealing with today? What are the consequences of migration? These are some of the questions I want to try and answer here.

Migration can be defined in a variety of ways, amongst which:
1. An individual who lives permanently or temporarily in a country they were not born in.
2. A “working migrant” has been defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrants as a “person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.”

Similarly the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights has established the following categories for migrant/refugees and stateless people:
1. Persons who are outside the territory of the State of which they are nationals or citizens, are not subject to its legal protection and are in the territory of another State.
2. Persons who do not enjoy the general legal recognition of rights which is inherent in the granting by the host State of the status of refugee, naturalised person or other similar status.
3. Persons who do not enjoy either general legal protection of their fundamental rights by virtue of diplomatic agreements, visas or other agreements.

These definitions reveal how difficult it is to define what constitutes a migrant and/or refugee and thus how nation legislations differ in accordance with their own understanding of the terms. It is precisely this difficulty which has led United Nations to create a permanent commission regarding the question of Human Rights and the status of migrants and refugees. It is a fact that, while the United Nations and the European Union might legislate and categorise who is or is not a migrant/refugee, each country will legislate internally and in the case of totalitarian states Human Rights may well be breached with regards to those who are “foreign”."

She continues, "Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is that migration can take place within the individual’s own country. Historically, in Europe, this type of migration goes back hundreds of years as people began to move from rural to industrialised urban centres. State persecution can and does lead to alarming cases of internal migration even today. Nomadic peoples across the planet have engaged in seasonal internal migration for thousands of years. Thus we can establish two main simplified categories of migration: external and internal.


The factors that lead to migration are frequently referred to as “push / pull” factors and are, to a large degree, self-explanatory: “push” that which forces one from one’s homeland and “pull” that which attracts migrants offering, for example, opportunities not available in one’s homeland. The “push” factors have not really changed that much since the human race began to spread across the planet. People have been driven to seek new “homelands” as a result of: famine, drastic climate change, poverty, civil war, wars between nation states, territorial annexation, imperial expansion, religious, racial, ethnic, political and gender persecution. The list is longer and any of those mentioned, together with others one might add, can be considered “forced migration”, which lies at the heart of the verb “push”. Individuals and collectives are impelled by circumstance to move away from their homeland in order to survive and many could and are classified as refugees, especially those seeking refuge from war torn areas, genocidal policies, and states where Human Rights are held in abeyance. However, forced migration can also connote the violent expulsion, taking violent in its whole range of meaning, of both an individual or community from their homeland."

She then cites the examples of forced relocation of the Chagos Islanders to Mauritius by the British. The islands, numbering around sixty, were/are part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The reason for this was to allow the construction of the Diego Garcia Airbase by the USA. She also cites the example of the people of Ocean Island, also known by its Kiribati name Banaba, one of the Kiribati Islands in Pacific Micronesia. They were victims of overriding neocolonialistic economic factors. To quote her, "The Banaba had something the rest of the world wanted and was going to get at whatever the cost to the people: phosphate. This devastating story of international greed at whatever price has its beginnings round about 1900 when the Pacific Islands Company Limited got the Banaban people to sign away the total right to phosphate mining to the British Company, later to become British Phosphate Commissioners under the joint ownership of the British, Australian and New Zealand Governments. The results of intensive mining, which includes the use of dynamite, have reduced the island’s subsoil structure to something like a honeycomb, or gruyere cheese. The surface cannot sustain buildings with foundations and the island’s ecosystem has been endangered. The removal of many of the Banaban people began in 1945 when the British Government relocated the majority to Rabi Island, thousands of miles away in Fiji. As the island became increasingly unstable further waves of migration followed to Rabi only a few returning once mining finished in 1979. It is now estimated that only some 200 people have returned to live on the island and the debate remains as to the weight of population the island could actually sustain. It has become, to all intents and purposes, inhabitable after thousands of years of human habitation."

She writes, "If we move back through history we will find multiple examples of violent expulsion of peoples from their homelands often going hand in hand with persecution and genocide. Another form of violent forced migration frequently accompanies agendas of imperial expansion. While the two examples given above are of forced removal from one’s homeland to a new offshore geographical location, imperial expansion and settlement of invaded territories give innumerable examples of internal forced expulsion from and dispossession of one’s homelands." She cites the example of how through British colonization of Australia in 1788, not only the indigenous people were slaughtered and forced to relocate from their ancestral homes, the former British convicts were forced to settle in the new colony. She also cites the examples of Newfoundland, where the last native was shot in 1823, and of South Africa

She says, "South Africa before and during the apartheid era caused a massive removal of African peoples to black townships, while many leading opposition figures and freedom fighters were exiled within or deported from South Africa, tortured, executed or murdered. There is no end to the systematic dispossession and internal exile of Aboriginal peoples across the world from the time of the Greek empire to the neo-colonialism of the twenty first century."

She concludes that migration is always “forced” either as a result of violence or the drive to survive. She also provides examples of two other categories. The first involved her own moving to Spain from UK to live with her partner and raise family. Being of her European race, she was not considered a migrant but the Moroccans who moved to Spain on similar grounds were, thus, clearly underlining "the racial equations that work within the definition of migrant in host communities."

As to the second category that does not respond to push factors, she writes, "are those people who are stateless and exiled from all social and legal benefits in their own country. Those who seek refuge outside their own frontier, where possible, obviously are pushed out by a laws or situations which have deprived them of their nationality. There is a community in question worth looking at in this regard and about whom not much is being done on an international level. The Rohingya people in Burma (Mynamar) have been fleeing to Bangladesh and Malaysia in countless thousands.vi Racially, religiously and linguistically the Rohingya people are distinct to mainstream Burmese society. Under the 1982 Citizenship Law brought in by the military junta, the Rohingya people were not recognised as citizens along with the descendents of Chinese and Indians living in the country. While individuals of Chinese and Indian descent could claim their own national citizenship once outside Burma, the Rohingya people could not. Refugees International has highlighted the plight of the Rohingya people:

Official Burmese government policy on the Rohingya is repressive. The Rohingya need authorization to leave their villages and are not allowed to travel beyond Northern Rakhine State. They need official permission to marry and must pay exorbitant taxes on births and deaths. Religious freedom is restricted, and the Rohingya have been prohibited from maintaining or repairing crumbling religious buildingsvii. Though accurate statistics are impossible to come by inside Burma, experts agree that conditions in Northern Rakhine State are among the worst in the country. Rohingya refugees commonly cite land seizures, forced labor, arbitrary arrests, and extortion as the principal reasons for flight. Once a Rohingya leaves his or her village without permission, he or she is removed from official residency lists, and can be subject to arrest if found.

A stateless people, the Rohingya have nowhere to go and are marginalised even in Burmese refugee communities. The Rohingya are not the only stateless refugee people in the world. What has forced them out of Burma and is attempting to undermine their very existence within their homeland is the deliberate construction of them as stateless."

She rightly doubted that even a step towards democracy may not be sufficient to stop marginalization of the Rohingya. She says, "Should Burma recover democracy, would the historic reticence regarding the Rohingya in their own country relieve their inner exclusion and marginalisation? One would like to think so, but their present marginalisation among Burmese refugees suggests that maybe not. Stateless people are a particularly vulnerable group; of no homeland, they technically have no document which will allow them to claim a nationality and thus a homeland to which to return should they so desire. Refugees International estimates that there are some twelve million stateless people and comments on some of the consequences that arise from this “non-status”:

Stateless status often keeps children from attending school and condemns families to poverty. Because statelessness often originates in past conflicts and disputes over what constitutes national identity, granting citizenship, which can only be done by national authorities, is inherently difficult.

(…) Nationality is a fundamental human right and a foundation of identity, dignity, justice, peace, and security. But statelessness, or the lack of effective nationality, affects millions of men, women, and children worldwide. Being stateless means having no legal protection or right to participate in political processes, inadequate access to health care and education, poor employment prospects and poverty, little opportunity to own property, travel restrictions, social exclusion, vulnerability to trafficking, harassment, and violence.

Statelessness has a disproportionate impact on women and children."

She then discusses the "pull" factors. She says, "“Pull factors” have not changed over centuries, nor will they for the foreseeable future. While war, famine, persecution and a long list of etceteras exist so will the “pull forces” that drive migration outwards: a better standard of living, security, hope for future generations, among others. Unless we can provide a world in the near future in which resources can be equally shared across national frontiers then migration will persist. The thousands of migrants that move legally/illegally in the twenty-first century do so because capitalism has created a massive rift between those who have and those who have not, even within a nation’s own frontiers." Thus, she says that unless the so-called first world nations are genuinely interested in “filling in the rift”, providing infrastructures and support on all levels for developing nations to become self sufficient is, migration will continue because of the pull phenomena. 

In her lengthy and very thorough analysis, she also cites climate change as a factor of migration. Based on statistics, some 150 million people will be on the move because of climatic factor in the next 40 years (by 2050).

She concludes her article with a question: "How long are we going to wait, prevaricate before we legislate with foresight, squaring up to our responsibilities to others and to the planet?"

Have we that answer? Surely not. While not all problems, e.g., like those of climate refugees can immediately be solved, but there is no excuse for stopping the push phenomena which causes forced migration. I would like to believe that identifying state or non-state forces that are responsible for forced migration can be dealt very effectively by prosecuting them in regional or world courts for their crimes against humanity, showing that such aberrations will not be tolerated. No government should reward these parties for their crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, as we have seen greed is tarnishing human morality, and thus, shamelessly, many of the governments do business with those culprits. This rewarding phenomenon thus makes a mockery of the whole issue around forced migration, and the bleeding and suffering never ends.

Here is the link to her article.

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