Caught Between Borders in a Borderless World

by Behzad Yaghmaian

European leaders meet this weekend in Seville, Spain to discuss a new EU policy against “illegal” migration from the poor countries of the South. Migrants from poor countries are presented as a threat to national security. They are blamed for increased crime, decline in standard of living, and increased social tension in Europe.

Ironically, the call to curb migration is not led by the isolationist far-right parties. The liberal parties and those embracing the idea of a European Union submerged in the world economy are leading the move towards a fortress Europe. Tony Blair, leader of the “third way,” is charging ahead to create a much tougher immigration policy. Using the threat of cutting foreign aid to Third World countries that fail to curb migration to the North, Blair and his counterparts hope to push the burden of border policing to migrant sending nations of the South.

A dual border policy is emerging in Europe. European states are aggressively pushing for the opening of borders to the movement of goods and capital into the E.U. and the closing of borders for labor from the Third World. In the meantime, for nearly two decades, socialist and conservative administrations across Europe have been retreating from the long-established state commitment to the public and the provision of social safety net. They push for cutbacks in social security; state support for public education and healthcare, unemployment insurance; and all that made European social democracy a reality in the past.

Facing these developments, two distinct responses emerged to by the public. Angered and disenchanted by changes beyond their control, the youth, students, environmentalists, the anarchists, and radical unionists joined a growing global movement against the injustices of the new dominant paradigm. They protested against globalization and its institutions: challenged the use of child labor and slave-like production conditions in the South, called for poverty eradication and debt forgiveness, and demanded respect for the environment. The anti-globalization protests in Prague and Genova were the open manifestations of the response to the new policy by the youth.

Less idealist and impacted more directly by the cutbacks, others responded differently. Helplessly observing the erosion of their standard of living and their future, the older members of the working class, the unemployed, and those with no hope of a better future focused their anger on an easier target_immigrants from the South. Attacks on foreigners increased, anti-immigrant parties gained momentum, and people from the South became new scapegoats for the demise of the old European social contract.

Facing these reactions by their citizens_the youth targeting globalization, and those demanding a curb on migration_a new consensus emerged among European states. Continuing to push for the policies of globalization, parties of all persuasions moved towards controlling migration. A seemingly perfect formula emerged. Conceding to the demands o,f the workers negatively affected by cutbacks, states sought to create social peace by targeting illegal migration. While continuing with their advocacy of free trade and investment and deregulated borders, and cutback in social services, they sought new alliances with supporters of isolationism and the hatred of “others.” The Seville Conference is a manifestation of this dual policy.

Blair and others hope to find a new European-wide social contract. While heading to the demands of increasingly globalized European corporations, they seek to appease those who, unlike the anti-globalization forces, find migrants as the source of their despair. The dual border policy is hoped to help states neutralize the anti-globalization movement amidst the widening of social conflict in the continent. Migrants from the South are targeted to carry the brunt of the burden caused by the European social and economic policies of the past two decades: the death of the old social contract.

But fortress Europe will not end migration. The fortification of borders and the erection of new walls to block the inflow of migrants will lead to the emergence of an increasing population of ‘illegal migrants,’ trafficking in people, and other forms of illegal border crossings. Facing the closing of the borders, an increasing number of migrants will be forced to turn to traffickers to bypass restrictive immigration policy in Europe. For many migrants who are eager to escape poverty or political and social insecurity, and who are unaware or unmindful of the pitfalls of irregular migration, it seems worth paying a fee to try their luck, thereby allowing their dream for a better life to be exploited by traffickers.

Having escaped from economic and political violence at home, an increasing number of migrants will be subjected to new forms of violence. The Strait of Gibraltar, River Sava, Adriatic Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea, will continue to be the new graveyards of desperate migrants attempting to escape the violence of everyday life and reach increasingly elusive safety in Europe. A new policy is urgently needed to halt this human tragedy.

Behzad Yaghmaian is a Professor of Economics at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He is the author of Social Change in Iran: an eyewitness account of Dissent, Defiance and a New Movement for Human Rights. He can be reached at: behzad_yaghmaian@hotmail.com


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