Migration – Ethical & Practical considerations.

My kind and generous sister Josie Glausiusz has  for the last few months been traveling to Lod every Sunday evening to help Eritrean asylum seekers fill out an eight-page refugee status determination form. She  suggested that if I was writing a blog on global issues I might like to tackle the issue of migration.  I decided to do so.

The issue of migration is in many countries nowadays, a controversial and emotion laden subject. Real and fundamental solutions to this and related issues, would have to address myriad issues. These would include  the causes of collapse or dysfunction of some national governments, War & Peace, Climate change and ecological degradation  and populations size, ethics and legal systems, the role of supranational organizations e.g EU or UN , economics etc.

Seeing as those issues are beyond the scope of one blog post i will stick to making a few points on the subject of migration.

One can get some long term perspective on the subject by looking at what one of the great philosophers who considered the issue, Immanuel Kant had to say on the subject  more than 200 years ago:

Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated with hostility when he arrives in the land of another. One may indeed refuse to allow him to stay when this can be done without causing his destruction, but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility …

The above formulation does have the considerable virtue of balance which is many times lacking in today’s discourse.  Both traveler and host country should treat each other with respect. The prospective immigrant may be turned away if he has a reasonable alternative but not otherwise.

Of course as Kant recognized many do not live up to the above standards. Many times strangers have been treated with immediate hostility. Also immigrants of one sort or another have in some cases proven to be problematic to the population on the receiving end.

In the modern world economic factors are of considerable weight. Some of the motivation behind migration is obviously economic, people looking to improve their situation. A considerable part of the opposition to immigration in the richer countries is obviously also economic. Lower income people fear the that more immigration will lead to lower wages and drain resources from the social benefits system.

The fact of the matter is that none of the richer countries of the world are going to allow free and unlimited immigration. The precise reasoning may vary from one place to another but it is always some combination of economic reasoning on the one hand and on the other hand a  variety of factors which may be summed up as fear of the stranger. All of the richer countries of the world have, and are, setting up barriers to migration of one sort or another.

There is a tendency in some circles to ignore or discount the emotional aspect of fear of the stranger , or to find fault with populist politicians etc. This is not very helpful. Policy making which does not take into accounts peoples fears and aspirations is not going to get very far . Also as Kant notes migrants have not always been a positive for the receiving countries, with the some glaring examples being seen in the colonial era.

In the economic sphere it should be noted that its incorrect to view immigration as necessarily bad. There may  be economic benefits associated with immigration depending obviously on the identity of the immigrants involved. However even unskilled people may bring economic benefits. Lowering wages at the bottom end of the scale may benefit the economy as a whole,  the solvency of pension funds may be improved by the immigration of young and active people etc.

Lots of countries including the UK are prepared to grant citizenship fairly automatically to anyone with a given stash of cash.

Anyway the reasons why the richer countries should pay attention and care about events and conditions beyond their borders are also fairly obvious. As Kant noted we all  live on the surface of the same globe, the seas are all connected, the air we breath respects no borders and much of the ecological wealth of the world is found in less developed areas.

Apart from the above there are also geopolitical considerations. China is investing in a variety of economic projects the world over. If the West does not wish to fade into irrelevance over the long term the West will have to invest in the the less developed countries one way or the other.

There are also ethical considerations. Global Warming has  principally been caused by the the burning of fossil fuels, mostly in the developed countries however the results are felt the world over.

Anyway as some sort of conclusion for now I do not think that counties can or should be forced to accept immigrants beyond those covered by the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, or those at risk of destruction . However there should be money available such that those countries which are willing and able to absorb the tired and poor as expressed so eloquently on the statue of liberty should have the wherewithal to do so.

Obviously this could be funded by some sort of global tax or tax on producers and or consumers of fossil fuels etc.

Many of the tired and poor are good people who will benefit the countries that do accept them. I have included a link to one  of Josie’s articles which is  valuable in this respect.

External Links:

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

Want to buy citizenship? It helps if you’re one of the super-rich

Satisfying Refugees’ Thirst for Education