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Asylum, Immigration and Freedom of Movement
Publication date: 2002-05-25

Asylum seekers and immigrants have been subjects of 'political' debates for the past few decades, and now the debate is at the boiling point. And, as always in political debates, labels and cliches are thrown around without understanding of their meaning. This is not surprising, because the purpose of politics is not to solve problems (this is the purpose of government), but to get into positions of power, and to stay there, by manipulating emotions and prejudices of the public. The less people understand the issues, the easier it is for the politicians to manipulate the people. As one 20th century politician put it, to "allay fears and anxieties" (previously aroused by politicians themselves).

To achieve any genuine solutions, however, one needs to understand what one is talking about.

Who are those "asylum seekers", and who are those "bogus asylum seekers"?

Asylum seekers are people who flee for their lives from natural and man-made disasters. Their purpose is not to leave their country and settle in some foreign land. They are just looking for temporary refuge to save themselves usually from wars, famine, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. Once the danger disappears, they are willing to go back home. This is the real, and original, meaning of the words "asylum seekers", and "refugees". These words are synonyms (they have the same meaning).

Often refugees flee the disaster area in great numbers, come to the area of refuge without any possessions, and are totally not prepared for life in the country which is willing to offer them refuge (or asylum).

They are almost1 always a liability and the only reason they are given asylum in countries willing to offer it are humanitarian considerations.

If the disaster is of short duration, the refugees are often willing to return to their countries, and do so.

But, some disasters (usually the ones created by politicians), can be of long duration, and refugees can become stranded in the asylum country for a few generations.

If they come in small numbers, and are dispersed among the aboriginal population, they become naturally integrated into the economic and social life of the host country.

If the refugees come in large numbers and settle in close proximity to each other, the areas where they settle often acquire the character of their countries of origin, and become "ghettos", or "ethnic areas". I have seen in more than one major city of European countries an area called "China Town". Most of these "China Towns" are over a 100 years old. Such "ghettos" also become an integral part of the economic life of the host countries, but in their unique ways, often exploiting the "exoticity" of their native foods, which become an attraction for the host country's natives. Cities like London have areas the character and architecture of which has been influenced by various immigrant communities throughout its long history, Italians, Greeks, French, Dutch, Russians, Chinese, etc.

There can be other reasons why people move from one country to another than seeking refuge from a disaster. But in this case, they are not refugees, they are immigrants, or just foreign residents.

The reasons for moving from one country to another, either permanently, or temporarily are infinite.

It could be a climate preference, like the British settling down in Spain, cultural, like people from the former colonies coming to the ex-colonial power, because they still think of it as the centre of science, education, and culture (similarly to those from villages and provincial towns of a country flocking to the metropolis).

Or it could be purely financial considerations, earning a bit of money to send home. In the United Arab Emirates most of the work is done by people from the Indian Subcontinent, who come to earn money to send home.

Or it could be that one has friends or relatives in some country and wants to join them. Or just the desire to move around the world.

Whatever the motives, there are no humanitarian considerations of asylum involved in such cases. The principle here is freedom of movement. If it is right for a native Briton to go to India, just because he wants so, then what is wrong with a native Indian coming to Britain for the same reason?

Refugees, in the true sense of that word, usually need government help and present a major administrative problem - accommodating a large number of helpless people coming to a country at the same time. This has to be acknowledged, seen as such, and dealt with as such. It is also, often accompanied by a need for international disaster relief in the disaster area from which the refugees flee. And, if the crisis, which caused the refugee problem, is dealt with speedily and successfully, then the refugees can be speedily returned to their home country. An example of such successful handling of a refugee crisis was the recent handling of the Kosovo and Bosnia crises by the British government. When the crisis started, the refugees were provided with temporary accommodation, once the crisis was resolved, the refugees were able to return home.

Movement of people, as a result of the freedom of movement is neither a crisis, nor a problem, and should not be seen as such, or dealt with as such. It should not be confused with asylum, and dealt with as asylum. Immigrants do not need government help, any more than healthy able-bodied natives. They are free people responsible for the results of their actions, and the only way the government has any reason to interfere with such people is, if they commit crimes. But, the same is true of the natives.

There was a time when border controls, were virtually non-existent, and people could travel from land to land at their own risk. This was not a problem. The Americas (North and South) and Australia are examples of countries where the majority of residents today are either immigrants, or descendants of immigrants.

The problem of immigration today has two causes: treatment of all immigrants as "asylum seekers", and "politics" of the so-called "left and right".

The politics of "left" and "right are based on envy and prejudice. And politicians of both the sides have worked towards turning would be "immigrants" into "asylum seekers".

The "left" sought to squeeze the immigrants into the benefits culture and make them dependent on themselves (the politicians) for their basic needs, thus increasing their captive 'constituencies'. This has produced welfare ghettos next to the welfare ghettos of the native subsidised "poor", who envy and resent the "foreigners" being given benefits "at their expense".

The "right" have exploited prejudice and xenophobia and tried to restrict the freedom of movement of potential immigrants, leaving them the only legal way of immigration - asylum. Then they used the resentment of the natives against "bogus asylum seekers" to whip up popular support for themselves.

Laws like "the minimal wage", the doctrine of "unemployment", and the "housing" policies are working to make the immigrants, who without such laws and policies would have been a great economic asset to their host countries, into an economic burden, similar to the subsidised native "working class".

There has been some understanding of the harmful nature of the such policies by the present governments. Both in Britain and in the United States attempts are being made to move away from subsidised "unemployment" and to encourage the "unemployed" to become self-sufficient. There also has been some understanding in Britain of the need to distinguish between the real "asylum seekers" and "economic migrants" and that "economic migrants" could be "beneficial to the Economy". But politics still prevails over government. The temptation to pander to prejudices and take stances and postures is still too strong and clouds whatever glimmer of clarity there might be in the muddled political minds.

So, on the one hand they talk about Europe without Frontiers, or even the Global Village, while on the other, they want to hide behind impenetrable walls and to control movement of every person crossing a frontier.

It is time to reject the (mostly socialist, national or international) myths and superstitions of the 20th century and to accept the fundamental principles that all people on Earth are free, equal under the law, and responsible for their own lives for better or for worse.

The reason people move from one country to another in any significant numbers for "economic" reasons is that the country to which they move has a need for the type of work they can do. They are also usually prepared to work for less money than the natives. This is only of benefit to the host country.

Having earned money, they are often able to send some money to their home country, or to save money and return to their home country and set up in business and thus to contribute to the development of their countries. This is more efficient than international poverty relief, which only alleviates poverty, rather than turning it into prosperity.

Also, immigrants are usually more enterprising and motivated to create wealth, than the natives who tend to rely on government for their well being. Many businesses in Britain have been created by immigrants who came to the country with very little money or no money at all. While the Americas have been practically created by immigrants.

As far as cultural integration is concerned - governments should not interfere with culture. The London Dome is a fitting monument to governments meddling with culture. Nor is there any harm if a Hindu will prefer to visit his temple, rather than get drunk in a pub. Nor is a traditional arranged marriage necessarily inferior to a "modern" same-sex marriage, which is now becoming institutionalized in Europe. Those who believe that homosexuality and communal sex are "modern" are entitled to their belief, but are not those who know, that sodomy and sex orgies are older than the Bible, entitled to hold a different view?

The problems of "refugees", in the true sense of the word are the result of politics, and it is for the governments who created these problems to resolve them, but the natural movement of people around the world is not a problem. It is a blessing, and, if freed from political manipulation, could bring economic and cultural benefit to all around the world.


Notes:

1) The exception to this rule are refugees from revolutions, who are often relatively wealthy, educated, come with money and business expertise, become instantly self-supporting and wealth producing, and often are an asset, rather than a liability to the host country.

Occasionally, asylum seekers are single individuals fleeing from 'political' persecution by a government with whom they happen to be out of favour. In such cases they are seldom a problem, although giving them asylum might affect relationships with the country from which they flee.

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