The Wilberforce Society | Year 2015 revealed that not all immigrants were born equal
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Year 2015 revealed that not all immigrants were born equal

Year 2015 revealed that not all immigrants were born equal

MYRTO VLAZAKI: YEAR 2015 REVEALED THAT NOT ALL IMMIGRANTS WERE BORN EQUAL – September 5th, 2015

This article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily of The Wilberforce Society, which publishes this article in hopes of spurring a productive discussion on the topic.  

Historically, the traditionally affluent states of Europe have never been particularly receptive to immigrants; especially to impoverished, unskilled, illiterate, religiously heterogeneous migrant groups. Despite its clearly demonstrated reluctance to offer opportunities to groups deemed “undeserving”, Europe has undeniably made some efforts to save face by devising long, complicated, bureaucratic migration policies that would ultimately allow a small fraction, the crème of this group to enter the European land of promise. It has been long since Europe as a continent and the European Union as a politico-economic construct last faced a migration crisis as intense and persistent as that of the years 2014-15 and September 2nd was the day that distinctively set this migration wave apart in the chronicle of European ethics and politics. September 2nd was the day the photograph of drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi made the headlines in all major newspapers and other media around the world. September 2nd was also the day that showed – in the most tragic way possible- that not all immigrants were born equal.

Immigration is so commonly used a term that by means of its high frequency of use alone it has established itself as an unquestionably accurate umbrella term to characterise all kinds of population influx. For example, the subtle adjectival discrimination of “political immigration” from “economic immigration” is qualitatively inadequate to convey the very different stereotypical ideas Western societies have for each of the aforementioned. This notable difference in the reception of these two classes of immigrants may have been the reason why ultimately the term “refugee” was born, a term that: a) etymologically proclaims the cause over the mere state of immigration and b) is morally and socially charged unlike the descriptive nature of the term “immigration”. If the genesis of the term “refugee” were indicative of a profound intention to zoom in and carefully examine the wildly different shades of immigration, it would bear good news for the levels of empathy and altruism in our societies. It is not, though. The term “refugee”, albeit a subset of the term “immigrant”, still remains an umbrella term including people leaving their countries due to political instability, war violence and limited religious and sexual freedom. What is, then, left as the only signified attached to the signifier “immigrant”? Economic immigrants: the only type of immigrants who are not included in the umbrella term “refugees”, a choice not randomly made. The corollary of this almost linguistic discussion is clear in that the only criterion that has hitherto appeared compelling enough to be included in the process of refinement of the concept of immigration has been the economic status of the individual.

The corollary of this almost linguistic discussion is clear in that the only criterion that has hitherto appeared compelling enough to be included in the process of refinement of the concept of immigration has been the economic status of the individual.”

The linguistic analysis may appear unconvincing to many, but a quick look at some key migration policies in the E.U. as well as their adjustment flexibility will corroborate our conclusion perhaps more convincingly. The example of Germany is characteristic of the trend in most E.U. member-states. The reformed immigration laws of 2005 in Germany as well as the introduction of the European Blue Card in 2012 made no room or provisions for either legalising illegal immigrants or accepting individuals without university-level education. On the contrary, migrating to Germany would require a university-level degree and at least three years of work experience/training unless one held a student visa that would allow him/her to attend a German university and would give him/her a year after completion of studies to seek employment. Examining the legislation relevant to asylum-seekers and refugees, one finds herself in a completely different, far more lenient legal framework with quicker and more clear-cut administrative procedures (<6 months) and more optimism for the outcome. The gist of this discussion remains similar to that of the previous analysis; E.U. countries do make room for refugees (as defined in the previous section) and well-educated, skilled immigrants but stubbornly refuse to engage with the primordially philosophical and subsequently political question: “Why and on what terms are economic immigrants so different from all other immigrants?”

E.U. countries systematically make room for refugees (as defined in the previous section) and well-educated, skilled immigrants but refuse to engage with the primordially philosophical and subsequently political question: “Why and on what terms are economic immigrants so different from all other types of immigrants?”

If the reader eventually concedes to what is, in my opinion, apparent to the naked eye, i.e. to the blatant political and social marginalisation of economic immigrants as opposed to the (limited but still present) tolerance towards all other immigrants, then what remains to be examined is why this is the way it is. Two plausible explanations that also happen to represent different ideological stances towards the status quo can be set forth, one slightly more optimistic than the other. One could argue that it is not economic immigrants who are inherently inferior in their claims or severity of their need, but 20th century historical circumstances which inescapably highlighted and made a case for humanitarian crises tightly associated with war and violence. The photographic sensationalism prevalent in the post-WWII era and the shocking and widespread experience of a large-scale war may have tipped the balance in favor of establishing a narrowly nuanced use of the term “humanitarian victim” in which only persecution and violence were legitimate causes. In this context, the claims of a famished individual who systematically lives in conditions of absolute poverty and has no work rights were superseded by the storm of emotionally moving statements and images of war, thus bequeathing Europe a very narrow prism from which to perceive and judge human need.

The photographic sensationalism prevalent in the post-WWII era and the shocking and widespread experience of a large-scale war may have tipped the balance in favor of establishing a narrowly nuanced use of the term “humanitarian victim” in which only persecution and violence were legitimate causes.”

The second explanation, which is by no means mutually exclusive with the first, attempts to explain why in times of peace and faced with an overwhelmingly high ratio of economic immigrants-to-refugees in absolute numbers, Europe is still insensitive to the claims of the former. The answer may be that poverty and all the negative externalities associated with it is the pivotal difference that sets economic immigrants apart in the political and collective conscience alike. I dare say that a European may be in principle equally sensitive to the claims and tortuous history of both an economic immigrant and a refugee, albeit treats each of them differently on purely consequentialist grounds, i.e. both the economic immigrant and the refugee have equivalently compelling reasons to want to leave their home country but the former is treated more inhumanely than the latter because of the fear of welcoming an economically less able stereotypically poorly educated and inclined to criminality individual in a prosperous European economy. We set economic immigrants apart because we are afraid of them; for the sake of accuracy, our economic structures are afraid of supporting them because our social, educational and training structures have shown no real intention to give them opportunities for integration.

We set economic immigrants apart because we are afraid of them; for the sake of accuracy, our economic structures are afraid of supporting them because our social, educational and training structures have shown no real intention to give them opportunities for integration.”

What tragically proved that this separation is real was the death of Aylan Kurdi as opposed to the deaths of anonymous foreigners, the interest of the media and the interview of the father as opposed to the silencing of deaths and their grouping into a single number, the mere diffusion of the knowledge that Aylan had a father who mourned for his loss as opposed to bodies that no relative ever tracks down. 2015 was the year we were all told an undeniable truth: that not all immigrants were born equal in the eyes of political leaders and capitalist European societies.

 

This article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily of The Wilberforce Society, which publishes this article in hopes of spurring a productive discussion on the topic.  

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