When religious people talk about a spiritual battle of forces one tends to think of a grand battle between good and evil. While witnessing the controversy surrounding the UN Global Compact on Migration this week and the vociferousness of the debate, one couldn’t help but imagine that there is a greater battle taking place, maybe even on another level.
On the one side are the global forces that fervently believe in and defend multilateralism, and a collective approach to global challenges. They are the very same forces that coalesced this week behind a Global Compact that seeks to protect migrants, reduce the dangers faced by men, women and children fleeing conflict, violence and poverty, and provide them with human security – a mantra that used to be the accepted norm at the UN two decades ago.
These are the forces that strive for a better world where all humans are treated equally and are deserving of the basic necessities such as health care, food and shelter. They see the human face of migration, and believe that migrants can contribute positively to the development of the economies of host countries with their energy, entrepreneurial spirit, and often skills. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is just one such champion, although leaders like her seem to be a dying breed.
These forces for good that advocate a multilateral approach to more effectively and humanely manage increasing migration flows are the informed. They are aware of the UN statistics that 35% of migrants are highly skilled with an advanced level of education, and most migrants spend 85% of their earnings in their host countries. World Bank figures indicate that migrants have sent US$596 billion to their home states, including US$450 billion for developing countries last year – and this at a time when aid budgets are shrinking.
On the other side of the divide, however, which is fast becoming a trench, are those that view migrants through a dark lens. For them, migrants are the dangerous “other” whose purpose is to steal local jobs, engage in crime to survive, and become leaches in society, living off of the welfare of hard working nationals. Migrants for them are to be both loathed and feared, and this fits in neatly with the Trump doctrine that has tried to demonise and criminalise migrants.
Trump has characterised those walking towards the US through Mexico as a ‘caravan’ of drug addicts, rapists, terrorists and thieves. For Trump and his alt-right disciples, migrants are the scum of the earth, just as he claims Africans and Haitians are. No wonder Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro get along so well, they hold the same views. This is the politics of fear and intolerance that rages against international law and universal human rights, and now international organisations that seek to protect the powerless and vulnerable.
If there is any truth to the idea of reincarnation (which I personally don’t subscribe to) I hope Trump, Bolsonaro and all those right wing European leaders come back as refugees, crossing the Mediterranean on sinking dinghies out of sheer desperation for a better life for their children. I would like them to experience what it is to be a slave incarcerated by human smugglers with no recourse or protection of any kind. I would like them to be Somali refugees travelling down the length and breadth of Africa, fighting their way to freedom at any cost, and setting up whatever small enterprise can earn them their daily bread.
Let them come down from their golden parapets and penthouses, and experience what millions of human beings experience through no fault of their own. Even though 80% of migrants cross borders legally and in a regular manner, it is the 20% that desperately need protection, which is why 150 countries came together this week to agree upon an international framework for cooperation on how to safeguard their interests.
What this week has shown us is just how potent the politics of intolerance and hatred has become, how intent the developed world is to pull up the drawbridges and isolate themselves from what is essentially a global challenge. If Europe and America impoverished Africa and the developing world through decades of slavery, colonialism, exploitation and neglect, they will now be forced to reckon with the consequences, as they will never be able to run away from globalisation.
Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for Voices360.