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Sleepwalkers

An immigration policy worthy of the name ought to include a series of strategies aimed at some comprehensive means of dealing with the migratory phenomenon

If we understand "tragedy" to mean a disaster caused by bad luck, the deaths of would-be immigrants at Lampedusa was no such thing. The natural feelings of indignation and shame cannot hide the fact that these deaths are the logical result of political decisions made in the light of day, with the approval, tacit or express, of wide sectors of society. These decisions have led to the substitution of immigration policies by others exclusively and obsessively centered on border control.

An immigration policy worthy of the name ought to include a series of strategies aimed at some comprehensive means of dealing with the migratory phenomenon, based on the multilateral institutions charged with the management of global governance. For it is only within such institutions that originating and receiving countries can move toward fair and equitable solutions. It also ought to include preventive actions in the field of diplomacy, aimed at the containment of conflicts before they boil over, and instruments designed to palliate the consequences of these conflicts: emergency aid, facilitation of political asylum, the return of displaced peoples and the reconstruction of conflict-torn societies. Even with all these measures in place, our societies would still have a big task ahead of them: policies of integration, of which so little is said, are not only the other side of the coin of migratory policy, but also an essential indicator of a country's democratic health, its citizens' tolerance for diversity and its capacity for sustainable economic growth.

There was a time when Ronald Reagan raised his voice and called out the phrase: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall"

The problem is that, huddled within the frustration that our own crisis generates for us, we have fewer and fewer of all the above qualities. Against the failure of immigration and integration policies, we can only point to the success of the border controls. These measures manage to capture and send back a considerable number of those who make it through; dissuade quite a few of those who would like to come; and expels a fair number of those who are already here. Of course, this policy - to give it a term often heard in military circles - has some "collateral damage." For example, the deaths of immigrants who try to reach our borders, but fail; the frustration of those who languish in detention centers or fall victim to mafias; and the impoverished and precarious life led by those who do remain among us, deprived of access to legal work, education and lately, even healthcare.

There was a time not long ago when, standing on a podium facing the Berlin Wall, with histrionic defiance, Ronald Reagan raised his voice and called out the phrase: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Unthinkably, the wall fell only two years later, opening the way to a bright moment of modern Europe: that of reencounter and reconciliation. Now, two decades later, Europeans are growing accustomed to living behind a wall, which we have built to defend ourselves from the poor, the refugees and the victims trying to get to Europe. On the other side are people who are crying out for it to be torn down, but we shrug our shoulders.

True, deep down we know that there is something profoundly wrong with an arrangement that places all its trust in border control and police repression. But since all the alternatives look worse (open up the borders just like that?) or unattainable in the short term (a European Union both effective and supportive of its neighbors?), we try not to think too much about it.

Thus, like sleepwalkers, we allow the Old Continent to change from a Union that is confident in its future and values into a place where national identities, seen in exclusive and defensive terms, are coming back in force. As a result, xenophobia and bigotry run openly for election, take a hold of our institutions, and modify the laws to exclude, expel or dissuade immigrants. What is worse, the economic crisis or the crisis of our values?

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