Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Spectre Haunting Us All

Around the world the spectre of reaction, of racism and xenophobia is rearing its ugly head as the economic crisis begins to bite - not that reaction, of racism and xenophobia ever went away, it just was simply more carefully hidden. Just as in the '30s, the scapegoating of minorities, especially the Roma and Muslims, has ceased to be a spectator sport and is rapidly becoming official government policy across the board - again, not that it ever hasn't been, it was merely more covert:

France has banned the burqa and is using fingerprinting to create biometric records of the Roma it forcibly removes from the country (giving them €300 and getting them to sign a piece of paper doesn't stop it from being a forced removal), as well as introducing a swingeing immigration Bill that will, amongst a long list of contentious measures, severely restrict the rights of refugees in detention and introduces measures specifically targeted against Roma.
Italy, which has ratcheted up the anti-immigration rhetoric and massively increased its anti-foreigner legislation in the past couple of years as well as unleashing a series of violent pogroms against Roma and African migrants, now wants to introduce its own ban; in Milan they are currently bulldozing Roma camps and Milan's vice mayor, Riccardo De Corato who is a member of Berlusconi's ruling party and is in charge of handling the camps, is quoted as saying "These are dark-skinned people, not Europeans like you and me ... Our final goal is to have zero Gypsy camps in Milan".
The Netherlands minority government, as a quid pro quo for gaining the support of dyed-Ayrian Gert Wilders (less than affectionately known as Wilders-the-beest) and his neo-fascist cronies, is also planning a ban; then again the Dutch have their own Roma 'problem' where 10,000-15,000 Roma, many of whom have been in the country for 30 years and have Dutch citizenship, face intractable social problems such as disproportionate unemployment, school truanting and mental health problems.
Switzerland was first in the long line of countries to enact anti-Muslim legislation with its ban on minarets and the veil, its patently racists citizenship system and the openly xenophobic Swiss People’s Party with its 64 seats and 29% of the vote in the most recent Federal Assembly elections. And now there are proposals to automatically expel all non-nationals who are convicted of a crime before they serve any jail sentence, a development that other EU countries are watching with interest.
In Sweden the Sweden Democrats, a party that repeatedly claims to be opposed to racism, is also riding the wave of covert (and not so covert*) xenophobia - a longing for bygone days of nostalgia-filled fantasy of a world without foreigners, a neverneverland preserved in aspic - and has won 20 parliamentary seats in the recent election on an Islamophobic platform; this against the backdrop of increasing numbers of Swedish deportations, especially to Iraq, something that has been condemned by the UNHCR.
Then there are the Danes, rapidly making their mark on the European scroll of shame with their recent copycat Roma expulsions and calls by the ruling right wing liberal party Venestre for migrants to be paid only half the national minimum wage rate.
Germany is also in the news, and not just for Bundesbank executive Thilo Sarrazin very public anti-semitic remarks. The Council of Europe and UNICEF both recently condemned Germany's expulsion of Kosovan Roma; mainstream German politicians claiming that there should be an end to all Arab and Turk migration or that immigrants should face an intelligence test; and to top it all, Angela Merkel has just claimed that German 'multiculturism' has 'failed', blaming immigrants for 'not fitting in' (as Pickled Politics puts it) - "At the start of the 60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, that one day they'd go home. That isn't what happened." - of course not, would you integrate when you were so obviously merely a tolerated 'guest arbieters' and were specifically excluded from citizenship?
In Austria far right parties like the FPO (Austrian Freedom Party) and the BZO (Alliance for Austria's Future), both not that different in policies from Hitler's NSDAP, are widely accepted as legitimate political parties by a population that can poll 53% in agreeing with the claim that asylum seekers "are more criminal than other society groups"; and there are widespread racist attacks on refugees and asylum seekers by neo-Nazis and skinhead groups and a police force condemned for its racism by Amnesty International.

And that is only a handful of European countries and we haven't even mentioned the call by the UN for all European countries to stop enforcing Dublin II returns to Greece because of the appalling conditions in the Greek detention centres, prisons and police cells. “All these detention facilities, with the only exception of the one in Chios (island), were totally overcrowded ... filthy, with very, very bad ventilation and lighting, and general conditions were just appalling,” according to Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur for torture and other cruel treatment. The Special Rapporteur's preliminary report repeatedly complains of lack of access by detainees to toilets and showers, lack of access to outside yards for up to two years, lack of blankets and warm clothes amid plunging temperatures and inadequate medical care, detainees having to sleep on the floor for weeks on end, that many people had respiratory, skin as well as psychological problems. "Such conditions of detention clearly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
Or the UNHCR concern over Iraqi deportations following the widespread decisions, including that in the UK by the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), by EU states that Iraq is now safe enough for them to begin mass deportations of Iraqi refugees. This despite the fact that the autonomous Kurdish region has itself suspended permission for flights carrying detainees from landing in Irbil.**
Or the fact that the EU has taken advantage of Gaddafi's attempts to exploit the prevailing attitude within Europe by asking for €5bn a year to prevent hundreds of thousands of “ignorant” Africans from “turning Europe black”. This provided an ideal opportunity for the EU commission to outsource even more of its border protection and abuse of refugees to Libya, a country that does not even accept the concept of 'asylum seeker' and who has one of the worst human rights records when it comes to their treatment. The deal, worth up to 60m euros (£52m, $83m) in aid over three years, is tied to some vaguely worded agreement on Libya's part to 'protect migrants' rights' but doesn't go as far as stipulating that Libya sign the UN Convention on Refugees.

Then there is the rise of the Tea Party and the canonisation of that (someone who is being sued by the Federal government for wingnut Sheriff Joe Arpaiocivil rights abuses, Maricopa Office of Management and Budget have found that his Sheriff Department has misappropriated $50m in funds, his treatment of prisons has resulted in lawsuits that have cost the County more than $43m in settlement claims during his tenure) for his plans to set up anti-immigrant vigilante patrols.

Against this backdrop, things in the UK are not that different following the advent of a Tory government, with extra-added LibDem legitimacy, and its harebrained scheme to return levels of immigration to the 1990s (although most would obviously prefer 1890s levels), is also thinking of introducing a policy of forcibly returning asylum seeking children to their countries of origin in flagrant convention of a whole tranche of international treaties as well as cutting back further on the already meagre financial support refugees receive prior to their cases being processed.

We've also had the reform of the Legal Aid budget that, led directly to the closing of Refugee and Migrant Justice, Birmingham City Council's massive publicity exercise stating that it was going to end its contract with the UK Border Agency to house asylum seekers in order to prioritise 'locals'. Yet Birmingham has a housing stock of 65,000 homes and it houses only 190 refugee families i.e. they occupy only 0.3% of the homes. Eye catching but hardly significant. Wolverhampton has followed suit and is also going to evict the families of asylum seekers it provides housing to, all 124 of them, thus making a less than 1% dent in their waiting list of 13,405. And then there's been Chris Keates, the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, and Jonathan Ellis, director of policy and development at the Refugee Council, warning of the possibility of the government's immigration and education policies creating "apartheid in our schools" through the segregation of communities and increased racial tension. And the baying of the tabloids to follow France's Roma lead. Not forgetting the widely criticised [see also] decision to begin deporting Zimbabwean refugees just when the coalition government is reaching another crisis point in advance of next year's elections, the increasing repression of the MDC by the police and violence by ZANU-PF cadres.


* Per T K Wahlberg, who stood in the recent election and came 26th on the Sweden Democrats party list, recently caused a furore by claiming that Africans have a 'rape' gene'.
** Not to mention the UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, warning that the increasing criminalisation of the asylum process "has serious protection consequences for refugees and breeds its own secondary problems for states, including racism and xenophobia" and the Global Migration Group's claim that “[a]lthough States have legitimate interests in securing their borders and exercising immigration controls, such concerns cannot, and indeed, as a matter of international law do not, trump the obligations of the State to respect the internationally guaranteed rights of all persons, to protect those rights against abuses, and to fulfil the rights necessary for them to enjoy a life of dignity and security.”

5 comments:

greg said...

As I see it there is one major with the no borders policy. It makes a bad situation worse. Britain is already an environmental menace. There are already more people in this country than its surface area can support. Specifically there are 395 people for every km2 in England (based on 2008 figures). This kind of figure is easy to calculate for any given area. Just go to an online encyclopedia and divide a locations population figure by its area figure. If the same thing is done for the land area of the world we'd find that there are on average just 46 people for every square km of land surface. Admitedly this large area includes the likes of Antarctica, the Sahara and Siberia but you get the point. England is already over 8 times as populated as the average and we are a menace. We import coal and biofuel from south america and oil from the middle east. Thats a pattern of immigration. Our own mining and drilling were bad enough and yet our currently un"sustainable" population causes the imputus for people in this country to continue to exploit both other countries and our surrounding environment. It may be argued that by opening borders we would just give the markets more potential to exploit. There's a spectre for you.

brightonnoborders(-at)riseup.net said...

Unfortunately your argument is flawed on so many levels and your standpoint amounts to an 'I'm alright now Jack' view of the world, even as you try to dress it up as some form of 'environmentally aware' stance.

Firstly, whilst I agree with you that the currently economic structure of Britain is unsustainable, that is not a product of the size of the population, it is a combination of the size of the population and its rate of consumption of everything from water through food to energy and mineral resources. [1] You have fallen into exactly the same trap as the followers of the 'Myth of the 70 Million' people, [2] except I assume your conclusions are prompted by a vague environmental concern rather than their thinly disguised racism. Your choice of highlighting the population density of England appears to be based on the same sort of 'this seems significant even if I can't quiet figure out why' feeling. Just as the 70 million figure is arbitrary, your choice of the '8 times [3] the average population density of the Earth' figure for England. For the UK as a whole, with 254 people per sq km, this would be 6 times the global average and for London, which holds 12% of the UK population and has a density of 4,807, this would be 106 times. Which is the more significant figure?

Secondly, you make the claim: "There are already more people in this country than its surface area can support." What do you actually mean by this, other than the blindingly obvious fact that most of the resources currently consumed by the country have to be imported? If you mean support as in providing enough food to feed the population then I suggest you looks at the No One Is Illegal discussion paper 'Too many of whom, and too much of what?' by Bob Hughes. [4] A couple of quotes to illustrate what I mean:

"When people say the US or the UK for that matter is overpopulated I want to ask them which people in particular they have in mind, who are in and of themselves a problem?"

"If the problem is consumption, then of course it’s the wealthiest people we need fewer of. I mean, Britain would do much better if it had 100 million subsistence farmers, say, than 50 million people who are doctors and lawyers and bankers and so on. It could have much less of a carbon footprint if it imported subsistence farmers from the Sahel, and exported bankers and lawyers to Africa. But nobody is proposing that!" - quoting population historian Matthew Connelly. [5]

"[S]elf-sufficiency should not present a problem. Most or even all Chinese cities were “completely self-sufficient in food production” until the market reforms of the 1980s (and even into the early 1990s). Till the mid-1990s, Shanghai, which had a population of over 13 million at the time, was largely self-sufficient in vegetables and grain. So, at the same population-density as Shanghai (2,588 people per square kilometre), the current world population should be able to feed itself perfectly well within a land area a little smaller than the Democratic Republic of Congo. For comparison, DRC’s total land-area, 2.35 million sq km, is less than a fifth of the earth’s currently-cultivated area – 13.6 million sq km – which is itself capable of considerable expansion)."

Continued below:

brightonnoborders(-at)riseup.net said...

Thirdly, you say: "We import coal and biofuel from south america and oil from the middle east. That's a pattern of immigration." Incorrect, migration is a movement of populations. What you outline is in fact the pattern of transnational capitalism and that has been going on for centuries, long before mass migration became the norm. For centuries the British Empire raped and pillaged across the globe and Britain continues to do so in the guise of multinational companies, structural Third World debt, an International Aid budget ties to deals on armaments procurement and selling off/privatising resources and utilities, together with the inevitable military interventions.

The reason why "our population ... is currently un"sustainable" (sic)" (and has been for decades if not centuries) is that civilisation as it currently stands is unsustainable. Any society that is based on a model of constant growth (exponential or otherwise) within a finite ecosphere is largely doomed. Capitalism is based on this model of exponential growth and capitalism does not need an excuse, whether it be open borders or not, to expand. It is its raison d'etre. In fact it could be argued that open borders would bring about an end to this type of exploitation because the 'wealth' would be forced to be shared around.

Lastly, you also ignore the simple truth that people migrate in order to better their own (and that of their nearest and dearest) situation, either economically or safety-wise. [6] And that sometimes means moving to places where there is a higher standard of living (I say sometimes because most people are in fact internally displaced i.e. they move within a countries borders or just over the border into another country - mass migration is a relative term and few people can actually either afford the cost or effort of moving across or between continents).


[1] Just as oil is a finite resource, there is also a 'peak oil' equivalent for things like the Rare Earth metals needed to make the generators used in wind turbines and uranium ore for nuclear power-stations, so 'alternative' energies are threatened by overconsumption too.
[2] See: http://nobordersbrighton.blogspot.com/2010/01/myth-of-70-million.html
[3] Small-scale movements of people fleeing persecution tend to aim towards more stable states which are invariably means the more economically prosperous ones.
[4] See: http://www.noii.org.uk/2010/01/13/too-many-of-whom-and-too-much-of-what/
[5] Actually 9 times with rounding up, assuming that you are using Wikipaedi's figures. NB. Whilst we are on the point, there was no need to be so patronising c.f. "This kind of figure is easy to calculate."
[6] Interestingly, the vast majority of the land in the UK [something like 92%] is not occupied or serving any useful function other than giving the rich somewhere to shoot game-birds or to act as a buffer to keep the hoi polloi from coveting their riches. 0.28% of the population owns 64% of all the land. For example, see: http://www.marionshoard.co.uk/Documents/Articles/Environment/Who-Owns-the-Countryside-New-Society.pdf and http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/watercity/LandArticle.html.

greg said...

Thanks for your detailed reply to my earlier response.

I'd ask though that you don't jump to conclusions of my 'I'm alright Jack' standpoint. My personal suspicion is that the UK is already fucked and that we are also at risk of fucking up our future on so many levels.

I didn't want to begin this reply saying unfortunately or something like that as it is clear that we have much the same central goal in mind - namely the well being of mankind.

One of the things that you mentioned was the clear statement that: Britain would do much better if it had 100 million subsistence farmers, say, than 50 million people who are doctors and lawyers and bankers and so on.

That is quite clear. Clearly if Britain only had doctors, lawyers and bankers then we wouldn't have any food harvesters and, within about a month, not so many doctors, lawyers and bankers. Other professional types such as nurses and fire fighters can be added to this list at discretion.

The main reason however that I think that we might be fucked is that we live in a democracy. You say that we would be better off with 100 million subsistence farmers but the first question I'd like to ask about the details about how this system would work. Does this system involve fishers, does it involve any mechanised methods of food gathering, storage and distribution or the use of food consuming animals? Where does the energy come from? Are there buildings and heating in the winter? Are there people planing and prepared for situations in which disaster strikes? We've had the Lewes and Manchester floods. Will there be an infrastructure, in a seemingly warming world, to cope with the increase in washouts that might, I'm guessing, reach Pakistani proportions.

I'm asking these questions because I'm really hoping for a positive vision of what your idealised society might be like.

Mention is made of 100 million subsistence farmers. First of all I'd like to know how much food, building material fuel etc. would be able to be produced on the 219,000 km2 area of England, Scotland and Wales with its varying terrain. How many people could supported in good an bad harvests and what roles would they these people need to play?

Would they want to play the necessary roles?

But what choice would they have?

We currently live in a comfortable democracy that has a system that gives possibilities for us to get food in our bellies. People can quite literally follow the fortunes of their favourite football team on a Saturday and, if they cant personally make it to the match, they can watch it on their Hitachi TV at home. They can wake up with coffee in the morning and they can get themselves a chocolate bar at their break and a fag as required. People might democratically choose to hold onto various of these and other aspects of their lives. We live in a real world where people make their own choices. What would you do to influence these choices or would the choice simply be taken away?

However, the only thing that I really objected to in your reply was your inclusion of "doctors" in your list of professions that would not do so well for Britain. I really hope that this was a simple oversight. In the very long term the only hope for any life on this planet is that, in the end, we leave. Doctors may be needed at many points along the way and then, at some point in the distant future, we will need them to allow life from our planet to travel elsewhere when our sun gets too hot. I know that this is looking forward for billions of years but I hope that no-one will be banking on humanity dying off by then.

(It may also be of some benefit if we had some people to supervise agreements and to manage assets along the way).

brightonnoborders(-at)riseup.net said...

I hate to say this but you clearly haven't read what I said properly. The "100 million subsistence farmers" was a quote from somebody else outlining a critique of the 'Britain is full' argument, which I was using in response to your having claimed that this island cannot cope with any more people. My intent was to point out that such a claim is both arbitrary and based upon an 'I'm alright Jack' standpoint (something which your first post clearly fell foul of whether you intended it or not). The author or the quote (as I understand him) was suggesting that a society that needs to service a largely unproductive middle class is always doomed to fail because there are not enough people producing the basic necessities of life.

"The main reason however that I think that we might be fucked is that we live in a democracy." What has that got to do with anything? Would we be better off if we lived in a Stalinist or Fascist state? Given the history of such forms of government, it could well solve some of the of your Malthusian concerns and get the trains running on time but it would be as doomed to fail as any other form of capitalist society.

Sorry to disillusion you but No Borders does not have some magical blueprint for the organisation of society (and if it did it would not be based on some woolly concept such as "the well being of mankind"). What No Borders does argue for however is the freedom of movement for all and an end to the nation state. From there anything is possible. But what is not possible now is for me to expand further on that in this response, so if you are interested there is further reading out there on the net concerning the No Borders' position.