This morning, as I sat listening to the old Earth Wind and Fire hit ‘Let’s groove’, I wondered how repeating a musical bar for about 5 minutes could still have me tapping my feet, almost 35 years after it was released. And of course, in that random way that thoughts go, I started to think of other people, not grooving, but moving, around the world.
The impulse to move in large numbers is not new, and its effects have been known for centuries. Largescale migration was in part responsible for the fall of the Roman empire; then, there were no immigration controls. Nor could the unfortunate American Indians have prevented the large numbers of Europeans who eventually subjugated them, treated them like second class citizens in their ancestral homes and in some cases pushed them into reservations in America. But large scale migration has also been good; just look at the world’s largest economy and ask yourself how it started. Look at all the advancements that have taken place n the US because of European migration several centuries back and more recently, the Jews and other nonconformists who left Nazi Germany.
Now, large scale movements are once again assuming dangerous international dimensions; and we have social media and news outlets to bring the full horrors right into our homes. Only this time, we also have immigration controls and military personnel, determined to prevent them from accessing their destinations. Governments are now sophisticated enough to realise that an influx of people can create an unsupportable situation in host countries, but nobody is yet advanced enough to stop the migration at source.
I hope this comes out before the worried European ministers agree on what to do. In truth, there is no doubt that their approach is causing so much of the deaths. I was horrified to learn last year of the decision to create this European force to replace the Italians. At that time, several warned that this new force which had no real ability would result in greater harm to the immigrants. The response was that if the message got out that there would be no rescue available to those desperate enough to take their lives into their hands in such flimsy boats, then, somehow, they would change their minds and not make the journey. That was as laughable then as it is now.
Suddenly, the weather is good for travel and the boats are leaving Libya for Italy. And they’re sinking, and people are dying on mass. And what are we to do when the overwhelmed Italian and Greek navy cannot cope?
It’s become a great opportunity for the Australian government to publicise its discredited immigration policy. Australian ministers are telling us that they’re the most humane for stopping boats in midocean, taking refugees to underdeveloped countries with limited and overstretched facilities and ensuring that nobody caught coming to Australia actually enters the country. Please note that even the UN High Commission for Refugees has pointed out that Australia is in breach of its international commitments. But Australian ministers are publicly saying this is the most humane thing to do. The BBC has even interviewed the major general who was in part responsible for this new policy and he lectured the European decision makers on how they could completely stop the problem of boat people, Australian style.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that everyone should start by thinking this is not a simple black and white problem. Refugees are coming, stop the refugees, and problem solved! First, where are the refugees coming from? They’re coming from all over Africa and Asia, but largely from poor or unstable countries and through Libya. Libya is a very interesting country. It used to be stable, if disruptive, undemocratic and even scary for opponents of the leadership. One day, everyone decided they’d become tired of Ghadaffi, so they started bombing him. But here we have a problem. If you want to remove that kind of person who has built a very strong state based on a personality cult, you risk creating a power vacuum. I believe that’s basic political sense. Time and time again, the failure to observe this basic sense, which they taught me in secondary school (west African history is full of what happens when empires like Ghana, Mali and Songhai disappear) has caused such untold hardship that I wonder why nobody has stopped to think. Saddam is out of Iraq and now we all worry about Islamic state. We’re all very good at starting something, but how good are we at anticipating consequences? There are now two de facto governments in Libya and I hear there are large parts which are ungovernable. What did we expect? Why didn’t we think of this when we were bombing the country to smithereens and proclaiming our greater good philosophies?
When I look at our world, I see a house where the DIY enthusiast has started several projects but gone off them. If you go up the stairs, you’re likely to topple because the handrail has gone? If you get into the bathroom, you could get an electric shock because there’s some exposed light fitting. Then all the good friends of the householder come to dinner and discuss how best to fill in the cracks to give the house some semblance of order. And the householder knows that if he’d thought about it before embarking on the project, he’d have seen all the government standards for good work in place, even found some experts who would not leave his house half complete. This is what our world policemen have turned our house into, a barely liveable dwelling.
People are actually quite wonderful and countries are enriched when they allow intercultural tolerance. I once had a chap who kept arguing that the British government should stop supporting foreign development projects because all the other people in the world were just scroungers. He despised even the immigration policy of the UK because it let in too many foreigners. I pointed out to him that a large number of medical personnel in the UK were from my home country, Nigeria. Maybe they should all go back home then, give the jobs to UK doctors (oh I forgot the BMA recently stated that the UK isn’t producing sufficient numbers of doctors).
It’s really interesting to hear politicians these days. I once told a gathering that it is not a political statement to say that the UK government doesn’t like foreigners. All parties are falling over themselves to announce tighter immigration controls. One UK minister actually made a great point the other day that the way to prevent these migrations is to attack the problem from source. I wish he’d gone further to explain how he could solve world poverty and all the other factors that make these highly educated people take such risks to come to Europe. They are highly educated! Have you heard the survivors speak? I’m sure that as an aunt of a Gambian presumed dead at sea stated, they do want to contribute to their new host communities.
Maybe the problem with these refugees is that they’re not such a powerful force as the 15th and 16th century Europeans, or even the 5th century barbarians. And let’s face it, they do face a more formidable effort to keep them out. However, this doesn’t make them any less important as a historically significant mass migration movement. Nor is it fair to label them scroungers, when they’re part of a centuries old tradition. Indeed, what has changed is not mass migration, but efforts to stop it. Suddenly, the people who prided themselves on their ability to settle around the world have decided to prevent others from settling in their own lands.
Now, after this rant, you’d think I had the solution. Sorry to disappoint you, how could one man solve such a large problem. I do know however that the way Europeans are going about it might not resolve things. Here are a few broad hints I picked up from the Bible. The Bible says The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. This suggests that if everything belongs to the Lord, then we’re stewards and should use it wisely. The Bible says that when God created humans, he gave us dominion over everything; but it seems that we’ve also assumed that we have dominion over each other, and that has made some rich and other poor. Finally, the Bible says we should love our neighbour as ourselves, but we seem to love our neighbours less than ourselves. Result, we keep them out, leave them poor, complain about them, try to dominate them and tell them how to live their lives.
Again, there are no simple solutions. However, I cannot sit by and watch hundreds drown and still keep my doors shut. I cannot accept the Australian position that my country is better if I keep desperate people out. I’m not sure how many decent, hard working people have died; people who could have been inventors, athletes, doctors, or even waiters and porters. I say, let’s all be allowed to move as we like and if you want to stop me, don’t erect fences guarded by stern looking officials who think I’m a nobody just because I want to come to your country.