Migration – The Global Challenge Of Our Times
The Littleton Memorial Lecture, RTE Studios, Dublin, Thursday 17th December 2015
Morally, politically, and economically migration is the defining issue of the 21st century. How we respond to it reveals a great deal about the state of our society, the integrity of our communities, and the prospects for our collective future.
It is a challenge that will only grow in the coming decades. Today, there are more migrants than at any time in history—over one billion globally. This constitutes 1/7th of the world’s population. About a quarter of these live outside their country of origin. And the pace of migration is increasing. People are on the move everywhere and in greater numbers than ever before. This is part of the process of globalisation, but it is also driven by other events, such as wars, catastrophes, and poverty. In addition, television and other visual media have shown those in developing countries how much better life is elsewhere. Naturally they want to share in this better life and why should they not do so?
Within much of Europe, the right of free movement of people has long been (as it should remain) a sacrosanct principle. It was augmented in 1985 by the Schengen agreement, signed by five of the early members of the European Community. Schengen abolished border controls and the use of passports its members. Today, 22 of the 28 EU member states are part of the Schengen Zone, and they are joined by several non-EU countries.
Amongst the Member States of the European Union that stayed out were Great Britain and Ireland. Ireland did so, I believe, only to maintain the current arrangement with its nearest neighbour that otherwise would have been lost. Now in the midst of the current refugee crisis in Europe, the Schengen zone is gravely at risk of collapse as a result of the reintroduction of temporary border controls in many countries. This is indicative of a severe breakdown of trust amongst the EU States. This could, as Mrs Merkel has said, endanger the Union and must be reversed.
Crises in regard to large-scale movements of people, and particularly of refugees, are evident on every continent. Today, in fact, we are living through the worst crisis of forced displacement since the Second World War. Almost 60 million people having been compelled to flee their homes due to conflict or other mortal dangers. The rising pace of this displacement is startling. Just four years ago, 10,000 people, on average, were forced from their homes every single day. In 2015, that number will exceed 40,000 people. There is something dreadfully wrong with our world.
But in this lecture I intend to confine myself to a discussion of the European condition. This currently faces unique problems in dealing with an influx of refugees—one that is admittedly large, but that should not have become unmanageable. A Union of more than 500 million citizens should never have felt so threatened by the arrival of a million or so desperate people fleeing from disaster. Yet the impact of this crisis has come to threaten the process of European integration. And it is not just a matter of controlling the chaos at our borders, stemming the flows of refugees, or providing them with the care that they desperately need— especially now, as the fierce Balkan winter bears down on them and the turbulent Aegean Sea claims dozens of victims every week.
This is, in some ways, the easiest challenge we face.
The hardest, I think, one involves building successful, diverse communities that serve not only natives, but also the 35 million residents of the European Union who were not born here. We cannot afford to live alienated from each other. In other words, the greatest challenge we face over the next generation is also our oldest one: How to live well together. In Ireland we should know plenty about this issue and how not to handle it. One part of Ireland remains tribally divided.
At this point permit me to underline (because it is essential to do so) that, legally, there are different types of migrant. Although all international refugees are migrants, not all international migrants are refugees. Those who can legally claim to be refugees and who can demand asylum are a much more confined category than even the normal use of the term “refugee” might imply. Legally, refugees are defined by an international agreement that most nations accepted in 1951. This Refugee Convention was largely the consequence of an acknowledgment of the terrible failures in protection that gave rise to the dreadful suffering and death that took place in the Holocaust.
A searing example of the failures of the past was the history of the M.S. St. Louis. In 1939 she sailed from Hamburg, Germany, carrying 908 Jewish refugees, elated by the prospect of liberty. One young boy on that journey, Lothar Molton, wrote in his journal that he was on “a vacation cruise to freedom.” But in what history recorded as “The Voyage of the Damned,” the ship was denied entry to Cuba, the United States, and Canada—despite cabinet-level deliberations in all three countries. Forced to sail back to Europe, the vessel’s captain, a non-Jewish German, refused to return the ship to Germany until all aboard had been given entry to some other country. While his heroism saved hundreds of his passengers, 254 would eventually perish in the Nazi death camps.
So it was in this context that the definition of a protected refugee under the Convention was essentially agreed to be someone fleeing persecution by their government. This definition was extended later. In particular, in 2004 the European Union included those fleeing serious harm, such as execution or torture or a serious threat to a civilian’s life through armed conflict. But the important point to make is that obviously this definition does not include many other desperate people who deserve support and sanctuary from other circumstances. These have no right to sanctuary – no right to claim asylum.
Michael Dummett of Oxford University has explained this in the following way: “‘It needs only a moment’s thought to realise that flight for economic reasons may be as justified and as worthy of sympathy and help as flight from political persecution.’” Such refugees might be, for example, escaping famine or environmental disaster. They do not, however, enjoy the right of non-refoulement (non-return) enjoyed by legally defined refugees. They can be sent back to where they came from. David Cameron and some other heads of European governments have said that all economic migrants should be sent back home.
As if all of this were not confusing enough, there are other complications to understanding the chaos unfolding in Europe today. One of these is the EU law often called the Dublin Regulation. This law regulates which country is responsible for processing an asylum seeker’s application and if it is decided that an individual is a refugee then that individual must be offered asylum by the country which did the processing. Under the Dublin Regulation, it is the state where the asylum applicant first enters the EU that is responsible for all this. With the huge numbers that have been arriving by boat in recent years in Greece and Italy. Therefore these countries are responsible for granting asylum to all. In fact rather than wait for the processing of their claims many try to rapidly move north. This system has broken down and confusion reigns in its place. As a result, the government of Chancellor Merkel has decided to take responsibility themselves and to process asylum applications in Germany rather than returning the asylum seekers to their country of entry, as required by the Dublin Regulation. This inevitably results in those determined to be refugees staying in Germany if they are granted asylum.
So where does that leave Europe at the end of 2015? The Mediterranean Sea will be crossed by almost one million migrants this year. Most are refugees escaping from Syria, Afghanistan, or Eritrea. Over 3,500 are known to have drowned in the attempt, many of them children. The majority of those successful landed in Greece—about 800,000—with Italy being the second largest initial country of destination. These often impoverished people generally have paid smugglers to transport them at an average cost of circa €2000-3000, even though very often the transportation has been on vessels that are grossly unsafe, most will spend hundreds or thousands more to reach Germany or Sweden. Apart from smugglers, traffickers in women and children are also active in their insidious trade and the criminal gangs now operating both in smuggling and trafficking are making large sums of money off the backs of the world’s most vulnerable human beings. It is a measure of the desperation of these unfortunate people that they are so prepared to risk their lives and treasure on such a journey by land or by sea.
With a total population of 508 million, the European Union should have had no insuperable problem welcoming and hosting even a million refugees, had the political leadership of the Member States wanted to do so and had the effort been properly organised. But instead, ruinously selfish behaviour by some Member States has brought the EU to its knees. There are several honourable exceptions to such behaviour, most notably by Chancellor Merkel and the German people. They have been extraordinarily generous, not only in welcoming with such compassion a million refugees this year, but also in standing up for the very foundational principles of the European Union. Others explicitly denied asylum to all Muslim refugees, or otherwise shirked their responsibilities but Chancellor Merkel stood firm in defence of a Europe of values that does not discriminate, a Europe that recognises its responsibilities as part of the international system, and a Europe that knows the future belongs to those who best manage diversity.
Yet, despite her heroic efforts, there remains little sign of convergence towards her position amongst some of Europe’s key leaders. While praised for her humanitarianism Chancellor Merkel is seen by some of her counterparts as having made a grave error that exposed Europe to an immeasurable burden. (Whereas, in my view she clearly is a heroine). Now the European Commission, its credibility often unfairly seriously damaged, is at odds with some Member States and even supports sharing the burden taken by Greece, Germany , Italy and Sweden. (The President of the Commission Jean Claude Juncker deserves particular praise.) And come January, the EU will be led by the Presidency of the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders is setting a virulent anti-migrant tone.
One consequence of this paralysis and ambivalence at the European level is the rise and rise of parties that are not merely anti-immigrant but often are xenophobic and racist. Poland in October elected a hard right party to lead it; elections in France earlier this month saw the far-right National Front initially being successful though this was thankfully reversed on the 13th December. But even some of the traditionally most liberal States are electing, or are currently poised to elect, politicians who stand at the extreme right of the political spectrum. The rise of anti-immigrant nationalist parties in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands has been particularly remarkable and to many deeply disturbing. Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are now major political figures. All these parties are stimulating anti-immigrant feeling. They appeal to the worst instincts of voters and subverting the very principles on which the European Union was founded. Fences or controlled borders are rapidly being put in place in the Balkans and elsewhere. Public opinion more generally is increasingly apprehensive about the numbers of migrants and refugees coming to Europe. (After Paris 70% of the Dutch favoured border closure).
This negative public opinion about refugees is also inflamed by apprehension, often stirred up by histrionic and distorted media accounts, about the number of refugees and immigrants—even while the numbers broadcast are often exaggerated. In fact, in most countries in Europe, citizens believe that there are a great many more foreigners in their countries than there actually are. In the US, the public estimates 42% of the population is composed of immigrants, in fact it is 13%; the numbers in the UK are not too different.
The razor and barbed wire fences being erected on the Hungarian border to keep out migrants and refugees are not just tragic they are also particularly ironic, as Hungarians were for so long confined by the Iron Curtain. In 1956, after their failed revolution, some 200,000 Hungarian refugees were immediately given protection within a short time throughout Europe and in countries around the world. Yet now, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is the most intransigent and vociferous opponent of taking refugees in the EU. It is worth noting that Hungary hosts just 7 refugees for every 1000 Hungarians; little Lebanon by contrast hosts 232 refugees for every 1000 Lebanese. But, apart from central and eastern European countries many of which follow the Hungarian line, France, Austria, and even the most generous of hosts—Germany and Sweden—have re-imposed temporary border controls.
But it is not only physical walls and fences that are being erected, in a dramatic reversal of their removal in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell. In addition, barriers in the minds of the indigenous populations to the integration of different peoples seem to be taking on new dimensions. Some heads of government are stoking up prejudice by speaking of barring Muslim migrants and keeping “Europe Christian.” Other central and eastern European leaders have said the same in similarly trenchant and offensive terms. Now, border controls and fences stretch across parts of the Balkans, reinforced with soldiers lobbing tear gas. They have been recently erected by Macedonia, for example, on its border with Greece. Thereby keeping potentially hundreds of thousands locked into a Greece which others refuse to help.
In the most recent Eurobarometer poll, when the question was asked, “What was the most positive result achieved by the EU?”, the most popular answer (with 57% of respondents) was “free movement of people, goods and services within the EU”. But this achievement, so important for the future of the whole integration process, is being placed in dire jeopardy. Leaving aside all the more fundamental moral and humanitarian concerns about the rights of refugees, this should deeply worry those who believe, as I do, that European integration is vital for all of Europe.
Another aspect of public opinion established by Eurobarometer polls that runs contrary to what is actually happening is that European citizens see both foreign affairs and migration policy as matters that demand European solutions. But the European migration policy to deal with the current situation with humanity and reason, proposed by the European Commission last May, has been rejected by some Member States. These proposals were that the refugee burden should be shared fairly across all EU Member States, rather than simply leaving most refugees in bankrupt Greece or in Italy. The proposal to redistribute some refugees from those two countries to other Member States was based on objective data, including population size and the relative wealth of EU countries. Initially, the necessary majority to pass this binding measure was found within the countries that are part of the Justice and Home Affairs remit of EU competences (neither Ireland nor the UK being so). However, this month European Council President Tusk declared that there was now no longer a majority among EU governments for a binding quota system. This has to be placed in the context in which, quite correctly, Mrs. Merkel recently told the Bundestag that the survival of the EU’s free travel Schengen area hinged on whether national governments could in fact agree on a permanent new regime of sharing refugees.
As such agreement is not forthcoming, a Europe of internal borders (and one showing growing hostility to harbouring refugees) is increasingly likely to become an even greater reality than it is today. This is a tragedy. Tension between Member States is inevitably going to grow because of the great differences among them in their attitudes towards refugees. It is hardly surprising that Germans, who will take about a million refugees this year, and who have promised to take 500,000 annually for the next few years, should be outraged by, for example, the United Kingdom’s paltry offer of 20,000 places over five years – and this by a country that has only resettled 252 Syrian refugees since the conflict began. But is it not just the sharing of refugees that divides Europe. So too does the variable performance of the Member States in strengthening their external border controls and the refusal in one case to use the EU rapid intervention team and common tools for border control that are available. The EU, for instance, was forced to threaten Greece with suspension from Schengen unless it overhauled its response to the migration crisis by mid-December. There is a better way, however: Just last week, the European Commission proposed the creation of a truly united European border guard; rather than retreat into their own national shells, EU Member States would be wise to take a bold step forward towards a single European border agency, and, eventually, a single European asylum agency. But already some are arguing against this on the grounds of national sovereignty.
This disarray in Europe about refugees from Syria as a result of the apparent attitude of the people is shared in the United States. There, 53% of adults (in a survey conducted by Bloomberg following the Paris attacks) said that the US should not continue a programme to resettle a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees. Indeed, 11% said that they would only favour a limited programme to accept even Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims totally—a view that President Obama dismissed as being shameful (as indeed it is). These views were largely driven by unfounded fears: The United States has resettled 780,000 refugees since the horrific events of 9/11, and in the 14 years since, a mere 3 of them were implicated in terrorist activity (which did not lead to any attacks).
This unfolding drama, therefore, is an increasingly dreadful one. Larger and larger numbers of refugees are being deposited in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan— and indeed in Greece. They live in squalor in a state of virtual imprisonment, in some cases, and this unacceptable. Resources, too, for camps in Lebanon and Jordan are already stretched thin, with the World Food Programme (to feed refugees) and indeed the UN Refugee Agency under severe financial pressure. It is immoral that the only pathway we offer to desperate refugees to access our protection is to cross the perilous Mediterranean, at great cost and risk of loss of life; we must establish safer passage for those we ultimately will accept. At another level, relations between the large Muslim population already resident in Europe and the native populations are also coming under stress; this can have implications for societal division of a serious kind.
Samuel Huntington published his famous book, The Clash of Civilisations, in 1997. His apocalyptic vision was of a clash between Western society and the Muslim world. As we have seen, part of that Muslim world is not merely in Europe but is now European. Many see the rise of ISIS, with its barbarism and proposed Caliphate, stretching right across North Africa as the evidence that Huntington was right – that coexistence will lead to terrible division. This type of thinking sees retiring behind borders of one kind or another as the answer.
We must surely not—through the way migration is debated domestically, or in our response to the cry for help from refugees internationally—reject coexistence and multiculturalism. How can we, for example, reject Muslin refugees fleeing ISIS and leave them to die on beaches or in frozen rivers in the Balkans? How can we lock them into camps? It is worth recalling that ISIS considers refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq as the worst kinds of traitors to their cause of building a modern-day Caliphate so they cannot go back.
We must now demonstrate not merely our humanity but our belief in the equality and dignity of Man and seek in our own society to integrate with the strangers in our midst. Our societies, as Pope Francis underscored recently, “revolve not around the economy but around the sacredness of the human person.” Speaking of migrants specifically, he added: “There needs to be a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery. The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”
But these refugees, too, must be required to play their part in accepting our values including the equality of Man and Woman.
Our responses are of course influenced by a strong sense of identity. I think that we Irish have a particularly strong sense of being distinctive and homogenous. George Orwell once defined nationalism as being the belief that one’s nationality is ‘better’ than that of others. If the truth is admitted, most of us think that we are lucky to be Irish. Maybe also in some recess of our mind we also think we are better. Perhaps everyone else more or less feels the same way about their own nationality. We may say that our identity is formed by a perception of history, but this is often simplistic because the history of our families or religious affiliations are anything but homogenous.
Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Laureate, put it this way: “The notion of collective identity is an ideological fiction’.” He pointed out that the “’collective denominator” (or being of a certain nationality) can never fully define each one and the “concept of identity when not employed on an exclusively individual scale is inherently reductionist and dehumanizing ..of all that has not been imposed by inheritance, geography or social pressure ..true identity springs from the capacity of human beings to resist these influence .. – ’” In the context of maintaining an openness to migrants and refugees in Ireland, what he is saying here is that we must force ourselves to resist the tendency we all have to reject the unfamiliar and different. We should seek a society and identity that is defined by its values and not by a sense of its nationality.
We have had enough tribalism on this island, dividing peoples who have lived in the same place for hundreds of years, without allowing it to develop afresh with migrants. Indeed, so far, we are not doing so as far as I can see (unlike many others in Europe). We can be proud that racism is not in much evidence here in regard to migration. Perhaps it is the often punishing experience of the Irish as emigrants over hundreds of years that has allowed us to maintain so far this relatively benign and welcoming condition. The nativist movement of the 19th century in the United States expressed the political position of seeking to preserve “’their country”‘ against immigrants. The adage. “’no Irish need apply”’, was an expression then common in the United States that has become embedded in our folk memory.
Maybe that is helping us now to avoid similar excesses; but we must continue to do so and indeed we must increase our commitment to taking refugees.
Republicanism has at least in theory long proclaimed in Ireland its commitment to diversity. It did so through the theory of representation of Catholic, Protestant, and Dissenter. As we know, this concept of a shared sovereignty in our country was often honoured more in the breach than in its observance, but at least it was there as an expression of an inclusive society.
The evidence elsewhere of ghettoization of Muslin communities in some countries should act as an incentive to put real effort and resources in particular into integrated education. We must avoid the creation of societal communities at all costs.
To put this another way, at the heart of our response to the influx of refugees, both here in Ireland and across Europe, must be the idea of reinventing the “we” in our societies, of building inclusive communities. We need to commit to a future that recognizes our permanent diversity. And we need to see this as a positive evolution, not as a threat.
This will involve reshaping our labour markets and our public institutions, and will require massive investments in immigrant integration. We are far from doing this. What we have today in Europe is a helter-skelter jumble of systems and policies that not only lead to the deaths of thousands of migrants, but that also fail to meet our labour market needs, while inflaming all the wrong populist political passions and stoking the worst possible instincts in our politicians. This is not inevitable, far from it.
Open, liberal, progressive, democratic societies—let me be clear—are not the norm in most of the world. They are what has distinguished Europe for the past sixty-plus years. Building these societies took a herculean effort—to create a sense of unity and common purpose bound by a set of common ideals. Let’s not sacrifice them on a pyre fuelled by fear and neglect. If our democracies and the European project are to thrive, or even survive, over the coming decades, they will have to evolve in concert with the idea of diversity.
It is an idea that frightens many, but it should not. The alternative—the failure of diversity—is the real threat, since it will spawn divided communities, alienation, insecurity.
Instead, we must see the strength and opportunity in diversity. It offers us the chance to re-imagine and rebuild our communities. To do so, we need to reinvent the common space in our societies so that we can once again pursue common projects, show solidarity with one another, and restore faith in a shared future.
Investments in the integration of immigrants, especially at a time when national tills are lean, might not be popular. But they are more essential than ever.
Integration is mostly discussed now as a burden that immigrants are meant to bear. They must learn the language, adopt our traditions, respect our laws. There is, of course, truth to this, but allow me to offer you a different way to think about the issue. Integration should be about enabling those people who come to our country to reach their full potential—through education, through work, and by participating in our political and social institutions. In this way, they become part of us, and inherently then understand the strength of our values. And in doing so, they reinforce these values. This is, after all, the essence of our contemporary liberal democracies. Our openness is also at the heart of our ability to compete in the 21st century; if we are recognized as a society in which people can realize their ambitions, then we will stand apart from most of the world and attract the best and brightest and, at the same time, practically proclaim the values in which we believe.
If we think about integration in this light, then the burden of responsibility becomes more evenly distributed. Yes, immigrants must make real efforts, as almost all do, to work hard and respect our laws. But we, too, must change, as individuals and as a society. We have to ensure that the playing field is level, that access to our schools, to public services, to employment, and to political representation are fair and equal for all members of our communities. This demands of us to rethink our institutions, as well as our own attitudes about what it means to be Irish, British, French, German, or Dutch. And if we want to establish a litmus test for whether we are succeeding or failing in integrating immigrants, it could be this: Will a young boy or girl born in Dublin today to an immigrant from Syria or Afghanistan or Eritrea have an equal chance as a native son or daughter to become Taoiseach or Prime Minister? This is the standard that we must set and meet. If we can accomplish this, then social cohesion will grow.
In thinking about our future, we need to know what is not attainable. Cultural homogeneity is not possible—we should not be tilting at that windmill. This is not because of immigration alone but also because of the revolutions in communications, transportation, and commerce. Nor does it mean that our individual cultures will weaken—in fact, the internet and globalization are tools that can strengthen and spread cultures. But it does mean that, in our local communities, we cannot expect any longer to live in splendid cultural isolation.
If I were to leave you with only one unifying thought on integration, it would be this: In thinking about our future, we should pour our energy into creating shared experiences: Simply put, we cannot expect people to integrate into our societies if we are all strangers to one another.
We have had a breakdown in the institutions that once brought citizens in the West together—church attendance has plummeted, labour union rolls have dwindled, military conscription is no longer the norm in countries where it existed previously. Our media, meanwhile, have fragmented to the point where we inhabit our own individual media worlds—symbolized by the sight of people walking down streets imprisoned in their iPhones. One neighbour watches al-Jazeera, the other the BBC or RTE—and they develop two very different, often duelling, views of the world. New technologies might unite people globally, but they risk dividing us locally.
In thinking about creating shared experiences, we must start by looking at our schools (including denominational ones)—at their make-up, at their quality, and at their curriculum. All of these dimensions must be suited to a diverse society. Europe has schools in which minorities make up the majority of students—in parts of Berlin, minority representation exceeds 80 percent. In all of Germany, meanwhile, one-fourth of all children and adolescents under 18 are born into families of immigrant origin; individuals of immigrant origin will make up more than one-fourth of Germany’s population by 2050. Solving this might be the most vexing riddle we face, since it is tied to segregation in housing and to economic inequality.
But there are parts of the school experience that we can shape more easily. Allow me to offer a few examples. We should ensure access to schooling for all children as early as age three. Research tells us that perhaps the single most important factor in levelling the playing field for the children of newcomers is to provide language tuition at a very early age. Second, we need to make sure the curriculum, especially in social studies, reflects the diversity of our societies. Unless everyone has the same level of understanding about everyone else’s lives, we will not be able to get along. Third, we need to rethink how we teach civics and citizenship in our schools. We have to train children not only in how their societies are run, but also in how to think freely. Democrats are made, not born. Finally, we must eliminate any and all forms of bias in entry to higher education. Throughout much of the West, ethnic minorities are under- represented—and this under-representation is not the result of ability.
While schooling is the sine qua non of creating a cohesive society, politics is almost equally important. It is through politics that a society’s laws, norms, and traditions evolve; unless newcomers are drawn with relative speed into the political arena, our norms and traditions will not evolve to reflect today’s society—and newcomers will feel increasingly alienated. So it is vital that we find ways to give immigrants a political voice. Already, nine EU countries offer the vote in local elections to non-citizens. There also are more immediate ways as well to bring immigrants into the political process—political parties could, for instance, actively seek members from different ethnic communities. But we should not underestimate how difficult this will be: Even in cities considered to be immigration success stories, political hurdles are hard to clear. Political incorporation will take a conscious effort on the part of immigrants as well; they will have to make a pro-active choice to become Irish or Italian or French. In particular they will have to respect the basic values embodied in our conception of human rights.
The third pillar of cohesion is the job market. There is nothing more subversive to a person’s sense of self-worth than long-term unemployment. Having too many newcomers on social security, meanwhile, is one of the main drivers of anti-immigrant sentiment. And, outside of school, the workplace is where social relationships across racial, religious, and ethnic boundaries are most likely to be formed. So we must invest heavily in ensuring fair and equal access to employment for immigrants and their families as soon after they arrive as possible.
Fourth, we must strive to ensure that, once we decide to welcome newcomers on a permanent basis, we give them a clear path to citizenship. We should certainly expect them to meet a reasonable set of responsibilities in common with all other citizens before they are naturalized. But we should not ask them to clear hurdles that are either too subjective or biased.
There is much else we must consider as we move forward. One vexing issue is to be able to gauge the capacity of our societies to integrate immigrants, and if we are exceeding it with the current rate of migration flows. We must be smart in calibrating the two; otherwise, the speed of change will sow discontent throughout society. Also, we must not budge on the question of our laws—religious and cultural practices that infringe on our laws have no place in a liberal democracy. At the same time, we must continue to be relentless in enforcing anti-discrimination legislation.
As we move forward, we must make sure that we are thinking about all of society, not just about immigrants. We must emphasize—and invest in—what unites us. And while we must insist that all newcomers respect our laws and civic norms, we also must fiercely defend their right to express themselves.
Immigration can be a disruptive force. It accentuates winners and losers. It generates unease over the unequal distribution of resources and places strains on communities, especially those with little experience in integrating newcomers. Worst of all, immigration is a political orphan—it has almost no champions among the political classes, whose members see it only as a losing issue. And so what we often get is a dialogue of the deaf between populists and migrant rights advocates. The moderate centre is silent.
Our ultimate goal is to establish a national, social, and communal narrative in which all members of our societies can see themselves reflected. We need, in other words, to create a collective sense of “we” to unite our divided societies.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene composed in his old age a philosophical treatise, of which only a few fragments remain. I would like to share one that is particularly relevant to our debate: “The author,” Eratosthenes writes, “rejects the principle of a twofold division of the human race between Greeks and Barbarians, and disapproves of the advice given to Alexander, that he treat all Greeks as friends and all Barbarians as enemies. It is better, he writes, to employ as a division criteria the qualities of virtue and dishonesty. Many Greeks are dishonest and many Barbarians enjoy a refined civilization, such as the people of India or the Aryans, or the Romans and the Carthaginians.” Likewise Christianity at its core rejects discrimination and inequality amongst different peoples. As recent Popes have repeatedly emphasized we should look at those with whom we differ with tolerance and respect.
For far too long, we have looked at migration with too much demagoguery and too little nuance. In this year of shocking suffering in Europe, with the far right on the rise, this is more evident—and more dangerous—than at any point since World War II.
Rather than be accomplices to failure, we must strive to be partners in success. After all, the vast majority of citizens do not want to see their worst selves reflected in the actions of their government. They prefer to see their leaders strike a balance between asserting control and being generous towards those in need.