The myths and its choice of words
Checks and Balances, Economy and free migration
Take a look at yourself, Multi-cultural society?
Get going, In a new building
discussion about migration 1
discussion about migration 2
This article was published in a reader, used in a national discussion known as 'the Third Chamber'. The first and second chamber are the Dutch Senate and House of Parliament. The Third Chamber was an initiative of extraparliamentary groups, to discuss about and link up four big issues within the (radi- cal) left movement in the Netherlands: migration, environment, welfare state and democracy. We were one of the groups that worked together to organise the meeting, and also one the groups that produced this article. On the meeting there were over 300 participants. One of the results have been that now there are four regional 'Third Chamber' initiatives.
Migration: How's about the borderland...In this paper, we seek to offer an approach to the question of migration which will allow us to deal with underlying causes while giving due attention to the interests of migrants see- king a safe and/or bearable refuge. A political approach, enabling us both to judge government policies and shape every- day migrants' support at the same time. With parliamentary elections at hand, scores of politicians have suggested that there is no room left for newcomers to the Netherlands - whether refugees or those seeking work and wages. The same image haunts Europe like a ghost. No sooner has the "Iron Curtain" between the East and West been torn down, or a new one is under construction. Western Europe is now being fenced off both to the East and South.
The policy displayed by the political and administrative elite over the past few decades goes to undermine the Dutch social consensus of the Netherlands as a safe haven for immigrants. It undermines refugees' reception and support and causes distrust of migrants lacking permits. Actual misrepresentati- ons are employed in order to legitimize these policies. For example, refugees and asylum seekers are among those held responsible for the major cities' homelessness. There is a direct link suggested between crime and the existence of migrants. Refugees and migrants without papers are assumed to rob us of "our" jobs, etcetera.
This incorrect and biased, negative approach overlooks the causes underlying migration. It has no room for finding solu- tions for migrants who seek refuge from difficult circumstan- ces. Migration is viewed exclusively as an "outside" threat to our affluence and assets. In the migration debates held in established political circles there appears to be no room for an historical approach to the problem, migration being presen- ted as a temporary effect. As for the principle of interna- tional solidarity, it too seems all but forgotten. General starting points As members of the extraparliamentary oppositi- on, involved in the results of migration on a daily basis, we wish to state that:
1) The image as presented by the media and in the words of many a leading politician - that of the Netherlands being "flooded" under a "tidal wave" of immigrants and refugees - needs to be countered by assessment of the fact that migration to and from the Netherlands is a given. People move out, people come in. The positive balance of newcomers on the sum total of migration is quite relative. The number of Dutch citizens living abroad is fairly equal to that of foreigners living in the Netherlands. The question, therefore, is more a matter of why so few people do turn to the Netherlands at all. Out of all the world's migration - whether compulsory or otherwise - a mere fraction, no more than a few per mil, ever heads for the Netherlands.
2) All abstraction aside, and in view of our everyday existen- ce, what strikes the onlooker is the way in which the Dutch, when settling abroad for an extended period, are often treated with a fair amount of respect by their surroundings for their adventurous spirit and courage. Their migration is seldom compulsory and is never conceived of as a "problem", even though economical motives (improvement of one's position) are often involved. Elsewhere, too, the departure of kinsfolk frequently involves expectations of progress and the improve- ment of one's lot.
It is, however, self-evident that in many and large parts of the world, the backgrounds of departure or migration - aside from any such motive as social mobility - lie in the fact that war, hunger, poverty and persecution are the order of the day. The problem is not migration, it is the circumstances from which one flees.
3) Our assessment of migration is highly dependent on the question of its compulsory nature. We would like to note here that the influx of migrants often has a positive impact on life in the "host countries". The arriving migrants deepen local culture, as well as lending a dynamics and variety of new elements to society.
4) By presenting migration itself as the problem, many politi- cians ignore or deny the interconnection between migratory flows and the world's developing economic and political power structures and environmental devastation. Particularly neglec- ted are the effects of economical and political interventions carried out by Western companies, nations and institutions such as EC, IMF, and World Bank, which influence economical, political and ecological modes of survival worldwide. IMF and World Bank insist on structural spending cuts in social servi- ces and food distribution. In their programmes, they stress the export of only a limited amount of products. A surplus of these products on the world market plunges such countries still further into economic slump. Largescale agricultural programmes and the urban concentration of industries and capital further strengthen the popular drift to the large cities, where it appears as a cheap laborers' reservoir. Such urbanisation comprises a first step in a migratory pattern. A pattern which, in fact, follows the trajectory of the global concentra- tion of resources, 80% of which are reserved on behalf of a mere 20% of the world's population. Besides economic interventions, a crucial role is reserved for those Western powers involved in regions suffering from war and armed political conflict, in particular in relation to arms supplies. Many a criminal regime owes its continued existence to the political and economical support of the West. Due to the unequal character of the world exchange ratio of goods and services, large sections of the population are impoverished. This inequality of exchange lies at the basis of a veritable helix of social unrest, of revolts met in turn with repression, and culminating in inevitable migration. A clear example of this is to be seen in Morocco.
5) The world as a village. It may fairly be said that virtual- ly all countries and, in consequence, their denizens, are somehow integrated in world trade - a trade dominated by affluent societies. Means of mass communication have further "diminished distances". Factors such as modern communications systems and technical means of environmental mobility support increasing migration. Alienati- on and consumerism are forci- bly and unilaterally promoted worldwide by means of television broadcasts and advertisement campaigns. The distorted repre- sentation of life and the social order in the West, i.e. that of abundance, freedom, employ- ment, provisions, luxury, etcetera, exercises an irresistible appeal. Extensive air traffic has provided the technical means of moving swiftly from any given part of the world to any other. Thus, fleeing to some other part of the world is often a quicker and, above all, safer option than having to cross one's own country borders over land.
A few causes (and effects) of migration In every age, there have been large groups of people who somehow chose to leave their habitats. If, indeed, their numbers have grown nowadays, it is mostly a matter of the increasing world population. Many of the causes of migration have changed very little over the centuries. War, civil war, ethnic conflicts, all continue to send large communities into exile. Repressive regimes, someti- mes with the support of the West, drive individuals across the border; people actually involved in acts of resistance and in (physical) danger because of it, but also they who cannot live a life equalling a virtual social minefield. A motive of increasing importance, yet thus far hardly recognised as such, involves those women who seek refuge from sexual violence (such as the women in former Yugoslavia) or from practices forced upon them (such as Chinese women resisting compulsory abortion, or African women defying circumcision). What is new about this is the fact that, for the first time ever, women choose to take refuge on these specific grounds. Remains the fact that this is generally not regarded sufficient grounds for a residence permit.
Another novelty are the human-inflicted environmental disas- ters that drive people into exile. People have always fled from earthquakes, floods and other disasters. Contemporary disasters are increasingly caused by large-scale deforestation and consequent desertification, leaking or exploding chemical plants, landfills of chemical waste, etc.. Such migratory flows may be expected to grow immensely in the future, as ever larger areas of the planet fall at risk of becoming uninhabi- table. Such environmental issues often cannot be separated from the economic issues arising from them. Environmental issues will destroy an area's economic capacities. Environmen- tal annihilation, such as the deforestation taking place in South America (especially of the tropical rainforests) both for timber and the clearing of farmland - farmland used to feed cattle intended for North American fast-food chains. Within a few years, the soil is completely exhausted and erosion occurs. Another factor are the pay offs of loans from IMF and the World Bank, and the conditions that go to accompany them. The lifting of subsidies on fossil fuels has meant that many people have to resort to burning wood instead. The pay offs necessitate a growing export industry. This export consists by and large of mineral resources, timber, and agricultural products such as fodder, resulting in massive erosion and signs of exhaustion of the soil. Thus, in the Philippines, where there is access to fertile farmland, it is cultivated mainly to grow monocultural crops such as sugar cane intended for export purposes. Only a limited number of people profit from this, as a result of which there are milli- ons of farmers who take to the forests in order to burn down their own patch of land.
Besides these more or less involuntary causes for leaving one's country, Western governments distinguish "voluntary" migration, the sole objective of which is assumed to be life improvement. Naturally, all migration is essentially directed at improvement of one's life abroad. Moreover, economic cir- cumstances may well prove an equally pressing cause for depar- ture. In fact, it is hard to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary, nor are such distinctions very useful. A Colombi- an female moving to the Netherlands in order to prostitute herself may well have made a conscious decision on doing so, yet for the purpose of sending her children to a qualified, i.e. expensive, private school, in the hope of providing them with a better future. People are less and less prepared to accept their lack in prospect and their poverty. Moreover, the mass media constantly rub it in them that life elsewhere is better.
Besides the motive of poor economic circumstances, there is the question of lawlessness. Even in some so-called democratic countries, corruption, nepotism and unorganised violence have reached such proportions that for a person lacking the right or even sufficient connections, or the required genealogical or ethnic background, it may prove very hard to get anywhere at all. Many societies slip into a state of all-out anarchy, in which people are at risk of being arrested because such- and-such a police officer is in need of cash, and where to be robbed becomes a daily routine. Few local businesses manage to survive hold up # 10, or the umpteenth case of extortion by corrupt officials. For those who lack the right connections, even the highest capacities won't do. Such lawlessness, which reigns over many so-called democracies such as Brasil or the Dominican Republic, deprives people of all hope of ever accom- plishing anything at home. To the inhabitants of these nati- ons, migration not only represents a means of financial impro- vement, but above all the hope of a future lost to them in their lands of birth. Having grown accustomed to a life wit- hout any rights, restrictive measures against these illegal immigrants are of little avail. Consequences of emigration for the countries of origin To a number of societies in the third world, emigration is becoming an increasin- gly important factor. Its effects may be observed most clearly in the Carib- bean, where today between 5 and 18% of the population resides abroad. There is hardly a Caribbean family without at least some relatives in the USA. Large-scale emigration may serve to relieve the pressures of population growth, or as a release on a country's political and economical tensions. But there are consequences less welcome. Best known of these is the "braindrain" occurring in so many of the Southern countries. In Haiti for example, out of the 761 physicians that graduated between 1945 and 1968, only 242 were actually engaged there by 1970. Today, practically all of the famous Dominican merengue celebrities reside in the United States. More and more, the higher educated will opt for a less demanding existence in the West.
The sometimes substantial financial contribution to a nation's economy provided by the money returned by the migrants, takes on the form of a "mixed blessing". Often the support of entire families, the money also disrupts existing wage structures. Families in which one of the members resides abroad and sends home money to them, may soon have a higher income than the average physician or school teacher. There is no longer any point in observing a lengthy and costly education. The wise thing to do is to make it for the West. Thus, education, traditionally an important means of personal improvement, loses much of its appeal. Increasingly, the hope of a better future is projected on a foreign destination.
One side effect accompanying recent forms of migration is the fact that the costs of the reproduction of labour, as it is euphemistically known here, are transferred to third world countries. Thus, Dominican mothers residing in the United States will often send off their young kids to their grandmot- hers back home, since it is cheaper than providing for day care in the U.S. (and because they themselves need all the energy they can get to cope with maddening long working hours- ). Countries of emigration are becoming both the nurseries and the old folks' homes (the repatriating elderly migrants) of the Western world. In the Dominican Republic, there exist villages without so much as a productive population. A coun- try's own economic activities grind to a halt. There is no-one left to engage in them.
The Dutch policy
The Dutch policy consists of complete ignorance of whatever causes migration. As we said earlier, one important cause of compulsory migration is to be found in the economical state of affairs and political power structures. Politicians are stuck in the existing economical order's mechanisms, from which they cannot break free if they wanted to. Dutch politics concentra- te on short-term solutions designed to keep the problem out of the European context. The whole policy deteriorates into a matter of nationality. It is not the causes, but the conse- quences of migration which are under fire; consequently, it is the migrants who end up in the dock. The fact that migration is a constant factor is ignored. It is the same type of poli- tics as are applied to our unemployment situation; increasing regulation and repression, used to imply that the "problem" may yet be contained.
By repeated suggestion that migration is a short-term, contai- nable problem, whereas this is obviously not the case, a general mood of panic is being created. A mood which is fur- ther strengthened by the vocabulary used by politicians and officials when addressing the issue of migration. To think of migration as containable is an illusion. This has become obvious over the past few decades in the increasing migration from Central America to the USA. Despite thousands of border guards, massive fences and electronic surveillance systems, hundreds of people make it to the US every day, often at risk of their own lives. It is estimated that some millions of mainly Mexicans are now staying illegally in the US
There have been attempts since 1985 now to "harmonise" Europe- an migration policies. So far, these attempts have resulted in a number of treaties centered around the question of migrati- on: the Schengen-agreements, the treaties of Dublin and of Maastricht. The objective is to contain, control and ultimate- ly prevent migration from the outside. In fact, "harmonisati- on" here means the adjustment of the migration policies of the various countries involved to that of the most restrictive among them. Thus, Germany has adjusted its "liberal policy" to that of the other European nations. It has taken one step further, by introdu- cing the concept of "safe havens" to its constitution. Whenever a refugee arrives from one of these "safe countries", his or her request for asylum is automati- cally disallowed. The Netherlands, in turn, seeks to adjust applicable laws and regulati- ons to those of Germany. As a result, migration policies end up in a downward spiral move- ment, because of repeated orientation on the most restrictive country.
The nations of the European Community and their bordering neighbours sign treaties involving the automatic expulsion of refugees arriving through those countries, to those countries. This means in effect the creation of a "safety belt" surroun- ding Europe. Apart from this, intensified procedures both while boarding in the countries of origin, and on arrival at Western airports render "undocumented" travel to Europe next to impossible. Finally, those who manage to take such succes- sive obstacles awaits internment in detention centers such as the Dutch "border hospice" (sic). The realisation of these harmonised migration policies takes place far from democrati- cally. There is no democratic regulation of either formulation or execution of the various treaties. Thus, we are faced with the emergence of utterly autonomous European information networks and official working groups on migration, such as the "Ad Hoc Immigration group", in which refugees' (support) groups and other NGO's have no say whatsoever.
In perfect keeping with the European Community, the Dutch government is develo- ping ever more restrictive measures, c.f. the revised immigration law in force as of 1995, and the impending adoption of the "Aliens Administration System" (VAS in the Dutch) later on this year. Further amendments of immigration laws are in store. Much has been said about the revised Aliens Act. One major argument of its proponents holds that it will provide the practical means to reject those refugees whose request for asylum is apparently unwarranted. In 1992, the group in question comprised 8 (sic) % of the total number of refugees to the Netherlands. Critique of the law mostly concer- ned the various negative measures directed against the refugees, such as abolition of the right to appeal and the extension of detention possibilities against refugees and illegal immigrants. However, the law also involves severe- ly negative consequences for all aliens other than refugees: those arriving in the course of family reunification, for studies or employment, and all other aliens residing in the Netherlands on a legal basis. Increasingly, these and other new developments in immigration policies tend to clash with international treaties on human rights and commitments.
National surveillance of aliens
Apart from the various measures taken to enforce border sur- veillance, there is a development towards an "effective" national surveillance of aliens, to which the aforementioned VAS or Aliens Administration System will serve a key role. The VAS, a type of highly extended database, will be used to register all aliens resident in the Netherlands. One of the data concerned will be the Social Security Number. Thus, the VAS will serve an important function both in the exclusion of illegal immigrants from public services, as to their general location. Many government institutions will be on line with the system. The public servant at the counter (of municipal register, health care, social security) will become a direct extension of the Justice Department. It is to be expected that by no means all public servants will feel comfortable in their new position, and may attempt to bypass the system. The VAS will further be used for street patrol purposes. The officer or detective involved will have to decide for him or herself when or when not to run a given individual through his compu- ter. These may be expected to be mainly people of colour or those with poor command of the Dutch language. The VAS here becomes a racist instrument. As for the recently introduced, limited obligation to carry identification papers, the same applies here as with the VAS.
Since it is up to the official in question to decide when or when not to ask for an ID, he or she will usually do so in said cases. All "immigrants" are registered under the VAS, yet whether they're Dutch or illegal who will tell? That is to say, black people make sure you carry your ID. The legal authorities are dependent for the implementation of their policies on the cooperation of the civilian populati- on, who are expected to give away and bring in illegal immigrants in close alliance with the public administration. Information systems such as the VAS can only be employed provided that the officials working for various public institutions are prepared to lend their cooperation. The police department alone does not have the capacity to trace every illegal residing within our borders, and depends on information provided by civilians. It is quite likely that at least some of the population and public servants will not find themselves in accord with incre- asin- gly restrictive policies, and will tend to sabotage them. Are the Netherlands "overcrowded"?
In an attempt to legitimize official policies, the Netherlands are suggested to be "overpopulated". The argument that "the Netherlands are overcrowded" serves to create the image of migration as a disruptive force to Dutch society, resulting in an atmosphere of terror which finds an outlet in the growing support of the extreme right wing. In reaction to this, we see only short-term measures taken, designed to suggest that migration may be contained through restrictive regula- tions. The idea that the Netherlands are overcrowded is based on various assumptions.