Last week we have again helplessly watched people drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt to cross the sea to the safety of Europe. Migration NGOs say that more than 2,000 migrants and refugees have died in 2015 so far. However, the very use of the term ‘migrants’ by European governments and NGOs dehumanises their tragedy, occluding the fact that what the Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi, speaking of Holocaust victims and survivors, called ‘the drowned and the saved’, are human beings, just like us. In 1972, during the migration of ‘guest workers’ to western Europe, the Swiss writer Max Frisch, whose work focused on issues of responsibility, morality, and political commitment, unforgettably wrote in response to the ‘guest workers’ controversy: ‘we asked for workers and human beings came’. Migrant workers, Frisch insisted, have lives, families, hopes and dreams, just like the citizens of the states they come to live in – an insight too easily lost in the current debates on migrants and refugees.
The people desperately trying to gain entry to Western Europe, be it through the fenced border between Hungary and Serbia, the Channel tunnel between France and Britain, or on rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to southern Europe, are fleeing disasters – such as the catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan, or the dire poverty of African countries – all created or supported by the west. Lest we forget, these humans are fleeing because they want to feel safe and give their children a future, yet, although seeking asylum is totally legal, they are often criminalised by the European migration regime. Continue reading “We asked for workers and people came”
Not very surprisingly, as the debate on the 22 May marriage equality referendum rages on, and messages compete, many of them totally disingenuous (such as the NO campaign highlighting the role of mothers and thus essentialising women’s caring and nurturing gender roles as if men cannot be caring and nurturing), one voice has been left out: LGBTQ people of colour and people from the migrant communities are not represented or visibly included in the YES campaign. It is as though they don’t exist, reflecting not merely the exclusion and discrimination of LGBT people in Irish society, but also of LGBT minorities in mainstream queer culture. However, this referendum is crucial to the migrant justice movement.
On May 18 the Maynooth University Department of Applied Social Studies is hosting a conference celebrating 50 years to the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Despite the initial good intentions, CERD has brought about no reduction in racism and racial discrimination. With the global north continuing to wage wars against the global south, whole societies, from Somalia to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Sudan, from Syria to Ukraine, from Palestine to Congo, have been destroyed, producing millions of refugees. Meanwhile, in the global north CERD has done nothing to stop lethal police brutality against black and minority populations, the detention of asylum seekers and the ongoing discrimination against indigenous people.
And what about Ireland? Already in 2004, in response to criticism by CERD regarding its treatment of Travellers and asylum seekers, the Irish government insisted it had no intention of discontinuing its system of dispersal and direct provision which, it said, ‘forms a key part of government policy in relation to the asylum process’. Direct Provision, run by for-profit private companies, incarcerates asylum seekers, many living with hanging deportation orders, not allowed to work, access third level education, or cook their own food, living in limbo, hidden from public view. Despite the obvious infringements of the rights and the everyday racism experiences of asylum seekers’, Travellers’ and other racialised people, the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell responded to CERD by claiming that Ireland ‘has no serious racism problem’ and that it was ‘leading the antiracism struggle in Europe’.Continue reading “CERD – not much use in fighting racism”