“So come with old Bachchoo and leave the rest The Greeks and all their logical inquest The Existentialists and all their rot And put poor Einstein’s theories to the test” From The Rubaiyat of Sober Alarm
Horror. Hot wave in Europe and a south Londoner sunbathing in his Clapham back-garden is startled from his sunny reverie by a thud a few yards from him on his lawn. He is startled by the sound and more startled to see that the thud has been made by a human form in a burqa of ice falling from the sky.
The frozen body is that of a Kenyan man who stowed away by climbing into the undercarriage of a Kenyan airways flight from Nairobi to London. He didn’t know about temperatures at 30,000 feet above sea level. When the aircraft released its undercarriage for landing, he was ejected, pathetically leaving behind a bag full of water and food.
Over the last few years, literally thousands of, mainly, Africans have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya and north Africa to reach Europe. They are refugees from war, persecution and poverty. And the prospective host countries subject these last three terms to severe scrutiny. What is war, what is the cause or what are the mechanics of persecution? Poverty and its elements need no explanation.
Since Donald Trump assumed the office of the President of the United States, partly on the promise of building a wall to stop Mexican and Central American immigrants coming into the United States, the issues of this migration, legal and illegal, have demanded the world’s attention.
Physics tells us that heat flows — the atoms of highly agitated systems move to cooler states. Just so, the populations of places charged with one or other sort of oppression want to move to safer climes. What in our world defines this safer climate? China is a rapidly growing rich country in global terms. There doesn’t seem to be an attempt at migration from anywhere to its mainland. The Afghans, Muslims all, who flee their country and join the exodus attempting to enter Europe don’t try and enter neighbouring China or seek refuge in great numbers in India, Pakistan or Tajikistan. They cross borders at whatever risk to life and limb, and whatever cost the trafficking facilitators extract, to get to Europe.
There is no wonder that refugees from the anarchic dissolution of Syria don’t seek refuge as immigrants in the neighbouring Middle Eastern countries where thousands live in refugee camps. They want to come to Europe. These aspirant migrants, including, I imagine, the poor Kenyan, are not all fleeing from persecution or chaos — they are in pursuit of a world which they, naively or not, see as some sort of promised land.
It’s true that there is a seepage of Bangladeshi migrants who cross over to Assam and West Bengal in search of an escape from their situations in the country where they were born. They live and work in Indian territories until the Indian government in a political ploy uses their presence to demand that they have certification of Indian nationality. These migrants are not moving from a less liberal or war-torn regime to a less hazardous one. They are not in the condition of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
The pressure of Africans and Asians to enter Europe and the pressure of Hispanic America on the United States is not simply the poor seeking places and employment in richer nations.
It is, in a conscious or unconscious way, a journey through time, from older forms of tradition and oppression to the contemporary, highly imperfect liberal dispensation of the part of the world that developed earlier through the last few centuries, economically, and in its liberal drift.
The immigration services and media of the UK make a distinction between “genuine” migrants and “economic” migrants. The latter are supposed to have risked illegal entry, with all its hazards, to better themselves materially without actually fleeing from political or social oppression. The description carries a negative connotation, which, in its extreme, implies that these immigrants are arriving in Europe to take advantage of its welfare system for the unemployed, its free schools and free national health services. The “genuines”, who are to presumably be regarded more sympathetically, are classified as getting away from the cities destroyed by war or from prosecution for being Christian, gay or whatever. Not that a country such as Britain has acted in any significantly generous way to the migrants they classify as genuine.
In most cases, this distinction is blurred. Among those risking life, limb or imprisonment to emigrate, there is one common factor. The would-be immigrant wants to live in a society with the rule of law, recognised human rights and the freedom from enslaving labour. Most European countries are looked upon as such. At last count, there seemed to be no rush to emigrate to, say, North Korea.
The exception to this generalisation is the complete workforce of say, Saudi Arabia or other states which can’t be counted as liberal but whose South Asian workforce wants to earn enough money to sustain a family back home and save enough to build a house there. They are manifestly willing to suffer the conditions of labouring there.
The lucky migrants who have their cake and eat it are perhaps those who go to Canada, live in a liberal environment, and save enough money to build a house with a water-tanked terrace in, say, Ludhiana....