We asked for workers and people came

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”

Immigrant Council of Ireland fighting ‘trafficking’ enforcing border controls

The Immigrant Council of Ireland, a supposedly ‘migrant-support’ NGO, has just announced a new initiative to combat ‘human trafficking’ and ‘sham marriages’. Together with the Department of Justice’s Anti-Trafficking Unit, the ICI joins poorer EU states Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia in an EU funded research on ‘the issue of human trafficking for the purpose of sham marriage’.

NGOs such as the ICI have been problematic for a long time now. Purporting to support migrants, it has no problem in joining forces with the government in researching, publishing reports and initiating policies the aim of which is ultimately (in the ICI’s own words) to ‘regulate’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘control’ migration into Ireland, and to ‘integrate’ those migrants permitted to remain.

A ‘sham’ or ‘fake’ marriage is defined as a ‘marriage of convenience’ entered into for the purpose of gaining a benefit, in this case leave to remain for a non EU national in an EU state. In many cases it’s the only way for an asylum seeker or migrant, otherwise deemed ‘illegal’, to enter and remain in a western state. I remember finding photographs in my father’s collection of a woman we didn’t know, only to discover that while studying in a Prague university, he married a local Jewish woman so as to save her from remaining in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia as it was then called. Upon arrival in Palestine a quick divorce was arranged, but father kept the woman’s photograph, knowing that had he not married her – in a ‘sham marriage’ as it would now be called – she would have been sent to the Nazi camps.

I do admit that there are many ruthless gangs of traffickers who force women and children into sex slavery (in India, for example, 60,000 children are abducted each year for sex slavery), but this is a completely different issue. My unstinted support for the ICI’s Stop the Red Light campaign against the exploitation of women and children in Ireland’s sex industry has changed somewhat recently. While I definitely do not support men’s god given right to have sex whenever and however they please, or criminal gangs making billions from trafficking children and women for sex purposes, we need to differentiate between this and the erroneous assumption that all women brought to Ireland by so called ‘traffickers’ are victims, as claimed by EUROPOL, the Department of Justice, and by NGOs such as the ICI. Most asylum seekers need smugglers to get them to safety, and using smugglers is often the only way these women migrants – as free and active agents – can find their way out of oppression and misery.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland is funded by the EU to join forces with the Irish government that still incarcerates thousands of asylum seekers in direct provision and stops many others from presenting their asylum applications. This shameless collaboration will result in further controlling Fortress Europe’s policed borders, the consequences of which we have all witnessed recently in the drowning of hundreds of migrants escaping the horrors of Syria, Afghanistan and Africa in the Mediterranean.

CERD – not much use in fighting racism

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”