There is free flow of capital and goods, ideas and knowledge, but not of people. There is not a level playing field in any of these fields. The West still sets the rules and standards, and its wealth is often built on the sweat and resources of the people of developing world. In future, there is a need for finding new systems for international relations that are built on cooperation, not only competition on the terms of the West.
When the new top man in the World Economic Forum (WEF), Børge Brende, former Norwegian minister of foreign affairs, and former WEF staff member, was answering questions at a press conference announcing his appointments some weeks ago, he said he didn’t think that migration issues would be a very important part of his new job. But he was wrong, because migration issues – both forced and voluntary, and all in between – will indeed be essential aspects of the future international organizations’ agenda, especially since they keep being unresolved, not even addressed properly. Migration issues are important as seen from economic perspectives, WEF’s main filed, as well as other fields impacting the new Europe and the world beyond. Therefore, WEF along with other organizations should play their roles as think thanks and producers of background material for policy-makers, and take part in the essential debate.
In Europe, the Council of Europe (CoE), an organization with 47 member states, plus additional observer states, should play a key role. The European Union (EU) and the United Nations are essential, but we also need to have other organizations onboard, such as CoE, which can be more daring in proposing unorthodox and alternative ways ahead. Furthermore, lessons can be drawn from the way the environmentalist organisations in the 1960s and 1970s helped shape our understanding and acceptance of issues that have now become mainstream – but which the sedate international and national organizations would have otherwise not been willing or able to address soon enough.
I thank Pakistan’s leading expert on migration , Dr. Sabiha H. Syed for an email she sent me in support of my past articles and stance on migration . I would like to pay further tribute to her, as one of Pakistan’s persistent migration specialists, first as a scholar in demography, then as civil servant and as a UN staff member, and now in retirement coordinating a migration research programme under the roof of a local NGO. She has conducted conferences, written articles, supervised students, and more. We need such independent experts in migration studies. Pakistan needs to pay more attention to the field as a host of millions of Afghan and other refugees, over the years, and as a sending country to a large number of Pakistani emigrants and foreign workers. Pakistan must establish policies that encourage their people to remain at home rather than emigrate, and also, when they become foreign workers, establish linkages with institutions and work places at home. The main resource in any country is always the people; Pakistan should not suffer from brain-drain or other migration .
Yet, these Pakistani topics should be addressed more in-depth than I can do in today’s article. Here, I would like to emphasis one aspect, notably the importance of independent experts’ contributions. Dr. Sabiha is an example of one such independent expert and thinker; we shouldn’t only listen to EU and UN; we should also listen to CoE and to local and international NGOs and independent researchers.
If we want the migration issues to be debated thoroughly and new and unorthodox solutions found, we must not only listen to the establishment, indeed, not only to the Western countries’ foreign offices and embassies. They have their vested interests, and though they want to appear fair and free, they are not. The ways the ‘immigration crisis’ was handled in Europe when it peaked a few years ago show how self-serving the West’s approaches are. The only message that has sunk in is: “don’t disturb us in Europe; we don’t want immigrants, especially not from the South – unless they have special expertise, money or something else that we want, and should leave behind most of their identity and wisdom.” It is a very shallow and unsustainable approach. There is need for intellectual honesty and realism in the debate, so that we can indeed find ways that are better serving both sending and receiving countries.
A Norwegian professor and former conservative politician, Christine Meyer, who just had to resign as the DG of the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics (SB) due to political pressure from the far-right, said some time ago that if Norway would not allow immigration, she would be glad go in demonstrations to support inflow of foreigners to the country. I am sure she didn’t mean unlimited and unregulated, but at the same time, I also believe she has realised the positive aspects of immigration to the land. Maybe we should all say: “it would be a problem for rich countries, especially in the long run, if they have no or very little inflow of immigrants, their labour, expertise, values, family concern, and more.” And if the newcomers are refugees, we should be particularly welcoming and helpful to them. Remember, it could have been you or me who had to flee war, conflicts and unbearable living conditions, if the tables were turned! None of us chose were to be born.
I am always saddened when immigrants, asylum seekers, and just ordinary visa applicants from countries in the South so easily are accused of coming to countries in the North to take ‘their’ wealth, misuse their welfare systems, maybe take their women, too, engage in crime and drugs, and so on. The tirade is not only from right-wingers, but sometimes from the establishment, not asthe main political message, but as a secondary and hidden message.
Researchers in a recent report from SB tried to forecast the future composition of the Norwegian population in 2100, and suggested that maybe 1/3 would be immigrants from the South. What a beautiful rainbow nation we would become! Most values would still being Norwegian, but with strengthening from people far away and from nearby. The world belongs to all of us, hence, we should rather be welcoming the newcomers – and we shouldn’t always be so certain that everyone wants to live in Norway either. Maybe we will at one stage have to make efforts to attract immigrants, to help us to do things better and be good custodians of all the natural wealth God gave us? We must always remember that we have to share – the way families in the South always have to share what they have, even if it is not enough for everyone.
Let us get on with the task of making immigration studies and research a centre piece of academic and scientific research and thinking , and of designing sustainable political solutions in the West and everywhere else, also in Pakistan. I find it unworthy, almost immoral, that we haven’t gotten properly underway yet, which is a scar on us all, especially the Westerners, who at the bottom want to be liberal and inclusive – as all human beings want to be.
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.
The message received from migration in Europe was: “don’t disturb us; we don’t want immigrants, unless they have special expertise, money or something else that we want”-a very shallow and unsustainable approach.