‘The world belongs to all of us’, is a broad principle in issues of migration. That means that any forms of geographic boarders between states ultimately become problematic. We simply need to find ways of establishing open boarders and free movement of people globally, with regulations but few restrictions. Today’s unprecedented restrictions create hatred, conflicts and class differences between people in the world. Today, there are only open boarders for the wealthy, not for the majority of people in the world.
Seemingly, my suggestions are radical. Yet, I am convinced they will be realized in due course. If we open our minds and hearts, we will be able to find solutions sooner than if we remain in the restrictive thinking and practices we see today. It is a matter of finding ways of doing things better, not continue to behave like ostriches, covering our heads in the sand. Again, the world belongs to all of us.
In my home country Norway, some futuristic studies and forecasts have suggested that in 2100, about a third of the country’s population will be non-European. Today, Norway has five million people, and some twelve percent immigrants, with about half of them being non-European. In recent years, many newcomers have been forced migrants, notably refugees. In 2100, the total population might have grown to somewhere in the range of 15 million. Imagine how much creativity and new ideas the country would have gotten then if five million or so would have come from ‘far away’, plus others from nearby, countries! Besides, all of them might keep contacts internationally.
Some may say it would have changed the culture of the Norwegians, and to some extent it would. But it would also ensure the spread of our culture, as well. After all, the majority of the land would be Norwegians and therefore their culture would be dominant, which others would then integrate into, with valuable aspects and strength from outside.
I am not afraid of immigrants; rather, I am afraid of countries and people being stuck in the past, not embracing the future. Openness and change are positive, but also keeping much of the foundation in existing cultures in more diverse and multicultural countries. The scenario is not going to be unproblematic; there will be turbulence and challenges. But is there any alternative? Hardly, if my moral premise is right, that the world belongs to all of us, and that people must be allowed to move, settle and live where they want – yes, even to the rich countries. We can resist my forecast and prediction, with tight restrictions on people movements, but they may only be delaying change, and they are likely to create more negative feelings, indeed even conflicts and wars.
Let us now refer to some examples in the field of forced and voluntary (economic, religious, cultural) migration. And let us also look at some of the international structures and injustices that exist, sometimes cushioned by the opposite by the West, using development aid and other semi-positive regulations.
”Refugees welcome” read posters in Sweden when the forced migration influx peaked in 2015. That was the people’s general opinion that time, at least in the mainstream population. They said what we all should say, then and now. When people are forced to leave their lands, even if they are just seeking better opportunities in particularly difficult situations, should we not help rather than hinder them? America was built that way by immigrants, and people helped each other then.
When the rich West for two-three hundred years has exploited the poorer countries, where most conflicts are today, and where the living conditions are bad for many people, should the West not feel a special responsibility for that situation? The German leader Angela Merkel did, at least earlier; the Swedish leader Fredrik Reinfeldt also kept an open-door immigration policy, but he lost the 2014 election much because of his continued openness to immigrants to his land, where about a fifth are newcomers. Now, the social democrats under Stefan Löfven, a former labour union leader, have the keys to the prime minister’s office and, therefore, also much of the leadership in opinion building in the country and beyond.
Alas, unlike his conservative predecessor, the current PM, has felt he has to implement conservative, restrictive immigration policies. In Germany too, Merkel has succumbed to more right-wing policies than she believed in before. Many other Western leaders are doing the same. It will cost the liberal and social democratic Europe dearly in future, I say. It is a contradiction that the left actually fuels the far right, the anti-social forces against immigrants and others who need help. Even many of those right wingers need help, sympathy and support; that is the only way to integrate them as well.
We, people in the West, and rich people in the South, who want to keep to ourselves the profits built – and stolen – over the last few hundred years, lose the moral, long term battle for fairness and equality in the world, if we don’t change our policies. The liberal, social-democratic values, with socialist aspects, too, don’t only belong to the Westerners, but to everyone in the world, who are progressive and think and act in solidarity with those who are lower on the ladder, wherever they are. I would also claim that all religious people ought to support such values, yes, people of faith in any religion.
These issues should have been high on the agenda when globalization turned out to be free movement of goods and capital purely in the interest of rich people in the West and the South. Ordinary people were left out; free migration was not on the agenda, and when it was, it was mostly temporary labour migration, as long as capitalism needs it. If we had thought a bit deeper, and talked openly about globalization, we would have realized that the policies were wrong and short term. Having looted the poor countries’ resources was one thing; having hindered development there was another thing; and having taken the political, economic and institutional leadership, was yet another thing.
True, some development aid is, or was, given, but it was always too little and often with hidden agendas that would help the donor countries more than the recipient countries. The United Nations and other international organizations have only partly done their work – since the owners and leaders of those organisations, the West and some emerging large countries, have not wanted it otherwise. In future, we must open the agenda intellectually and concretely. We must be willing to discuss issues that may indeed make the world look entirely different than it is, say in one hundred years, or faster. The world belongs to all of us – it belongs to the children, the men and women, of today and tomorrow, more than to yesterday’s men of the West and the small, wealthy segments in the South. When will we begin to discuss migration issues in positive ways?
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.