Tag Archives: refugees

What if we opened borders?

I’m in favour of open borders for many reasons. I think people should be free to work, live, marry, shack up, study and settle any place they like and that it should not be about the accident of where you were born.

The main reason against open borders is about not wanting a flood of refugees. Affluent nations fear being swamped by people fleeing war, poverty and disaster – human-made climate disaster included. This is precisely why we need open borders. Big, affluent nations are very good at causing poverty and are the major driving force on climate change. There’s a long history of affluent countries fueling war – for political reasons and to make money from weapons sales.

If we opened all the borders, there would suddenly be a lot of political pressure for those who have most, to end war, deal with poverty and tackle climate change. Those who cause most harm would have a vested interest in cleaning things up. Currently, we dump our waste and recycling on poorer countries. We denude their landscapes growing our luxuries and then we don’t pay properly for what we take. We export the shittiest jobs to places we can pay less to have them done.

No one wants to have to flee their home because of war, natural disaster or climate change. Yes, there’s a lot of attraction for a young person to go out into the world and seek their fortune. But that’s not the same as being an economic migrant, forced by lack of options and desperation to try and find a better life somewhere else.

Opening borders would pave the way to taking better care of each other. It would change how we think about war and refugees. It would impact on the willingness of wealthy nations to tolerate the behavior of countries who abuse their citizens. It would make it harder to image that there is an ‘away’ where we can dump our crap and ignore our responsibilities.

Why shouldn’t we have the freedom to travel about and live where we please? If there was more fairness in the world and a more equitable sharing of resources we wouldn’t find some countries overloaded with incomers and others denuded of their young and talented folk. It would all balance out plausibly well. ,

Why are we not helping these other people first?

It seems like a fair point. Why are we getting so upset about refugees from ‘away’ when we’ve got our own homeless people, our own families in poverty depending on food banks, our own vulnerable, suffering people? Why divert resources when we can’t look after our own?

It’s a clever card to play, and it’s worth looking at the people playing it and casting your mind back a bit. Are these people volunteering in food banks? Are these people below the poverty line themselves? Are these people you’ve ever seen raise a hand to help another human being? I notice that the answer seems to be ‘no’. The people keenest to say we should look after our own first, have been reliably not doing that for some time now.

What this does, and is designed to do, is have us wondering about the various merits of people. Who deserves our help? Who is most vulnerable, most in need, most deserving? And of course the more time we spend arguing with each other over whether person A is more or less deserving than person B, the more time we spend talking each other into the idea that maybe these people aren’t very deserving at all. Right wing agenda success achieved!

It’s about judging people. It’s about looking at need, and finding reasons to say ‘no’. It’s about the idea that there’s a hierarchy of need based on worthiness, not on vulnerability. All people need warmth, shelter, food, clean water and physical safety. All people. Some people are less able to provide that for themselves than others. If we have to choose, need should be the priority. That and whether we can do something. You might as well do what you can rather than fretting that you should have gone out and found someone worse off to help. Deal with what’s in front of you.

There are people who would like us to choose. It supports the story that resources are scarce. We can’t house our own people so we can’t house refugees. Bollocks. Shelter reckons there are about ten empty homes for every homeless family in the UK. We’ve got money for weapons, for MP pay rises, for a nuclear submarine we can never use and a vanity rail project so that people can get out of London a wee bit faster. We don’t mind epic tax dodging by big business, and we subsidise inadequate wages out of the state purse to make life easier for business. It is a lie that we don’t have the resources. We do have the resources. What we don’t have is the will to distribute those resources even slightly fairly, or to deploy them based on need.

Help whoever you can help. In whatever way makes sense to you.