Those of you in the West who are feeling besieged by the latest wave of immigration would do well to consider the following: people who choose to abanon the joy of every day contact with their immediate and extended families so as to live in foreign lands and take work they would not deign to do in their homelands do not do so lightly. We in the West do not know, because we are not told, how the youth in poor African cities are being seduced by global advertising to shed their native dress in favour of blue jeans, and retune their ears from traditional hi-life music to the drum and bass of Hip Hop and Brit Pop.
The sheer pressures heaped upon the poorer nations to modernise are incalculable – the techniques deployed, relentless. And when these brainwashed townies return to their villages they carry the contaminating gadgets and gizmos with them. In no time at all their contemporaries in the village have caught the Westernisation bug. The peace of mind and contentment that they once enjoyed is disturbed. Dick Whittington-like, their sole aim in life is to go to London or Paris to see with their own eyes the streets that are paved with gold.
Even now the British Council is busy across Africa, training the next generation of migrants in the language of their destination country. Only when they arrive, there is no gold. Just images of Western progress that are flawed, if not false. As usual, the politicians are focusing their efforts on dealing with the symptoms rather than the root of the problem. One can only despair at the shallowness of the measures that Western politicians are adopting to keep at bay those who are thus wrenched from their way of life by the globalisers.
Spain was reported to be spending £80m on a 350-mile ‘electronic wall’ across its Mediterranean coast. Not to be outdone, UK Home Secretary David Blunkett is reported to be producing a video nasty to scare off the hopeful: unsuccessful asylum seekers will be shown being deported. But how this is going to counteract the hypnotic effect of multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns remains to be seen. And what of environmental refugees – many millions, possibly hundreds of millions, of whom will be rendered destitute by the very same forces of globalisation that Mr Blunkett’s government endorses?
Tougher immigration and asylum policies will not cure the problem of the ‘uprooted people’. Such policies are as misguided as the fortresses that the few over-rich in Africa build around their homes so as to keep their beggarly neighbours out. What the former fail to appreciate is that it is their monopoly on opportunity that leaves their neighbours no alternative but to come to them.
To underline the myopia of these attempted solutions to the ‘immigration problem’, a distinction has been drawn between asylum seekers who are fleeing political persecution and economic migrants who are just seeking a better life. It seems not to be appreciated that those who are coming in search of a better life are being subjected to economic and psychological persecution by the global economy that is, in some respects, more unbearable than state persecution. Both forms of persecution make it impossible for victims to live as they would wish in their own countries.
Loss of contentment with one’s way of life is no easier for a human being to live with than loss of personal liberty. One is a closed prison, the other an open one. It may, in any event, be asked what an ‘economic migrant’ is. If globalisation is the order of the day, surely economic migrants are simply doing what Norman Tebbit once said his father did when there were no jobs in his locality: getting on their bikes and going to where the jobs are.
Most commentators have been dealing with the ‘opportunities’ of globalisation and the ‘problems’ of immigration as if they are separate and unconnected. They fail to appreciate that globalisation will bring in a new generation of immigrants, just as colonialism brought in an earlier wave. We will get our countries back not through tighter immigration and asylum policies but by restoring opportunities to the villages and the hamlets, and preventing people being sucked into the turbines of global trade. Just as many of the Irish immigrants who were once despised in England returned home when Ireland started to boom economically, so other immigrants will start going back to their countries and potential ones will stay put when Britain and the West recognise that when God gave each nation its own land and its own means of sustenance he probably knew what he was doing.
Dele Oguntimoju is director of publicity for the Movement for National Reformation of Nigeria
This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2002