Thursday, August 17, 2006
by Elsa Claro —Granma International staff writer—
IT is highly possible that the British, French, or Belgians do not consider as immigrants the enormous contingents of their ancestors that went to other lands as officials of their governments or as go-getters of all types. But they were. They settled in those distant territories, depriving the native inhabitants of authority and riches.
Those countries, deprived of a natural development and now exploited by the replacement of the colonizers, transnational corporations and various financial institutions, are the principal donors of displaced individuals heading for the former metropolises, in search of new horizons or escaping from war. Language and cultural ties progressively influence the choice of where they go at a progressive rate.
In the 1980s, Britain received some 50,000 immigrants annually from countries that, like India, were conquered by the former nation. That figure has already risen to 160,000. The same has happened in other nations; as poverty increases, the number of people seeking relief grows.
Recently there was a migratory wave toward distinct points of Europe. The death of three people who tried to scale the Melilla border fence (which separates Spain from Morocco) led to the routine reflections regarding the migration problem. At the end of 2005, in the same area, there was a virtual mass assault by Sub-Saharan Africans. Fear resulting from the vulnerability of the moment provoked the EU to discuss development and aid projects for the forgotten continent.
With the exception of a third palisade, now almost completed, in the same place where thousands and thousands make desperate attempts in search of a better life, the rest of the announced projects are stalled half-way. At least to date, announcements about attacking poverty in order to prevent the need to abandon native lands have not moved beyond words. Thus, in recent months more than 7,400 Africans landed in the Canaries, a figure five times that of 2005. In just three days, 252 arrived in fishing canoes from Guinea Bissau.
The Spanish authorities had talks with 10 African nations from whence the undocumented migrants originate, but there is little they can do about their economic situations.
The flow can become exceptional. Its also arouses the worst reactions. According to the European Statistics Office, many Europeans feel no great sympathy for emigrants. They believe that they take their jobs in times of high unemployment or endanger existing jobs because they will break their backs doing anything to survive.
The right takes those beliefs as its banner and uses them as the crux of their promises in search of voters. The majority believes such "arguments," even though it has been demonstrated that emigrants take up jobs little sought after by natives.
Paradoxically Europe and the United States have and continue providing emigrants. For a long time now Spain has not been the "empire where the sun never sets." It has had economic situations provoking strong human exoduses. In the 50s and in the following decade, there were several of those mass human stampedes.
Something similar is happening in other countries. Currently 100,000 Britons are seeking better-paid jobs or a better future abroad, while the country is nourished with doctors and other specialists from African, India or Eastern and Central Europe.
North-North flows are seen as normal. Those that capture attention are those from the poor world. It could be, I tell myself, because one group travels by airplane and the other by whatever means possible. There are many paradoxes. None of them are comparable to the fact that each country individually or in pacts like that of the EU, is passing legislation in order to shield themselves and impede the entry of foreigners. They are acting against their own interests given that those whom they condemn are those who contribute to the demographic renovation that they lack.
The continual aging of the population is creating a shortage in pension funds created by income tax. Nearly all of these receptor nations have achieved a somewhat stable population thanks to emigrants. Europe will need 44 million foreigners before 2050 in order to have a balanced demography.
A similar trend has begun in the United States. Immigrants are complementing the growth of the U.S. economy to the point that entire sectors would be paralyzed if they were pulled from their positions, but Bush insists in limiting their rights.
When discussing the issue almost no one mentions that the 200 million foreigners living abroad generate a wealth of 1.67 billion Euros (some two trillion dollars) and with their work contribute to the development of the area in which they are located, while at the same time helping the Third World from where they came. Mexico, for example, receives nearly the same amount of income in this way as it does from sales of oil. Several Central American nations obtain a larger volume of hard currency through family remittances than from their total exports. India is among the top receivers of money sent by nationals working abroad.
The conditions that they attain are better or worse depending on geographical area. The majority of Africans that emigrate lack much competitiveness, due to the poor state and the deformed structures left behind by their conquerors.
The Sub-Saharan emigrants are among the poorest and least educated. Sometimes they have to cross through several nations to make it to the European border that Spain has become, a place to remain or from where to head for other destinations. To cross the Straits of Gibraltar they use small, precarious "boats," that claim thousands of lives each year. But in the Channel that separates the UK from France, the occurrence is no less.
The boats are made of inflatable rafts and beds, among the heterogeneous and dangerous means to cross one of the highest maritime traffic areas in the world. Those who arrive via the Euro tunnel try to find transport of any kind: hiding under trucks or trains. Hidden in the roofs and sides of vehicles on account of heavy fines. Those who risk their lives come from the former French or British colonies.
The issue remains at its point of departure. If previously they harvested those nations, imposed inconvenient administrative methods, now they continue controlling them via international finance agencies (read IMF or the World Bank and its usual debts and adjustment programs); if on top of that they provoked differences and unbridled ambitions, or used some individuals as a facade in order to guarantee already established interests, they cannot expect ecstatic resignation.
This is one of those volcanoes that could erupt at any moment.