A « sustainable » confusion: the debate on migration.

Migration. Geneva, January 19 2014. Migrants are « at the core » of national and global policy debates for many years, now : one could even say « at the heart », as that issue has become the test for ethical values in the North. Rightly or wrongly ?

The year 2013 has ended in Geneva with a little noticed but well informed debate on global migration : Johan Ketelers – General-Secretary of the Int’l Catholic Migration Commission, speaking in Varembé on December 13th – gave an in-depth talk cum debate, in favor of a proactive attitude vis-a-vis mobility. He considers migrations not only as irrepressible, but even as desirable for a North ever more short of labour : even China will be soon looking for 80 millions manpower… and is working on it. A few weeks earlier (October 21st), veteran ambassador William Lacey Swing – still dynamic Director General of the International Organization for Migrations – sung the same air at the Press Club, in duet with Vincent Chetail (a researcher on the topic and professor at the Graduate Institute). Both these events were in tune with the « United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development » held in New York on October 3rd & 4th. But why this endless Gospel preaching ? Who would still doubt the deep truths bleprinted by « high level » authorities ? May be the real debate is a « low level » one… using the « high » one as proxy.

Good and proud to say so

If we listen to the global experts, and – all the more – to national cabinets, the questions posed are clear : modern economies benefit from openness and need immigrants. But – three times alas ! say they – the devil slept but is waking up now : some political forces are again ready to confuse the public on this… out of parochialism or and with demagoguery. But is it so ? Do even so-called « populist » parties oppose migration altogether ? Are their « racist » (and constituents) advocating « pure-blood » policies ? It might be tempting to say so for mental comfort : brotherhood would be on one side, and discrimination, on the other. But then – if this claim is true – one question remains open : why are « racists » ever more « popular », when the « people » spoke so clearly for human rights half a century ago ? Blaming « populist » politician (and some media) for this state of affairs is paying little tribute to the wisdom of citizen : indeed, it even challenges the whole idea of democracy. Sure, each « crisis » needs « scapegoats », but all crises had not a foreign scapegoat, be it in Russia or in America.

Should we trust saints only ?

A French minister said once – about immigrants – that his country should let in « whom we deem fit… not who does want it ». Sure, that minister was not a saint, but even saints can be selfish and crook charitable. By pointing at the two types of migrations, that nasty man didn’t mean France should not live up to her humanitarian commitments ; he rather meant that a state should not confuse asylum and migration policies, and surely not encourage that confusion. The rate of asylum granted by Switzerland is 100 times higher than by Japan (relative to their respective population) ; although on that count, Japan is in a geographic setting still worse than Switzerland. Humanitarian activists criticize Japan a lot, but hardly claim that Japan does not fulfill her legal obligations. And what should be today the « right » immigration policy between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia ? Raising this kind of questions immediately qualifies the questioneer as a heartless ennemy of mankind : this kind of intimidation may be the true end of the game… i. e. to swap a true but difficult question for the wrong one, of which we have the clue since we invented both the question and the answers. So, let’s jump now to a totally different story, which will at least keep open more than one «migration » question.

Is stoning popular ?

Last summer marked the 120th year of the « Massacre des Italiens d’Aigues-Mortes », which took place in mid August 1893, among workers of the salt industry. Casualties amouted to 8 or 150 deads, depending on the sources (plus scores of wounded). Workers had flocked to that place near Marseilles, from France and Northern Italy like each year, but that one was a bad one, and more work-seekers found fewer places. Enough to cause tension between the two groups : news spread that Italians had killed some French… and the massacre of Italians ensued, in spite of the police trying to contain the crowd. All this is history, but Justice never dared to confront «the people » through the end, it seems : at least, no sentence was ever passed. A local union celebrated the event last summer ; and a few years ago, a theatre play was staged in France, originating from the South with support of the « Conseil Régional de Languedoc-Roussillon »… whose Socialist President was later accused of « racism » in another affair.


On February 9th, 2014 Swiss citizen will vote for or against « Mass immigration » ; and on February 12th at maison des Associations in Geneva, a workshop will take place on capacity building for migrants with projects in agriculture (see

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.