Sudan, Secession and Dual Citizenship

This week, Southern Sudanese voters have cast their ballots in the long-awaited referendum which will confirm the independence of South Sudan.  So far, the process has been greeted with cautious optimism.  Despite widespread pessimism just a few months before, there has not yet been widespread bloodshed.

There are many excellent analyses of the Southern Sudanese march towards independence.  But one story which caught my attention, below the headline reports from the streets of Juba, were the polling stations opened in eight countries — including the UK — allowing the Southern Sudanese diaspora to vote from abroad.

I’ve written elsewhere in a more research-based context about the role of out-of-country voting in post-conflict reconstruction.  It’s certainly important not to over-exaggerate the impact or the participation — of the diaspora in the referendum vote itself. Yet the Southern Sudanese independence process seems to me to also demonstrate a very simple political point.  Asylum works — not just as sanctuary, but as the essential precursor to a solution.

The Southern Sudanese diaspora have gained enormously from their time in exile — in terms of education, political organization, financial capital — and it is this diaspora that have the capacity build a new South Sudan. Many have returned — or are planning returns in the near future

Yet the long road to a peaceful and prosperous independence for Southern Sudan isn’t fully travelled yet.  There are prophecies of war: political stability is not assured.  Poverty is certain. It’s here that asylum — and the eventual dual citizenship that often follows — play a crucial role in giving Southern Sudanese professionals the confidence to commit to reconstructing Sudan — because it makes it a choice to return.

Sitting in a small office in Kampala a few months ago, I heard stories about the Southern Sudanese officials preparing for government — while revising for their Dutch citizenship tests, or securing a home in Uganda.  These are the ‘just in case’ stories.  Given South Sudan’s recent history, it’s hardly surprising that even the architects of the new state make their back-up plans.  After all, UNHCR has kept its camps in northern Uganda open in preparation for a post-referendum influx.

My point is that it’s the choice — the mobility — that migration and dual citizenship have brought to many Southern Sudanese that will help to make possible its development.  Would you return to a country emerging from crisis — even if it was your country — without an exit route?

Yes, those without diaspora connections may resent the South Sudanese who return with ‘a hand on their foreign passports’, just as in Afghanistan.  And yes, the return of a wealthy, educated diaspora with political connections can spell trouble — just look at Rwanda.  But it also spells hope.

This is why we should protect asylum — and defend it from those who argue it’s too generous, too susceptible to abuse.  A few decades of hospitality seems a small price to pay for a stable, secure Sudan. If South Sudan is successful, much of that success will rest upon the shoulders of many South Sudanese who are also Britons, Americans, Australians, Germans…

Let us hope that Southern Sudan might offer a rare instance of refugee protection successfully offering the means to a hoped-for end:  a sustainable and safe return from one “home” from the sanctuary offered by another.

    Humanitarian responses…

    Some interesting responses from the humanitarian sector to the widespread media criticism of their Haitian efforts. This — from the `Active Learning Network in Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action’  (otherwise known as ALNAP) — and this — from Andrea Binder at the Global Public Policy Institute — are among the most interesting of the pieces to have dropped into my inbox this week.

    Many humanitarian professionals are frustrated at what they perceive to overly negative media coverage — and no doubt this is justified to a degree.  But interestingly, there seems to be a universal recognition among humanitarians that humanitarian aid isn’t sufficiently connected to the people it aims to help.  And ultimately, this brings us back to the argument I made earlier in the week. If you want to build towards a successful reconstruction — and prevent future “natural” disasters — you can’t separate humanitarianism from politics and power.

      Haiti and Humanitarians

      Struggling to get up and get on with some work this morning, I did at least have the excuse of listening to this Radio 4 programme on Humanitarian work in Haiti.

      The charge, that humanitarian efforts to begin reconstruction in Haiti following its January earthquake a year ago have failed to meet reasonable explanations, has been repeated in several places recently.  The general argument’s familiar too. There’s a plethora of books, media articles, academic papers, policy documents, all seeking to work out what’s wrong with humanitarian aid.

      My own experience of NGO conferences and workshops makes pretty clear that there’s a very healthy internal mini-industry engaged in dissecting and critiquing its own humanitarian practice.  I’ve also no doubt that  just as Darfur and the Indian Ocean Tsunami saw the “Collaborative Approach” replaced by the “Cluster Approach”, experiences in Haiti — and possibly in Pakistan — will drive development of the next approach to humanitarian aid.

      Yet as a relative outsider in the humanitarian world, I’m increasingly sceptical as to the real degree of difference between these successive strategies. Yes, a bewildering array of acronyms, benchmarks and standards may have produced a more coordinated response to emergency relief, improved humanitarian accountability and perhaps even enhanced global humanitarian capacity — though the results are clearly imperfect at best.  I also think these processes and protocols also offer the humanitarian industry — and, make no doubt, it is an industry — a technocratic language through which it can demonstrate its status as a 21st century profession and protect its own territory.

      Certainly, that today’s international humanitarians are professionals is undoubtedly an achievement — there is no question ad-hoc amateur distribution of aid belongs in the past.  However, in focusing on endless variations on logistics and co-ordination, I worry that we’re intentionally distracting ourselves from the politics of rescue.

      Many humanitarians claim their work is beyond politics. But humanitarian emergencies — and the disasters that prompt such interventions — are inherently political. Distributing food, shelter, medical care to every “victim” of the disaster or conflict equitably and without discrimination is a political statement, not just a benevolent act.  The labels of “victim” and “aid worker” themselves are all about power — and so all about politics.

      And we’re fools if we don’t think recognize that it’s politics — and not aid logistics — that ultimately stand in the way of Haiti’s sustainable reconstruction. A weak state, an impoverished political economy… Humanitarian aid can and does save lives. But it is politics that builds a future.

      Unfortunately, it is also politics that requires hard choices to be confronted that we’d rather avoid.  Who wants to be reminded about the inequalities in trade, debt, opportunities that explain why some states can’t cope with crises and conflict while others have the capacity to do so? (Who remembers the Chilean earthquake in February 2010?)

      Which is why I suspect that come the next disaster, the humanitarian agencies will make there appeal, and the media and the government will praise the British public’s “unprecedented generosity”.  And nothing much will happen at all.

        Verified by Visas

        The Henley Visa Restriction Index ranks countries across the world according to their citizens’ ability to cross border and enter freely into other states’ territories. Ever since a graph in the Economist based on its 2010 findings caught my eye a couple of months ago, I keep returning to the list. Its rankings confirm that money certainly can by you freedom: the top ten (whose citizens face the fewest visa restrictions) reads like a who’s who of Western Europe, North America and Australasia. The bottom of the list reads like a roll-call of human misery: Somalia, Sudan , Iraq, Afghanistan.
        This massive inequality in humanity’s freedom to move is depressingly predictable. Weak, conflict-ridden and impoverished states and their citizens have few international friends. But thinking more deeply about the numbers involved, I think they hint at a few other truths that migration and asylum policy-makers would do well to remember.
        First, asylum-seekers who use smuggling routes to enter states of refuge are often greeted with suspicion – irregular entry being taken as near-proof of “bogus” illegal intentions. But take a look at those figures for Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Iraq – these citizens can not move easily and legally across borders in search of sanctuary. It’s no coincidence either that these are the countries with the highest number of restrictions: plenty of research shows that states deliberately impose visa restrictions in order to make it harder for refugees – those fleeing persecution and in need of international protection – to arrive and claim asylum.
        By making it more difficult for the citizens of conflict states to leave, countries who impose visa restrictions don’t break their obligation under international law not to “refoul”, or turn back, those asylum-seekers whose lives and freedoms may be threatened in their country of origin. But it’s a cynical adherence to the letter and not the spirit of the law, because it denies their right to seek asylum in the first place.
        Second, citizens’ freedom of movement – human mobility – is clearly a measure of development. We’ve long recognized that internal freedom of movement is a fundamental human right, but international mobility clearly correlates with wealth and democratic government. The trouble is, these “liberal” democratic governments’ doublethink means that even as we become ever more connected to the “haves”, we’re intent on shutting out the “have nots”. But if we’re serious about development, expanding human mobility has to be part of the answer.
        And a final, speculative thought. The UK actually tops the list for 2010. Every British citizen can visit 166 states visa-free. This means that few of us have any personal experience of the bureaucratic application processes, anxious waiting and frequent humiliations that are involved in asking for the visa that might allow us to visit relatives, attend a conference – or just experience the joys of travel. Let alone any real comprehension of what it means to not be able to move freely. And I suspect that this lack of awareness – this lack of thought – feeds into our lack of empathy for those citizens in other corners of the world who have to endure such expensive, time-consuming and arbitrary processes. We just don’t realise how lucky we are.

          The migration consensus

          Today I read the Institute for Public Policy Research’s Migration Review for 2010/2011. In general, IPPR’s migration reports are carefully researched, well-balanced analyses of UK migration trends, providing a welcome antidote to the dubious statistics and rhetorical manipulation that Migration Watch engages in (we’ll come back to Migration Watch later).
          The IPPR briefing concentrates on presenting the migration numbers. These paint a clear picture: less UK emigration, lower but constant levels of Eastern European immigration, more foreign students and less foreign workers. This adds up to a net migration flow into the UK of around 200,000 a year.
          These are the numbers that have promoted the Conservative-led coalition to promise to drastically reduce migration levels by capping skilled non-EEA migration at 21,700 from April 2011. What the IPPR report underlines is that these policies are utterly misguided.
          Highly skilled migrants fill skills shortages. They pay taxes, they’re highly educated, they’re net contributors to the economy – and they take up jobs British and EU citizens can’t (not won’t) do. The UK has failed to produce sufficient numbers of financially literate, technologically innovative, scientifically creative workers. We should be debating the failures of our education: we should also be grateful that international migration allows us to plug a gap of our own making.
          And if you’re playing the numbers game, this category is tiny anyway. It’s EU numbers – which are most likely to increase, particularly given the relative state of the UK and Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek economies – that drive this “migration flood”. As hard-line politicians remind us, EU Freedom of Movement is beyond UK control.
          So far, so perceptive. But what I find disturbing about the IPPR report is its discussions of the politics of migration. In focusing on public reaction to government policy, and stressing the real risk that the public will become disillusioned with the government’s promises to reduce net migration levels if numbers don’t fall. ’ IPPR seems to be implicitly critiquing the means employed but accepting then aims of UK migration policy: that ‘bringing down the level of immigration… is a legitimate policy goal.’
          It’s this that makes me angry – another example of the apparently universal consensus that UK migration levels are “too high”. A consensus which is largely driven by politicians’ rush to prove their anti-migration credentials to voters fed a diet of populist press reports and angry at their own economic and social disempowerment (a legacy of British elitism rather than migration).
          I’ve yet to see a single report which makes a credible link between the numbers that map these complex migration flows and the blanket – and largely meaningless statement that migration is “too high”. This leads to a double irony, and a double denial of choice. Politicians have closed down the debate on migration. Everyone agrees migration is “too high” – leaving us only to discuss of how you reduce it.
          One false “choice”. But despite this consensus, it’s equally clear that politics can’t turn back the tide. Migration is here to stay. And offering a frightened and under-prepared population meaningless platitudes, rather than accepting the reality of global interconnection and working to ensure UK citizens can join this economy is a second false “choice”.
          Politicians are fond of calling for a “real debate” on migration, and in this they should be heard. But a “real debate” doesn’t begin after accepting that migration is “too high”. If we want to expand freedom for everyone, we need first to break this migration consensus.

            Another day, another drowning

            An article in The Guardian catches my attention: `43 African migrants drown in heavy seas off Yemen coast’. Somalis and Ethiopians looking for a way out of persecution and poverty. So familiar an event it’s hardly a news story – the Gulf of Aden is a notoriously dangerous crossing. Despite massive public information campaigns in recent years, 309 refugees and migrants died in 2009 while journeying from Somalia to Yemen. But yet they keep coming. At least 77 000 migrants arrived by sea from Somali in the same year, a fact not unconnected to the increasing impenetrability of the Mediterranean borders of “Fortress Europe”.
            These 43 deaths will be swiftly forgotten: unlikely to merit even a footnote in migration policy. Yet the manner of their reporting strikes me, because it underlines the extent to which we can conveniently label their deaths – and our responsibilities – away. The dead were “migrants” looking for `a gateway to wealthier parts of the Middle East and the west.’ The implication seems to be that their journey was a choice, an economic calculation – and their deaths a sad consequence but the result of their own, voluntary movement.
            But at least some of those dead weren’t “just” migrants, but refugees, like the three Somali survivors rescued from the wreckage. And even if the majority of those who drowned were Ethiopian migrants moving in hope of a better life, why our obsession with drawing this moral distinction between all “refugees” and all “migrants” ? If you flee extreme poverty in search of a means of survival, is this less worthy of protection than those seeking sanctuary from persecution? Is it really more of a choice? Is Yemen really a promised land of opportunity?
            Many might ask what the drowning of 43 Somalis and Ethiopians off the Yemeni coast has to do with the UK’s refugee and migration policies. And sure, there’s not direct line of responsibility. But I think this language of this small, almost unnoticed article – above all the absence of that word “refugee” – reflects a wider cultural willingness to insist that human movement is a choice. If we can believe migration is a choice, we don’t need to examine the morality of our own restrictions on migration – or our deportation of `illegal migrants’ from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and other desperate places.
            These migrations aren’t a “choice”. Given the reality of huge global inequality, migrants won’t stop trying to come to our developed, rich economies. Legislation can only push these migrants into irregular, risky, clandestine routes beyond the reach of states – and without safety. If we really want to “manage migration” we need above all to admit that migration is inevitable, but irregular and unsafe movement that ends with children screaming is not.
            There was a second boat in the Gulf of Aden. The words of the coastguard on the search for its passengers catch something of their invisibility, their relative powerlessness and the world’s lack of interest in their story. “It’s not known in which direction the wind took them, and their fate is unknown”.