Migrants and Citizens

You don’t beat them by joining them

Another anti-immigration speech by a Tory politician. Not much to celebrate in that: plenty to critique. David Cameron’s speech yesterday spun half-truths and persuasive populism together to cover the evident gaps in the Tory’s immigration politics. His words were disturbing, not least because of his apparent intention to see those who arrive on working visas barred from permanent settlement: ‘It cannot be right that people coming to fill short-term skills gaps can stay long-term.’
Leaving aside for a moment the question of how “short-term” these skills gaps really are given parallel plans for huge cuts in state education, Cameron seems to still be trying to sell the idea that Britain can use immigrants to plug economic gaps, demand their short-term integration and still refuse them a long-term future. A policy that is both unjust and unworkable, doubly dishonest.
I’m pretty certain Cameron knows immigration is part of a global economy and that irregular, illegal, exploitative movements are really only defeated by opening up regular, safe migration alternatives. Telling little Englanders what they want to hear, while knowing that it’s undeliverable and later retreating from actual implementation, is lazy and cynical politics at its worst.
It’s not often – if ever – that I find myself agreeing with the BNP. Yet their spokesman’s comment that ‘it’s cynical opportunism, isn’t it? It’s almost like a ceremonial adoption of our policy’ catches some of Cameron’s effect if not his intention. Mainstream politicians have for years justified their drift towards anti-migration policies as part of a war against extremism. But you don’t beat them by joining them. As this excellent article in the Economist pointed out a few weeks ago, by adapting the far-right’s policies in order to prevent their electoral success, xenophobes and racists gain a much greater ideological legitimacy and the need for real debate about mobility is avoided.
Yet despite Cameron’s miserable speech, I found myself wondering this morning whether yesterday might actual prove in the long term to mark an optimistic turning point away from blanket anti-migration politics. Not just because of Vince Cable discovering an independent voice again (at least momentarily) and pointing out the dangers of meeting extremism with extremism. But also because the response of the media and the public to the row has been remarkably measured, with only the Daily Mail really braying for Cable’s (and the BBC’s) blood.
Yes, the Daily Mail and Migration Watch are pretty obvious proofs that the insistence that we have a nationwide “immigration problem” in the UK won’t disappear from our politics overnight. But yesterday it did feel as though, for the first time in many months, the political and media consensus had cracked. Let’s hope this is the first sign that we might be moving closer to having a real debate on immigration and mobility, one where both sides of the argument get to speak.

    Japan vs Libya

    No one would deny that the terrible events in Japan are newsworthy. The images of the Tsunami’s destruction won’t be forgotten easily. Yet sitting with friends yesterday, we turned to Libya and how quickly – and conveniently – natural disaster had pushed messy, man-made political chaos down the news agenda. A forgetting made easier by the fact that there are very few images of Libya’s civil war to connect with. Is it real if it doesn’t happen in technicolour ?
    It is real, of course. There are 180,000 refugees at Libya’s borders, a humanitarian crisis that has now moved on from stranded third-country migrants who can be repatriated relatively painlessly. Reports I’ve seen from aid workers at the Tunisian border indicate those crossing now are largely Libyans and Somalis – people undoubtedly in need of international protection. Yet already, despite all the talk of humanitarian intervention, the Libyan refugee crisis has become invisible or even presented as the problem the West needs to solve, to avoid “floods” of migrants.
    Yet I can understand why Japan grabs the headlines.  It’s because terrible though their human consequences may be, the Western world understands how to respond to “natural” disasters. Solutions are technical, scientific, attainable and absolute.  They involve search and rescue teams and structural engineers, not messy political compromise. Rebuilding doesn’t have to involve reconciliation. And we can all pretend there’s no one to blame. An Act of God, followed by humanitarian heroism. It’s an old-fashioned narrative, but it’s a compelling one.
    Arguably the West could have found its moral conscience a little earlier and just not sold Gaddafi the weaponry he’s currently using to bombard his people, but where’s the profit in that? Plus, Libya is a useful focus for Western states : Gaddafi’s an old-time villain, and it avoids having to pay too much attention to the arrival of the Saudi Arabian army in Bahrain. After all, what’s a little protest suppression between old friends?

    In the end, that’s why we’d rather watch nuclear meltdown in Japan than civil war in Libya.  In Libya, the West’s ambiguous role is evident, noble rhetoric tainted by political calculation.  In Japan, we can engage in human tragedy without feeling guilty; we can play the empathetic observer without having to confront our own moral complicity. In Libya, we have to play the hero or we’ll be reminded of our long-term political cowardice.
    Which is why I predict that unless the West gets to parachute in and save the day, Civil War and refugees will slowly slip down new agendas, uncomfortable reminders of our own political failings.

      Eat-in or takeway?

      Today, I’ve read several stories about the government’s new shortage occupation list for overseas migrants, which will see non-EU takeaway chefs, senior care workers and sheep shearers unable to apply for visas.
      The British media are usually pretty happy to swallow anti-migration discourse whole. But this time, no one seems convinced. Having picked a number to represent « acceptable » levels of migration – without much discernible rhyme or reason, other than a firm belief that fewer is better  – the Conservatives now seem hell-bent on cutting migration down to fit, even when it flies in the face of economic evidence. Care homes, for instance, have protested that they need to recruit non-EU workers in order to function. Given the demographic writing on the wall and the regular media exposés of chronic under-staffing in many care homes demand for qualified and competent care workers, whatever their nationality, is hardly likely to fall.
      Driven by ideology, to be seen to be cutting migration has its own political rationale. Yet measures like these are absurd. I don’t think it’s an influx of antipodean sheep hearers who are responsible for deprivation, council housing waiting lists and social tensions in Barking. I don’t think anyone in Barking thinks that either. It’s lazy politics, at odds with the coalition’s supposed interest in small states and free markets.
      It’s also self-defeating, because arbitrary exclusion of qualified professionals isn’t exactly commensurate with Cameron’s insistence on start-ups being Britain’s ‘only strategy for growth’. At least one hi-tech start-up in Silicon Roundabout that I know well has struggled to find software engineers skilled enough to build its product within the EU, and after months of bureaucratic wrangling has finally been permitted to recruit its second – and final – overseas worker. The result are hours wasted interviewing substandard applicants. And in the long-term, a much higher likelihood the next Facebook or Twitter isn’t going to come out of an Old Street warehouse, but a New Delhi high-rise.
      Blame our education system ; but don’t blame Indian engineers for having the skills we don’t. And don’t exclude them as part of an arbitrary numbers game that is premised on the predetermined conviction that migrant numbers must be reduced, and then tries to fit the economics around the politics. It didn’t work for the Corn Laws, and I suspect – and hope – that in one hundred and fifty years, restricting freedom of movement will appear as economically absurd to our descendents as restricting free and fair trade does to us today.

        Call a spade a spade

        Over the weekend, the Guardian published the results of a Populus poll showing that 48% of the UK population would consider supporting a new anti-immigration party committed to challenging Islamist extremism – as long as it ‘was not associated with violence and fascist imagery’.
        It’s a shocking figure – and a shocking statement.  Not least because it seems to reveal the unchallenged doublethink at the heart of British attitudes to immigration, the idea that there’s a benign face to anti-immigration politics.  But wanting to “stop immigration permanently” – as apparently 39% of British Asians and 34% of White Britons do – can’t just be disassociated from ultra-nationalism.  It isn’t tolerant, or liberal.  In fact, given the particular concern with Islamic migration, it’s racist.   And that isn’t going to change with any re-branding exercise.
        British politics is busily creating a fantasy in which anti-immigration politics don’t have nasty consequences.  In requesting a “nice” anti-immigration party, the British public is indulging in wishful thinking.  I, for instance, would quite like to have a slave or two – I hear they were quite handy for keeping things tidy in your average Roman household.  Oh,  if only slavery wasn’t associated with exploitation and denial of fundamental rights… Similarly, anti-immigration and anti-Islamic politics can’t just be disassociated from fascist imagery.  Their very rationale lies in ultra-nationalism, however much this might be an uncomfortable truth.
        One of the most telling proofs of this reluctance to face up to the truth about anti-immigration politics was the fact that in all the clamour surrounding the Gillian Duffy scandal of last year’s General Election, very few suggested Brown was actually speaking the truth – albeit a politically suicidal truth – when he called Duffy a “bigot” for blaming Eastern European immigrants for economic stagnation.
        The British political establishment certainly seem to be having a damned good try at ignoring any sense that our famed “liberal tolerance” might be compromised by closing our borders.  In fact, almost as profoundly depressing as the polling statistics is the idea – which seems to have permeated mainstream British political discourse – that the response must be to “beat” the far-right by accepting anti-immigration sentiment and declaring multiculturism dead.
        As a result Nick Lowles – the director of an anti-extremist group – comments that these numbers ‘demonstrate conclusively that when it comes to the narrative of migration and race, our politicians and our community leaders are now running far behind those they seek to represent.’  The implication seems to be that they should run to catch up.
        This is an immensely diminished understanding of political representation.  Political leaders shouldn’t just seek to reflect the views of “those they seek to represent” – especially when such views fly in the face of economic rationale, logistical capacity and moral justice.  Great political leaders lead.  They aren’t afraid to aspire to more than the sum of our fears.
        Of course not all anti-immigration policies lead to the Third Reich.  But let’s call a spade a spade.  Anti-immigration sentiment shouldn’t be co-opted into British politics. This tactic doesn’t defeat the far right — it mainstreams it.  Such ideas are by definition illiberal and ultimately they only serve to obscure the real divide in British society – between the rich and the poor, not the migrant and the national.
         Yet right now, there’s not a mainstream politician in sight with the courage to admit this hypocrisy, and expose the ugly façade behind the acceptable face of “nice” anti-immigration politics in modern Britain.

          “No people ever was and remained free, but because it was determined to be so…”

          I have watched the movements in Arab states, like every other politically conscious citizen of the world with awe, anticipation – and, at moments, envy. What must it feel like to have stood in Tahrir Square on the night Mubarak went? I have a feeling that those Egyptians were probably closer to democracy – however momentarily – on that night than any polite reform of first-past-the-post here will ever leave me. Impossible not to be uplifted by popular sovereignty in action.
          I haven’t, however, felt moved to write about these movements. These aren’t my revolutions, and it would seem glib and intrusive to claim anything more than observer status. There are enough eloquent and passionate Arab spokespersons. Shame and anger at Western governments’ slow and miserable calls for “stability” and “restraint” – yes, I feel that – but I’m afraid that my youthful belief that Western governments have ever been interested in democratic empowerment of the people died around the time of the Iraq War, and it’s hard to be roused into action by cynicism.
          Tonight, though, I feel compelled to comment. Not on the main story – which tonight is Gadaffi’s Umbrella. In fact, it’s a couple of contrasting sideshows which have caught my attention. Firstly, the West continues its romance with the heroic asylum seeker, as two pilots land in Malta having refused to fire on protesters in Tripoli. Yet at the same time, it would seem that fear of illegal migrants, those demons of the modern age, provides at least partial rationale for why our governments shake their heads and talk gravely of stability and smooth transitions.
          Since Ben Ali fell, Tunisians have crossed the Mediterranean in record numbers – almost certainly seeking jobs — one might, in a more generous mood, call them livelihoods. Lampedusa, the notorious Italian reception centre, is overflowing. And Libya is already well-known as a staging point for African migrants journeying northwards to Europe. “Fortress Europe” is under siege – revolution brings an immigration crisis.
          But isn’t there something truly repugnant about Europe’s instinct for self-preservation, with ministers warning that with regime collapse will come new ‘unimaginable’ waves of migrants? It reminds me how complicit we are in these particular oppressions, even if we prefer arms contracts and migration management to the messy business of massacres.
          Oh, it’s a modern fairytale all right. We built our fortress and we surrounded it by ogres. And now the villagers are in revolt. Demanding rights we like to talk about — but are less keen on recognizing when those rights are in conflict with our own privileged positions.
          So instead we lionise two pilots – but ignore the fact that building a system allowing regularised migration of young, jobless Arab professionals may well be the best defence against the kind of Islamism that’s supposed to terrify us all and which justifies supporting aging Arab dictators.
          Undoubtedly, the two Libyan pilots in Malta showed enormous courage in disobeying orders and refuting the “banality of evil”.They deserve our admiration and our protection. But let’s not pretend that offering them asylum says anything generous about Maltese or European “compassion”. It’s just one more hypocrisy at the heart of our liberalism. Yes, we’ll let them in — but we’ll make sure we keep the rest out. And I suspect we’ll keep talking about “bad migrants” and “good dictators” without ever admitting that one is the consequence of the other.
          Other views on the West and Arab revolution:

            Back to the Future

            Although the headlines from the “Palestine Papers” may have focused on Palestinian leaders’ willingness to trade away refugees’ “right to return” – a right acknowledged by the UN General Assembly sixty years ago, but never acknowledged by the Israeli state – the truth is that friends who work closely on this issue have suggested for many years that most Palestinians would not actually physically return to the lands lost.  But they want their right to return to be universally recognized. It’s a question of justice.
            Yet what I found far more shocking was the US’ unilateral plans to solve the Palestinian refugee crisis through long-distance resettlement. Almost impossible to believe that it could be true, that Condoleeza Rice – acting as Middle East peace broker – could suggest that Palestinians refugees from Israel could be resettled in South America.  Why? Because that’s how the international community tried to deal with the Jewish “refugee problem” in the 1930s, as European and North American states prevented Jewish immigration.  Hardly the League of Nation’s finest hour.
            And now history comes full circle. I find it difficult not to see echoes of earlier appeasement policies in the willingness of the US to ignore Israeli violations.  Difficult to not to draw parallels between US refusal to admit the Jewish refugees of the 1930s and its suggestions that Palestinians could settle in South America.  Without making light of the anti-semitism of the 1930s, we need to acknowledge how current populist prejudices have fuelled hostility to asylum-seekers and refugees. Islamaphobia. In other settings, anti-Roma rhetoric. UNHCR High Commissioner’s recent comments that `I do not believe that there is any group of refugees who are as systematically undesired, stigmatized and discriminated against as the Somalis’ has a fairly obvious historical precedent.
            We are brought up, in the West, to believe that the 1930s were a terrible descent into human evil that we can ward off with our mantra: “never again”.  Yet while there is no doubt that the horrors of that emerged from that decade were unique, I think our own migration politics are closer than we would like to believe  — and closer than it is acceptable to admit — to those that fuelled crisis in the 30s.  The rise of the xenophobic right; a general consensus that there is “too much migration”; economic crisis; increasing impatience with the niceties of asylum… complaints that once again that “the lifeboat is full”.
            It is of course bitterly ironic that the foundation of the Israelis state – a nation-state explicitly intended to offer sanctuary to a persecuted people – has in turn resulted in the exile of five million Palestinian refugees.  Nationalism is a dangerous tool – in order to include some, it must always exclude others.  This is surely the first lesson we should learn from studying inter-war politics.  It’s another reason why the Palestinian right of return is so important, and why one state, rather than two, might provide a more genuine basis for “peace” in Palestine — even if it is currently unthinkable for Israeli nationalists.
            There’s another irony in the fact that while we won’t let the Palestinians return, we’re desperate to send every other refugee and asylum-seeker “home”, despite their accounts of persecution and oppressions . Here, the 1930s offers us a second lesson. We would do well to remember why we have asylum; why we have international human rights law. These protections were established by a community aghast at what the paralysis of the 1930s had cost in human suffering.   This is why we must defend both the right to return and the right to seek asylum – to make sure that no more history repeats itself.


              I spent last week in Geneva – which provides some excuse for my recent cyberspace silence.  Relentless rounds of meetings interspaced by working coffees: hardly a recipe for creative thought.  But Geneva itself provides plenty of material for anyone interested in understanding how international development is controlled by a cosmopolitan elite.
              Geneva’s reputation for dullness is only half-justified:  it’s certainly not a party town, but in many ways I find its disconnected hybrid culture fascinating.  It’s the closest I’ve come to a genuinely “post-national” city — in the sense that the international quarters of the town and their inhabitants seem to belong almost entirely to a parallel world of global acronyms, transnational career structures and multiple passports.  Entirely disconnected – linguistically, culturally, socially – from the Genevois natives they never meet.
              The city seems disconnected from time, too.  Walk in the Palais and it’s impossible not to see the shadows of the 1920s and 1930s cast out from the monumental architecture sweeping down to the lake. But the very point of Geneva seems rooted in those inter-war years – the buildings echo the ideas that built a humanitarian capital here in the early twentieth century.  Impossible not to envy the certainty of purpose of the 1920s – impossible not to regret its unravelling and the collapse of the League in the 1930s.  In Geneva, though, there are moments where it feels like time has stood still – in the general assumption that humanitarian action is still right (whatever the mistakes of the past century); in the heavy courtesy of state dialogues which are intended to ensure much is said and nothing is done.
              Today, Geneva is a city filled with humanitarians-turned-bureaucrats.  Many, mid-career, have spent many years in crisis states – Afghanistan, Sudan, Rwanda.  It’s hard to connect Geneva’s bourgeois cafes to humanitarian emergencies and chaos, but a surprising number of the men and women drinking on a weekday will have war stories to tell about the Kosovo refugee crisis in ‘99, or Congolese camps in ’96.  The result is another strange dislocation and an intense sense of transience.  Everyone is always going somewhere – on mission to Nairobi, Kabul, Bogota.  A quick trip to Khartoum.  In Geneva today, normal is global.  It begins to seem like everyone in Geneva is always about to be somewhere else.
              Do these disconnections between Geneva and the “real world” matter?  Perhaps not.  I tend to think we should pay rather more – and not less – attention to the politics of the 1930s, for instance.   But there is certainly an irony in the fact that UNHCR – an organization committed to returning refugees “home” – is staffed by cosmopolitan nomads, pausing in Geneva.  Or that UNICEF staff, charged with protecting families in the abstract, struggle to build or keep together their own in the concrete.
              Every time I travel to Geneva I am struck by the commitment of its international humanitarians to their jobs.  And by the attrition rate, even though Geneva is where the mid-careerists come for respite, to try and make relationships work.  But caring for the whole of humanity is a very lonely job.  Which is why – in spite of my own reputation for “mobility mania” – I’m always glad to come home.

                Immigration and Labour

                Alan Johnson’s resignation yesterday has had at least one very welcome consequence.  Ed Balls — a man described by the Tories in the Daily Mail as ‘to the right of Enoch Powell’ —  is no longer shadow Home Secretary.

                While I’m not naive enough to believe that his replacement by his wife, Yvette Cooper, is likely to herald a new dawn of intelligent and forward-thinking migration policy, it may at least stop Labour’s rush to outflank the Tories on the right of the immigration question.  It’s often forgotten that it was Labour who campaigned in the 1980s on a promise of leaving the European Union.  Balls’ approach to immigration reflected a return the worst excesses of the Labour movement’s white, male and protectionist heritage.

                Balls’ comments during the Labour leadership campaign — suggesting that `free movement of goods and services works to our mutual advantage. But the free movement of labour is another matter entirely’ — are an ugly and misjudged appeal to the fears of a working class demographic whose needs were largely neglected by Labour during their thirteen years in charge.  It’s also a charge without economic foundation. Research suggests that Eastern European migrants to the UK have contributed 37 per cent more in taxes than they have taken in welfare payments.

                Similarly, while Balls’ might claim that it’s entirely possible to be anti-migrant without being racist, it seems to me that at the very least his public condemnation of Eastern European movement is dangerously close to excusing xenophobia.

                For me, Balls’ as shadow Home Secretary  — and its impact on migration policy — was one of the major obstacles to being able to contemplate ever voting Labour again (not that there’s much of an alternative choice now either…thanks Nick).

                Now, as shadow Chancellor, Balls will have to acknowledge the economic arguments in favour of migration and stop just playing to the galleries.  Migrants bring in tax receipts.  Migrants meet economic demand.  So,  perhaps there may now be a slow change in Labour’s attitude to immigration.

                And on that note, here’s a suggestion: instead of shouting impotently about how to stop migration, Labour should realise migration will happen, and focus on how to make it pay. To do this, perhaps it should consider another return to its roots: this time, the championing of the rights of workers.  Instead of focusing on restricting the supply — “migrants” — policy should focus on shaping the nature of demand and target employers.  Ensuring all migration — skilled and unskilled — takes place within the formal, regulated economy wouldn’t just increase tax revenues.  It would also protect the pay and conditions of all British workers. Now, surely that’s an aim worthy of a real Labour party?

                  Doublethink, or not thinking?

                  Tuesday night.  French class, and we are practising the conditional:  `if I were Prime Minister, I would…’  And of course, my conversation partner comes up with the obvious: `…get rid of all the immigrants’.
                  Depressingly predictable.  And give the circumstances, completely illogical.  Let’s rewind for a minute here.  We’re talking about this in a French class – which, presumably, means that she has some intention of making at least some contact with some French people.   Plus, this being Oxford University, the rest of the class includes a Pole, a Russian, a Lithuanian, a German, an American and an Indian.  Get rid of all the immigrants indeed.
                  I’m fairly certain that this would-be director of immigrant purges wasn’t suggesting her classmates should be deported.  Yet her unthinking regurgitation of the lines we’re fed by politicians and the Murdoch media is one more example of middle-class doublethink on migration.  I have lost count of the number of times that — at one of those clichéd North London late-twenty something dinner parties – friends who pay their subscriptions to Amnesty and Liberty have commented that nevertheless “Britain is full up”.  Though of course, for these particular migration watchmen, “full up” doesn’t include their Argentinian girlfriend or their Russian grandmother.  It doesn’t preclude choosing between Vietnamese and Ethiopian for dinner and eating over-priced Tex-mex burritos in Angel for lunch.
                  The truth is, in Britain middle class angst about migration is very often really middle class angst about class.  Yes, the working class may have good reason to fear migration and globalisation – though I would argue that’s because society and the state have failed to build up a culture of social mobility or offer adequate education or support.
                  But the middle classes?  We already live in a cosmopolitan, mobile world – where offices are full of multilingual workers and babies hold multiple citizenships.  Every single member of my French class — whatever their nationality — has more in common culturally with each other than with working class Britons living on inner-city estates.
                  When middle-class people talk about Britain being “full up”, and being “strangers in their own cities”, I think they’re actually talking about the dislocation within our own British society and using migration as a cipher.  Far easier to talk about excluding the foreign poor than adequately educate and equip the British poor for success in the modern world.
                  Ultimately, you cannot divorce the politics of migration from the politics of social mobility.  The middle classes who don’t believe in social mobility – but fear the reality of the angry, the unemployed and the undereducated – will happily continue to practice doublethink.   Jump on the populist bandwagon! Migration must be stopped!  But their own foreign friends aren’t “migrants”, are they?  Their opposition to migration is a question of class.
                  And the middle classes that do aspire to a mobile society?  Well, maybe they need to start thinking about why they parrot lines about “controlling immigration”.  National identities and state borders are at least in part convenient fictions that smooth over outrageous inequalities of opportunity within our states.  If we had the courage to face up to the failure of social mobility in modern Britain, we might recognize that middle-class attitudes to migration are the contradictory product of class – far more than national – prejudice.

                    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.