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Showing posts with the label migration

Border stories

This is cross-posted from my Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to if you like.
I'm on a plane.
My friend doesn't know quite what she's going to do, in London. There are plans but they are difficult to pull off, impossible to be confident of. So maybe - she tells me, knowing I have the same thoughts - she could just go home, where life is easier and people are nicer and her family is close.
That is scary anyway, six years later, but the other hurdle is her partner. He is not from there and he cannot just go. She spends hours that would be anxious enough anyway on the website of the immigration department, wondering what life she will be allowed to lead.
A few weeks into wondering whether I can stay in my job, something comes up. It is almost perfect: imperfect enough to be believable, which was the mistake I'd made that last time. It is maybe the only job in the world that my ill-advised masters might actually be useful for. It is at one of my favourite publications…

Lessons from Windrush: national identity and citizenship

My mum was born in the UK, near Cambridge, in 1957. She came to Australia a year later, when my grandfather retired from the air force and left England with his Australian wife. That makes her, roughly speaking, about as Australian as migrants of the Windrush generation - who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries as children around the same time - are British.
You can tell: she's come to England a few times, but a couple of years ago when she considered taking a job here, the idea was clearly a dramatic one, with no sense of 'coming home' about it. Last time she was here to visit me, she left me to pay a dinner bill while she waited outside because she couldn't stand to keep hearing the English man next to us complaining.
So she is Australian, not British, and neither her lifelong British citizenship or the fact that she didn't become an Australian citizen until she was 40 make any difference to that. The other side of my family left Yorkshire almost two hund…

What if we left the border at the border?

Sean McElwee has an excellent essay in The Nation making the case for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in the US. The argument is not as radical as it sounds. ICE has only existed since 2003 and has clearly adopted an incredibly broad and draconian approach to its mandate. "Abolish ICE", in McElwee's telling, means something like: go back to the drawing board on immigration enforcement, and figure out something far less sweeping and intrusive that doesn't amount to an ungovernable deportation machine.
That lays the table for a worthwhile debate about what that enforcement should look like. And though I'm not sure it's actually my view about what should happen in the United States of 2018, I'm going to spell out an argument for really abolishing it: just not doing interior immigration enforcement, in any very deliberate way, at all. It is not that wild a position and deserves to be taken seriously as one pole of the debate.

The pointless EU registration scheme shows how unserious the Tories are about Brexit

A few weeks ago, Theresa May suddenly declared that EU citizens migrating to Britain after Brexit, during the two-year transition period, can’t expect to have the same rights as those already here. That was something of a surprise, since the government has already agreed that EU law – which, of course, includes freedom of movement – will apply in full through the transition.
That was beside the point for May’s announcement, whose purpose was to get sympathetic headlines in the Brexit-supporting press. It succeeded at that, even getting written up in the Daily Mail as a promise to ‘end free movement’. But it’s not: it’s an entirely futile symbolic gesture, and one that’s sucking government resources away from properly preparing for the parts of Brexit that actually matter.

What the Commonwealth Games can teach us about international refugee law

Yesterday Peter Dutton, friend of the blog, decided that the time was ripe to film a message for athletes arriving on the Gold Coast for the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Because Peter Dutton is a cartoon villain, the message was: "Australia has tough border protection laws". (You'll be shocked to hear that he says this a lot.) But apart from revealing his thirst for xenophobic politics, Dutton's video reveals something underappreciated about the way the global refugee regime works.

Dutton after Manus: the anti-migrant rubber hits the road

In 2016, I wrote this piece about how Australian politicians have managed to mostly deflect the population's more or less standard anti-immigration sentiments into an unusually poisonous debate about refugees rather than one about the broader migration programme. Some of the conclusions I gestured at were, in retrospect, pointlessly speculative. But the dynamic is an interesting one.
It's not actually so unique: the same political idea is one reason Republicans in the US - before Trump - responded to their base's nativism with moves against irregular immigrants rather than doing anything to shrink the large legal intake. Tony Blair, too, talked tough about asylum seekers while overseeing a dramatic increase in immigration to the UK. The gambit was only ever partially successful in those countries. By 2010 the British government was dedicating itself to slashing immigration by more than half; when they failed - well, we know what happened in 2016, in the UK as well as Amer…

Europe's road to Manus Island

Here - below the fold - is a piece I wrote about what Manus Island should teach people in Europe. It's shockingly easy to imagine how EU policy-makers, despite their protestations to the contrary, could end up overseeing an asylum regime even more callous than Australia's. They are already on the path, and it's hard to get off.
The piece is slightly dated, because I wrote it a week and a half ago and have been trying to shop it to editors who are variously budgetless or too busy to answer emails. Sad! And now it's too late - because this is not topical any more, even though more than 400 people are still living in a detention facility whose conditions are being made deliberately intolerable - so I haven't updated it, because it'd be effort that nobody's paying me for, but instead I'll add one extra thought.
I'm reading Sasha Polakow-Suransky's new book, Go Back to Where You Came From, which gives a rare insight (for people not on the far right)…

The pull-factor pathology

I'll hopefully have something published later this week about the Manus Island catastrophe and the lessons it should teach the EU, so here is something briefer about the total senselessness of the suffering Australia is now inflicting.

If we let ourselves assume away the xenophobia that drives most of the political argument, there's one strand of argument used to justify the offshore processing regime that has some truth to it. When a more welcoming policy towards boat arrivals is in place, more people are inclined to get on boats from Indonesia and Sri Lanka to Australia, and that can mean that more people die at sea. This is the pull-factor logic that underlies moves to make the boat journey into a risk with no payoff: by implementing mandatory detention, offshore processing, Temporary Protection Visas, boat turnbacks, and the 2013 ban on boat arrivals ever being resettled in Australia.

These measures are defended as making the lives of refugees who do come worse in order to…

Tony Blair is not the pro-migration politician we need

For the last few months, Tony Blair has been gradually but unmistakeably reinserting himself into the front lines of British politics. Plenty of people pine for New Labour, but the core strain of Blair support these days flows from his willingness to be an unapologetic defender of the European Union and, in particular, free movement.
Until, that is, Blair’s anti-Brexit Institute for Global Change published a paper this week calling for – ahem – controls on immigration. But if this seems like a backflip for Blair, appearances are misleading: this new report fits perfectly with the dishonest and ultimately counterproductive approach to immigration politics the ex-PM has always taken.

The ethics of refugee policy

This is the conclusion of my master's dissertation on the ethics of refugee policy. By the time I wrote it I was bored of philosophy, so it's pretty readable. If you read it and think you're interested in some of the chapters, send me an email - though they are written as academic political philosophy, even if I'll flatter myself by saying they're more understandable than most philosophy.

Stopping the (rescue) boats

There are still tens of thousands of people getting on boats to cross the Mediterranean and seek asylum in Europe - more than 70 000 so far this year. It's not as big news as it used to be, but some people are still keenly aware. Top of that list is the EU, which is still wrangling deals with transit countries to try to stem the flow. Various NGOs are doing their best to run rescue operations for boats that end up in distress partway through the journey.
But also in the mix are the 'Identitarians', a network of far-right nationalists who love European Christendom. To defend it from the scourge of vulnerable people fleeing war in Libya, they've taken it upon themselves to disrupt rescue operations by hiring their own boats and running interference when NGOs try to set out. That is: they're raising money anonymously so that migrants will drown.
Even by alt-right standards, this is breathtakingly immoral - very directly causing deaths in the pursuit of your campaign …

Courts aren't touching the worst part of the immigration executive order

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled 10-3 against Donald Trump's immigration executive order, keeping in place an injunction against its enforcement. This, for those struggling to keep up, is the second 'travel ban' order: the President gave up on defending the first one in court after it appeared headed to resounding defeat. The new version is somewhat less obvious in its Muslim-targeting, but the courts are still taking a dim view of it.
Or most of it, anyway. One major part of the order, in both versions, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and cuts the overall refugee quota for 2017 from 110 000 to 50 000. These sections are not at issue in the 4th Circuit case, and there's not much any court can do about them: the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is run largely at the discretion of the president. In one case, state governments are arguing that refugee numbers can only be reduced after 'appropriate consultation' w…

Dissecting the US refugee swap

I have an article in Overland, examining the US-Australia refugee swap deal: how the Australian government is forced into pursuing this option because of the long-term cruelty of our policy, and how it perversely puts asylum seekers' fates in the hands of Donald Trump. Have a look.

Brief thoughts on the incredible shrinking US refugee deal

The Washington Post reported last night that Malcolm Turnbull's Saturday phone call with Donald Trump was, contrary to initial reports, a huge disaster. Trump hates the refugee-swap deal, under which the US will resettle refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru and Australia will take refugees from Central America. If anyone was unsure about the reporting, he helpfully tweeted a few hours later about the "dumb deal". Lots of freaking out has ensued, particularly from Americans. Scattered comments, before I leave for the morning to work (which at the moment, depressingly enough, means reading more about refugees.)

1. The key to thinking about this is to realise that Australians, on the whole, do not care what happens to these refugees. Obviously a sizeable and passionate minority do, but taken together we have demonstrated over the years total political indifference to their plight. The refugee swap was announced in November last year. Before that, the Turnbull government …

Getting angry: gaps in migration thinking

I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago about Labour's position on free movement, and people tended not to agree with it. The extremely brief recap of that post: it's not worse to have migration controls with Europe than it is to have them with the rest of the world. The ideally just policy is to have open borders generally. But a policy position that says "immigrants are not the cause of our problems, but now that we're resetting our relationship with Europe to parallel our relationship with the world, we'll have migration controls as we do with everywhere" is a regrettable but probably necessary concession to current political reality, aimed at defusing rising political xenophobia, and should be treated that way - not as some kind of deep act of evil.
Your mileage will probably still vary on that, and I'm not going to go over it again. But I think it's an interesting window onto two (related) distortions in how we tend to think about migration pol…

Labour and free movement

Even more than everywhere else in politics, immigration is an area where the reasons politicians support a policy and the objective merits and demerits of that policy rarely have much to do with each other. Some of the most important merits relate to the benefits to people overseas, and those are never even considered. But even taking a narrower view, immigration policies are supported and defended for a variety of nakedly political reasons, many of them deeply morally troubling, which don't really have anything to do with their impacts on society.
With few exceptions, immigration is not a main driver of economic deprivation or even of social disenfranchisement. So it's usually right to be suspicious of politicians who come out saying they support reducing immigration. The policy is not going to be a way of massively improving the lives of voters; its actual effects, one way or another, are probably going to be marginal. So why are they bringing it up? Most of the time, the a…

14/12: Aleppo, humanitarian visas, & time for some game theory

I'm trying to get in the habit of blogging more regularly again. It's been a long time though - since 2012, basically - and I'm facing the problem that I now have a much higher standard for how sensible an opinion has to be before I'm willing to publish it. So I'm going to try doing a daily post about a few different things, not pretending to have a really well-developed take on any of them. (Daily once my holiday's over, anyway.)
I am a big disbeliever in writing things that have been written better (or even only as well) somewhere else before, just for the sake of it being me who wrote them. So this'll try to stick to stuff that you (typical reader of my blog; I know what you're like) wouldn't read if you didn't read it here. Short today - here goes...
Aleppo is captured: Syrian government forces and allies have almost completed their capture of eastern Aleppo, which has been held by rebel forces for several years. The capture is extraordina…

The power of crayons: children's art, war, and politics

I have an article out this week in Lighthouse, an Oxford student magazine. You should grab a copy of the magazine, if you can; it's not available online yet. You can read my piece here. It's part of a symposium on the arts in international relations, and reflects on what children's art from zones of war and crisis can tell us about those disasters and about ourselves.

Banning boat arrivals

Three years plus a few months ago, shortly after Kevin Rudd replaced Julia Gillard as Prime Minister and Labor leader and shortly before the ALP was crushed at a federal election, Rudd announced a new refugee policy. No asylum seeker arriving by boat would ever be resettled in Australia.
A couple of days ago, in a policy move that's generating a lot more confusion and tea-leaf-reading than most, Peter Dutton apparently re-announced this policy. That's not exactly what happened, but I think it's the best way to understand it. Dutton was declaring that nobody who arrived by boat would ever be able to come to Australia on any type of visa, including family reunification or even as a tourist. This is an incredibly marginal, basically zero-impact policy change, and if the government really cared about doing this it could just do it. There's no need for fanfare, because the change is so minor. That's why it's better understood as an attempt to get the headlines sayin…

Working out refugee policy

Australian refugee policy has a lot of moving parts, and it's easy to get lost in them. If you listened to the Guardian politics podcast this week, for instance, you might have heard some complaining about the lack of logic in Malcolm Turnbull pledging to accept 5000 refugees from Costa Rica, while continuing to refuse resettlement to the roughly 1200 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. On the flipside, it's become a regular line on the right that we can't be too generous towards refugees without encouraging more to get on boats and so causing more deaths at sea.

Both of these arguments are confused and misleading. The reality is that Australia is fairly unique among countries in our relationship to the refugee crisis and policies responding to it. For the last year and a half, Germany has operated a generous policy towards asylum seekers which involves letting people who arrive at its borders enter the country to claim asylum, treating them quite well while their claims …