Monday 10 December 2018

Colette Browne: 'A collection of vague principles on immigration has been weaponised by far-right politicians to stoke hatred'

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The Government is due to sign a UN migration pact next week - despite increasingly delusional criticism of the plan from hard-right factions.

There were celebrations in the UN in July as, after more than a year of negotiations, 192 countries provisionally endorsed a plan to promote safe and orderly migration, reduce human trafficking and work to eradicate the causes of irregular migration.

The finalised agreement is a brief 31-page document which contains 23 objectives, such as countries should "provide access to basic services for migrants" and "save lives and establish co-ordinated international efforts on missing migrants".

As well as treating migrants with a minimum level of humanity, other objectives seek to bolster international security by ensuring "all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation" and managing "borders in an integrated, secure and co-ordinated manner".

Given the difficulty the UN experiences in getting collective agreement on anything, particularly an issue as controversial as migration, it hardly needs to be stated that the pact, while laudable, is nothing more than a wish-list.

If it was anything more, 192 countries - every member of the UN except the United States, where immigration policy today includes housing children in cages - would never have signalled their agreement to the text.

It is not legally binding, there are no enforcement measures for countries who do not abide by the pact and it creates no new legal rights for anyone who arrives in any of the countries who sign up to the agreement.

From the outset, the pact "reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction". So, states remain sovereign and can't be forced to change, or adopt, measures as a result of the pact.

Given the anaemic nature of the agreement, those leading the negotiations didn't envision any problems in advance of an intergovernmental conference to formally adopt the agreement in Morocco on December 10 and 11.

They were wrong. Politicians who seek to weaponise migration to stoke hatred and advance their own political careers were quickly issuing incendiary statements and distorting the agreement beyond all recognition.

Instead of a legally inert collection of vague principles on how best to deal with migration, the agreement was reimagined as imposing cast-iron commitments that would inexorably lead to the countries being overrun by migrants.

Given the political regime in Hungary at the moment, where prime minister Victor Orbán has stated "we do not want our own colour… to be mixed with those of others", it should be no surprise that country was among the first to reject the pact.

Other states where nationalist and right-wing governments are in power have followed suit: Israel, Poland, Bulgaria, Australia and the Czech Republic.

In Slovakia, Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, who was president of the UN general assembly when the plan was agreed, resigned when the pact was renounced there. The debate in these countries, about the implications of signing up to the agreement, has been characterised by scaremongering, xenophobia, hysteria, conspiracy theories, duplicity and lies.

On the internet, this disinformation campaign has spread like wildfire as cynical misanthropes lead the gormless and the misguided on a merry dance of frenzied outrage.

One clip, of Dutch MEP Marcel de Graaff alleging that, under the pact, criticism of migration could become a criminal offence and EU citizens could be jailed for expressing an opinion, went viral. Predictably, nowhere in the agreement is there any reference to criminalising criticism.

What the plan actually states, as part of the objective of "eliminating all forms of discrimination", is that countries should "enact, implement or maintain legislation that penalises hate crimes" and media outlets that "systematically promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination" should not receive public funding.

The fact Mr de Graaff's claim had no basis in reality didn't stop it being shared tens of thousands of times online or being breathlessly reported by the right-wing 'Daily Express' newspaper in Britain, in which the politician was described as "a leading MEP".

In reality, the last time Mr de Graaff was in the news was back in March when 50 fellow MEPs attempted to have him censured by the European Parliament for describing Muslims as non-evolved and a "dangerous threat" to European society.

Last year, nearly 260 million migrants, one in every 30 people, were recorded across the world - up from 173 million in 2000. The vast majority of these are migrants who move between countries legally, enhancing economies, countries and cultures.

Irish people are among the biggest per capita migrants on the planet. Currently, more than 17pc of Irish-born people live abroad, the highest share of any country in the OECD. When we discuss migrants and migration, we are not just speaking about those desperate people attempting to flee war, famine and recession by travelling to Europe across the Mediterranean, we are talking about our own family members and friends.

The UN migration pact is not some kind of cunning masterplan to dismantle borders and undermine the sovereignty of national governments.

It is simply an acknowledgement that migration is an issue that all countries have to grapple with and that co-operation will lead to better outcomes - in terms of the experiences of migrants, international security and nations' peace and prosperity.

Instead of reactively dealing with occasional crises in migration, as happened in Europe in 2016, the pact is a means for countries to proactively collaborate to lessen the impact of these tragic events.

It also, and this bears repeating, does not create any positive obligation on any country to do anything. The plan is merely a co-operative framework of principles that countries notionally agree to work towards.

Anyone in any doubt about this can simply spend the less than 30 minutes it takes to read the document - which is more than a lot of its loudest critics have bothered doing.

Politicians, like Mr Orban, who do not want to see the dilution of their country's alleged national purity, are not exemplars that we should be following. They, and not migrants, are the real threat to Western civilisation and the ideals of democracy.

The Irish Government should sign the pact next week and use whatever diplomatic influence it has to convince wavering countries to follow its example.

Irish Independent

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