Migration, Asylum and Solidarity: Sorry, is that a euphemism?
By Mariangela Veikou
Photo taken from The Foreigner’s Home, a film documentary (2018) on Toni Morrison’s 2006 exhibition she guest-curated at the Louvre titled: “The Foreigner’s Home”.
This blog brings together perspectives of race and the politics of solidarity in the New Migration and Asylum Pact (New Pact). Furthermore, this contribution makes some room for analogies to be drawn between such events as the renewed discussion on the criminalization of migration and the recent impositions on rights and liberties that governments are imposing upon citizens since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.
The way solidarity has been managed remains a controversial issue, especially from a humanistic perspective. As it stands, the New Pact makes no real mention of the rights of refugees and migrants, nor does it address with clarity their protection challenges. Under the New Pact some steps might have been taken to reverse the bleak conditions of the past regime. In fact, these conditions are amplified without offering relief measures.
With regards to the section on solidarity in the Pact, we need to unpack the meaning of solidarity, as it plays out in different ways. For example, we are looking at two kinds of problems: Firstly, with regards to the demand for a more effective enforcement strategy, it brought about the introduction of a so called ‘solidarity à la carte’, in the sense that the states ‘divide up tasks between them - instead of the previous one-size-fits-all approach’ (Karageorgiou & Gauci, 2019). Thus, essentially, it is a solidarity shown exclusively to members states between themselves and not a solidarity shown to individuals and in particular migrants. It is a solidarity based on exclusion, used for power and community building. The member states, here again, aim at rationalizing the concentration and accumulation of their privilege and justifying it.
Secondly, under the umbrella of the principle of solidarity, the management of migration continues, to a large extent, to be outsourced to third-parties. While these externalized operations effectively may contain migration en masse, they also sustain and highlight the widespread abuses on migrants. In that sense, the solidarity section of the Pact does little, if anything, to change the current narrative on migration with its dehumanizing and racialized policies. It is compounded with policies that are put in place to target control, securitization and safety. There are no references of any specific focus on how racism feeds into these toxic security-focused narratives. This remains a major concern.
Therefore, I would also like to focus on another term which is of importance in this regard: racism. The Pact could have sparked and addressed demands of justice and equality and offered the potential to create important changes in the way migration and asylum are regulated and governed. Yet, it reads as if coming from the established culture of, essentially, experimentation on refugees and migrants. The Pact is mirroring again a system of exclusion (i.e., racialized implementations in government provisions on detention and asylum, border security prioritized over access to asylum, etc.). We need to face up to the fact that there are strong elements of how racism is playing out in it.
It is interesting to see how racism complicates the conversations on migration and asylum in Europe still today. The Pact legitimizes the decision the EU member States took not to save refugees. Not only that, but the discourse is pushing through that this decision has become ‘normal’. What are the functions of normalizing such decision making? Among the member states, the political rhetoric is all about a ‘shameless normalisation’ of exclusion from basic rights, to use the term explained in the recent work of Ruth Wodak (2020), which signals that ‘anything goes’ in dealing with refugees. Ideologies and political content which were tabooed before, are being openly spoken in the political agenda of today and repeated, thus normalized. About solidarity, what we have come to see is that the Pact has taken over the conservative discourse of exclusion and is working towards its normalization. The way in which the morality of solidarity and anti-racism is processed politically in the Pact, does not seem to be any different from the previous regime.
To link it with the recent pandemic management in Europe, we observe that social inequalities are revealed and exposed even more during these times. We can draw an analogy between the rights of citizens trumped in the pandemic and the rights of migrants controlled by a state border migration regime. We can notice the following: governments rushing to legislate as a first response, public protests to imposed restrictions on civil liberties, and the closing of borders. The legitimizing discourse is that we need to be concerned about our own vulnerable people and we do not have room or resources to take in others.
Having been encouraged for so long in our societies to think as ‘individuals’, Covid-19 and, especially, the vaccine logic are inviting us to think that we are all in this together. But this is not the case in practice. The spirit of solidarity that is expected of people in the pandemic is dismissed for a logic that prioritizes a select few. The protection that people would require as the consequences of this pandemic are felt are not underwritten by supportive governments. Many people are, simply and readily, cast aside. This is reminiscent of the approach to migration with the imposed conditions and the restrictive regime for migrants on their rights and freedoms. Consider, too, that the ‘corona acts’ have been passed in many cases practically within a single day by European governments, while measures in response to migration emergencies have been dragged out excruciatingly for many years with heavy feet.
We urgently need a more humane and accountable approach to migration. It remains unclear if the EU is intending to address the reality of the underlying systems of exclusion and racism as a dominant characteristic of it with this new migration Pact. It is vital that we ask these kinds of hard questions because we need to aspire to politics as a process and engagement that plays out and transforms in ways that are in solidarity and enhancing for human rights and values.
Mariangela Veikou is a researcher of Public Law and Governance at Tilburg Law School. Her main research interests lie in governance and rhetoric on migration and asylum in Europe, meanings of citizenship, diversity and integration with a focus on the digital dynamics in society.