From Cape Town to the Mediterranean Sea: Fatal International Nationalism and Migrant-Phobia

Jenna Norman

Residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean assist passengers on an overcrowded sloop. The boat had just arrived from Haiti carrying 139 people. UNHCR / 25 February 2011

Photo via Flickr  UNHCR / 25 February 2011

At polar opposite ends of the continent, migrants and refugees assemble to travel to where they hope they can escape unemployment, poverty and conflict to find new lives in ‘richer’ countries. Despite causing problems for months, this week in both South African cities and off the shores of Libya anti-immigration clashes came to tragic heads. In the Mediterranean Sea almost 900 migrants drowned when overcrowded migrant, refugee ships and human trafficking boats sunk whilst travelling to the ‘soft belly’ of Southern Europe, namely Italy and Greece. Meanwhile in South Africa there have been violent, gruesome and fatal protests between immigrants, refugees and nationals that have displaced hundreds and caused immense violence. The parallels between these situations are palpable in that whilst the European catastrophe was not explicitly pre-meditated violence it is implicitly a result of dangerous anti-immigration rhetoric in European countries similar to that observable in South Africa. In times of European economic crisis, the current body of MEP’s elected in 2014 by democracies in Europe whose electorates bought into anti-immigration fascism and fear-mongering cut the search and rescue mission Mare Nostrum (which saved an average of 150,000 lives per annum previously) in favour of their cheaper and thus less comprehensive alternative: Triton. It has been speculated that this irresponsible cut back of safety measures was intended to serve as a deterrent to those wanting to travel to Europe. This was a reckless and inhuman solution and no doubt played a role in the Mediterranean tragedy. Despite European centrism in our media, a similar atmosphere prevails in South Africa where immigrants ‘stealing jobs’ is trotted out as an explanation for the struggling economy and 24% unemployment rate. The recent violence in the country has lead to a ‘fight fire with fire’ backlash on the continent with Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique and Somalia all repatriating their citizens and threatening border and business closures. The repercussions have catalysed a swift return to distrust and nationalism in Africa as xenophobia feeds yet more xenophobia.

But do migrants really steal jobs?

The net benefit of immigration can be substantiated with both quantitative and qualitative evidence. In South Africa international migrants make up a miniscule 4% of the overall population and 14.68% of these migrants are unemployed with many of them fulfilling discriminatory, precarious, underpaid or unwanted labour undesirable to national citizens. (Source) Closer to home, here in the UK net migration statistics are often tampered with in order to scare-monger and scape-goat immigrants yet in reality, whilst net migration increases so does the net benefit to the British economy. (Source.) In 2013, whilst 530,000 people came to the UK 317,000 left to find new homes on the continent therefore net migration remains within the realm of the European average at 212,000 (rounded.) Furthermore, these immigrants cannot do right for doing wrong in the UK media whilst if they are employed they are ‘stealing British jobs’ and if they are not they are health/welfare tourists. Conversely, elsewhere in the continent net migration is falling rapidly and other European states such as Spain and Romania are suffering ‘brain drains’ and economic woes as a result. With and beyond these statistics, immigration universally serves to make a cultural contribution whilst promoting tolerance: it is a justified yet exploited fear of the unknown, ignorance and a colonial overhand of superiority that has lead to many rural parts of Britain with low ethnic diversity populations voting for anti-immigration, anti-EU parties such as UKIP. A similar story can be told of France, Germany, Greece and indeed South Africa, particularly in reference to superiority complexes. We live in a time of paradoxical zeitgeists with the global means to economic ends being encouraged and praised whilst the free movement of those fulfilling the labour that enables said ends is berated by media establishments and politicians alike. In world of interdependency, this twenty-first century fascism is dangerous, irresponsible and inhuman.

How can we tackle this crisis?

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that people are coalescing in certain parts of the globe and not others causing strains on public services in overpopulated areas and economic downward spirals in countries left behind. Whilst this is no excuse for a return to fascism it is also a significant threat to a world increasingly characterised by inequality. Despite the popular notion to do so, depoliticising the issue in favour of ‘humanitarian disaster’ rhetoric is too little too late and allows for a lack of responsibility from key players in this disaster. Arguably, both South Africa as a relatively developed and progressive nation and the European Union have responsibilities to make significant efforts in stabilising central African states in order to counter the flight of people from poverty and conflict. They also have responsibilities to provide asylum to those in need. Nevertheless, it seems evident that this is not an issue that can be solved overnight as, much like other threats in international security, it requires a changing of attitudes in the minds of citizens and policy makers alike. It will only be tackled via multilateral solutions that require a cosmopolitan framework of ‘global citizenship, rights and responsibilities.’ These new frontiers in foreign policy are not, however, as existentially threatening as this piece and others might suggest: ultimately, there is enough land and (for the time being) resources for the global population yet whilst these remain polarised and disparate they will pose a threat to developed and developing nations alike.

By Jenna Norman

For more on this see Jenna’s personal blog where she enquires how news headlines are inherently gendered and thus affect women and men differently and disproportionately:

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