Everyone seems to be talking about “the migrant crisis” with consecutive “special” programmes tonight on BBC1 (Desperate Journeys: Europe’s Migrant Crisis) and on ITV1 (Breaking into Britain: Tonight). A picture of a dead Syrian child being recovered from the beaches of Turkey seem to have brought about a reverse of Cameron policy (not sure if Osborne has U-turned as well).
We seem to lack a coherent approach to a number of mixed issues;
- the crises in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and people fleeing for their lives;
- poverty in parts of the world leading people to migrate for a better life;
- people smugglers;
- a chaotic approach to planning public services in the UK;
- a toxic relationship between the current British Government and Europe;
- (very parochially) fear of UKIP undermining Conservative support.
One of the issue is that in respect of “borders” there are multiple mindsets.
In the UK our concept of “borders” is relatively clear and stable. Apart from the independence of Ireland our borders have been stable for centuries. Again, apart from the Northern Ireland – Republic of Ireland border, our borders are coasts with significant sea crossings to our neighbours. You cannot “wander” across “our” borders – except in Ireland.
In Europe “borders” are less clear and stable – particularly in central Europe where not only have borders been fought over (as in those of Alsace) but even countries’ identities have varied (as in the Unification of Germany, the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the breakup of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia). You can wander across many borders and this has affected how people view borders – so much so that in much of Europe the Schengen agreement means that “all internal borders [have been abolished] in lieu of a single external border” [citation]. Borders are also recognised as “shared”.
Elsewhere (such as in parts of the Middle East and Africa) “borders” are equally unclear and unstable – but were drawn not by the people that live there but by outsiders (often the British – in cahoots with France, Belgium or Germany). How much are borders recognised by the people on the ground?
Will this affect how migrants and “host communities” view people’s rights of movement?
- In Britain we seem neurotic about people on the other side of “our” borders
- In (mainland) Europe many seem more accommodating
- In the Middle East and Africa many have no regard for borders and will trek long distances for a better life and see nothing wrong in crossing “lines on a map”.
We live in different mindsets and we need to understand the mindset of “the other”.