Why Helping 'Economic Migrants' May Help Stop Others Becoming 'Refugees'
By Georgia Cole / theconversation.com

With the prevalence of reports documenting the worrying conditions faced by individuals within Eritrea, and the huge numbers leaving the country, one might ask: who remains in the country and why?

Conversations with colleagues and friends within Eritrea last year often turned to people discussing why they had decided not to leave. For many, their rationale was simple: because somebody they knew already had. Those who had left constituted the “lungs” whose remittances kept those within the country alive. The question then is what would happen if that flow dried up.

All of their dependants, whether brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, friends and wider relatives, would have to rethink the feasibility of remaining in Eritrea. Many reasoned that the only solution would be to themselves cross the border and leave their country. The country of 6.7 million is located in the Horn of Africa.

For many reasons, leaving Eritrea is an intimidating prospect. Every stage of the onward journey carries danger, and no certainty of employment. Those who leave Eritrea forfeit their automatic right to return and their rights to assets within the country. It potentially places their relatives and friends at risk of being accused by the government of assisting their escape.

For others, love for their country runs deep and they do not wish to abandon it after its hard-fought struggle for independence. Their desire to stay put is nonetheless linked to the ability of others around them to move.

Beyond the contribution that gold and mining make to the Eritrean economy, the World Bank says that “economic conditions remain challenging”. Government policies have impoverished those surviving in Eritrea without external support. These include:

  • indefinite national service;

  • restrictions on citizens' domestic and international movements; and

  • reports of harsh punishments for those transgressing some of the state’s more repressive policies.

Many of the those individuals that are stopped from entering Europe, barricaded in camps in Calais, or ping-ponged between European member states on an increasingly frequent basis, are therefore part of complex transnational coping strategies.

Futility of ‘migrant’, ‘refugee’ debate

A distraction from understanding the problems faced by individuals in Europe and at its frontiers right now has been the obsession with how to categorise them. This is done purely according to their status in the immediate “here and now”.

Why people move is always a mixture of voluntary and involuntary factors. The compartmentalisation of people into economic migrants or refugees therefore obscures the fundamental ways in which these two groups are intimately related.

As is so clear in Eritrea, to mitigate against the worst effects of the state and its market, those individuals who can leave become “economic migrants”. What is important is that they do so precisely to protect their families and friends from becoming refugees themselves.

Plans by the EU to reduce the numbers of individuals leaving Eritrea through development aid thus epitomises the inability of policymakers to join up the dots between those leaving the country and those staying behind. Proposals such as these are weak for at least two reasons:

  • when it is the violence perpetrated by a state which forces citizens to leave, channelling aid through those very same institutions may well fail to address any of the original problems; and

  • a few million pounds of development aid, as was the case in Eritrea, is often nothing compared to the scale of remittances that many states receive through their diaspora.

Role of remittances

Policies that deny people the opportunity to provide financial support to friends and relatives outside of Europe, by seeing “migrants” and “refugees” as discrete groups of individuals, are self-defeating. We should rather support individuals to work in Europe, thus enabling them to send remittances to those who may not wish to undertake that journey themselves.

Allowing certain individuals to stay in Europe for work prevents whole families having to cross militarised borders, board ramshackle boats or pay huge fares to be smuggled in appalling conditions overland. Remittances provide a lifeline, both to individuals who remain within countries that are experiencing high degrees of violence, persecution and state failure, and for those who wish to remain in refugee camps near their country of origin.

Evidence abounds about the importance of remittances and the value of facilitating these global flows of money. The celebration of remittance economies nonetheless seems to have remained detached in the popular media from the broader debates on migration and asylum.

Remittances are not only quantitatively greater, but also qualitatively more effective at assisting local populations and catalysing their development.

Linking the importance of remittances to the debate about whether people are economic migrants or refugees is critical. Images of young women or men sitting on fences at Melilla or boarding trains in Europe often invoke the label “economic migrant”, as if to dismiss the critical importance of their journeys.

On the contrary, and alongside the fact that on too many occasions this label is wrongly applied instead of granting asylum, in certain situations it is entirely because of these “migrants” that other individuals in their families are not forced to become “refugees”.

Allowing people to come, work and send back remittances preempts the need for more people to leave their homes to escape the devastating effects of war, violence and economic collapse. In building fences, bombing boats and blocking borders, however, we undermine these strategies and contribute towards forcing certain people to leave their countries and claim asylum elsewhere.

Regardless of the labels used, it seems naive and counterproductive not to join these debates and movements together.


Main image: Mickael, from Eritrea, sits close to a security fence on the main access route to the ferry harbour terminal in Calais, France. Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 19,242 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 12,501 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 12,437 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 11,260 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 5,047 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
Forget Air Force One, Pentagon Wastes Billions and Billions Every Month
Nadia Prupis · 4,653 views today · President-elect Donald Trump's focus on single Boeing contract ignores enormous waste of bloated Pentagon budget
Stunning Summary of US Imperialism and Native Resistance... on MSNBC!
4 min · 2,485 views today · On The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC, Lawrence explains why a protest by Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us of the history American always tries to forget.
The Most Powerful Algorithm in the World
Joe Brewer · 2,414 views today · After the insanity of the U.S. election, a lot of people are blaming Facebook for its algorithms that parse us into ideological bubbles and spread “fake news” and other kinds...
DREAM: A Spoken Word Meditation For When Life Is Kicking Your Ass
4 min · 1,719 views today · If life is kicking your ass and the general un-coolness of everybody on planet erf is making you want to off yourself, TALK to someone: 800-273-8255 (national suicide...
Amanda Abbington Introduces iAnimal - 42 Days in the Life of Chickens
4 min · 1,323 views today · Shot undercover in British factory farms and slaughterhouses, this immersive 360° video gives you a birds-eye view of what happens to chicken from farm to plate.
The Other Way of Knowing
Lilian Na’ia Alessa · 1,322 views today · Western science and Indigenous worldviews are often seen as incompatible, with the Indigenous view usually being far less valued by society at large. But an inside look at...
Standing Rock Wisdom: How Sacred, Nonviolent Activism Has the Power to Succeed
Charles Eisenstein · 1,252 views today · I am told by Native American friends active at Standing Rock that the elders are counseling the Water Protectors to undertake each action prayerfully and to stay off the...
How a White Supremacist Became a Civil Rights Activist
Araz Hachadourian · 1,103 views today · The story of a KKK leader’s transformation shows us that we need not live forever with the kind of violence we saw in Charleston this month.
Dear Activists, Maybe It's Time to Admit That We've Got It All Wrong
Mickey Z. · 1,024 views today · “The first step in the revolution is eye contact.” - Alicen Grey
Sean Carroll - The Meaning of Life
7 min · 961 views today · The world keeps happening in accordance with its rules; it's up to us to make sense of it and give it value. Sean Carroll Music: Moby - God Moving Over the Face of the Waters
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 933 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 886 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Veterans at Standing Rock Ask Forgiveness for War Crimes Against Tribal Nations
Jen Hayden · 851 views today · Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has reported something wholly unexpected happened at the Standing Rock Reservation today. The...
Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil, Says Major Scientific Review
Nafeez Ahmed · 813 views today · And is twice as powerful than previously thought
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 768 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Why Helping 'Economic Migrants' May Help Stop Others Becoming 'Refugees'