Friday, June 02, 2006

The Tip of the Iceberg


I stated recently that there are now about 200 million of us who live outside the borders of the nation-state where we – by mere random chance – happened to be born.

(Well, actually in an over-optimistic (not usually one of my faults) and over-populous feat of misreading and mathmatical ineptitude, I actually said 200 000 million, but I’ve corrected that now. Mea culpa.)

I’m one of that 200 million.

Primarily, I’d categorise myself as an economic migrant with regular status – at least that’s what I am in my head. Technically though, mine has been a case of hopping from one non-immigrant visa to the next, with some country hopping thrown in for good measure. I started out as a (non)migrant in the U.S.: once it became impossible to remain there legally I became a (non)migrant in the U.K. At least my current visa offers a tenuous path to residency.

Obviously, migration is like everything else: mixed motives go with the territory and my motives were no exception. A big part of it was wanting to keep on studying the thing I loved most – which it took me a good seven years of struggle and moral angst to finally abandon in favour of something that – well, I would say it lets me sleep at night, but that’s a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Part of it was curiousity – wanting to see the heart of the Evil Empire up close and personal (and yes, in the time and place from whence I come, the United States was without doubt the Evil Empire. N.Z. is a client state but that doesn’t mean the populace likes it too much.) Part of it was peer pressure: most of my close friends had left already. Part of it was that leaving was – in many ways at least – the path of least resistance. Which is a bit odd if you think about it, given that emigration is almost always an experience of profound dislocation – and it certainly did turn out to be so in my case. But nevertheless, filthy lucre was up there somewhere very near the top of the list – not in the sense of a desire to earn millions but certainly in the sense of not wanting to worry about electricity bills and not being able to afford a doctor any more – and for that reason I shall always class myself as an economic migrant first and foremost.

Anyway, personal digressions and self-indulgence aside, I thought it might be interesting – especially in light of the excellent work Man Eegee and Migra Matters are doing around migration in the U.S. context to find out a bit more about the other 199 999 999. Where do we live? Why did we migrate? And who are ‘we’ anyway?

Well fortunately, the Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM) have been doing some work on answering some of these questions. There’s a lot there to disagree with as well as to agree with (at least if you're like me and have somewhat un-nuanced views on borders and the desirability of opening them forthwith), but it’s well worth the read.

Mostly likely though, they underestimate the count of undocumented migrants, so really, it’s 199 999 999+ of us.

‘We’ – and it’s one of the very few ‘we’s’ to which I shall lay unequivocal claim – are non-nationals. But if we were a nation, we would be the fifth most populous on Earth depending on that undetermined (but valued!) number of us who are ‘irregular.’

Still, we are only about 3% of the world's population in total or perhaps a little more.

Migration has often been thought of as a young man’s game, but almost half of us are women.

We come from everywhere and we go everywhere: the “distinction that has been made between country of origin, transit and destination” has become increasingly difficult to sustain” (GCIM, 5). In other words, you cannot escape us.

49 million of us live in Asia. 16 million of us live in Africa. 6 million of us live in Latin America and the Caribbean. The rest of us, if only by process of elimination, live in North America, Europe (that’s me!), Russia and the states of the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Australasia and Oceania (and doubtless other places too that are not so easily categorised).

A few of us (like me) are educationally, economically and racially privileged: most of us are not.

About 20 million of us are refugees and most of that subset of us lead desperate lives indeed.

An awful lot of us are economic migrants and an awful lot of us send money ‘home.’ In terms of developmental impact that’s hugely important. Although the extent to which we have a home is questionable. Notions of ‘home’ are – in my, and in the experience of those very few of us for whom I feel entitled to speak – among the very first things to become problematic. It might be more appropriate to say that a lot of us send money to people whom we love or care for.

It’s sad but true that some of us are trafficked. Some of us are forced migrants. But slamming the door in our faces is no solution to this.

Whoever we are and whereever we are, we did not surrender our humanity the day we crossed the border. All too often – though this would be true even if it had been only one of us – we crossed the border because it was the only way we had to preserve our humanity.

And here’s the important bit – we migrants are only the iceberg’s tip. Like most icebergs, 90% lies below the waterline. For after all, be you the most stay-at-home person from the most stay-at-home family – still, most likely you have migrant ancestors and relatives, distant or near, migrant friends and colleagues, close or casual. (Were we a nation, we would after all be the fifth most populous on Earth.) So even if you have not yet yourself ventured out into that wider world, it has nonetheless most likely ventured towards you, smiling, with welcoming hand extended. Mostly likely, you, too, are part of diaspora. The question that remains is whether you will choose to claim it.

Open the borders.
The world was never meant to be a prison.

"The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out “ J.R.R. Tolkien, (b. Bloemfontein, S.A., 1892, d. U.K., 1973).


5 Comments:

Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

I hope you will cross-post this to every site you can think of. This is one of the best no nonsense, plain truth articles I have read, and I don't think anyone has made this combination of simple but profound points quite as succinctly.

One in five earth residents have declared ourselves to be citizens of the world, even if we have not realized that is what we did.

That is, to me, the real meaning of the word "globalization," nothing to do with corporations, yet another new framing of slavery, neo-feudalism, or any of that, but one world, or the "global village," if you prefer that term.

Thank you, honorary great-granddaughter, for such a symphonic and hopeful reminder of who we are!

6/03/2006 3:27 am  
Blogger dove said...

Thanks DTF
Well it's up at Human Beams and MLW -- sinking without trace at the latter I'm afraid [grin]

6/03/2006 9:49 am  
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7/21/2006 6:36 am  
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7/23/2006 12:33 am  

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