Migration is the morally, politically, and economically defining issue of the twenty-first century. How we respond to it reveals a great deal about the state of our society, the integrity of our communities, and the prospects for our collective future.
It is a challenge that will only grow in the coming decades. Today, there are more migrants than at any time in history—over one billion globally. This constitutes one-seventh of the world’s population, of which about a quarter live outside their country of origin. And the pace of migration is increasing. People are on the move everywhere and in greater numbers than ever before. This is part of the process of globalization, but it is also driven by other events as well, such as wars, catastrophes, and poverty. In addition, television and other visual media have shown those in developing countries how much better life is elsewhere. Naturally they want to share in this better life.
Migration is not, of course, a concern merely in Europe or North America. In fact, the movement of people is greatest between developing countries, where just over half of all migrants live. For example, Ethiopia hosts seven hundred thousand migrants, and Kenya five hundred thousand.
Within much of Europe, the right of free movement of people has long been a sacrosanct principle. It was augmented in 1985 by the Schengen Agreement, signed by five of the early members of the European Community. Schengen abolished border controls and the use of passports among them. Today, twenty-two of the twenty-eight European Union (EU) member states are part of the Schengen Zone, and they are joined by several non-EU countries.
In the midst of the current refugee crisis in Europe, the Schengen Zone is gravely at risk of collapse as a result of the reintroduction of temporary border controls in many countries. This is indicative of a severe breakdown of trust among European states, which could endanger the union itself, and which must be reversed.
Crises in regard to large-scale movements of people, and particularly of refugees, are evident in many parts of the world and on every continent. Today in fact, we are living the worst crisis of forced displacement since the Second World War. Almost sixty million people have been compelled to flee their homes due to conflict or other dangers. The rising pace of this displacement is startling. Just five years ago, ten thousand people, on average, were forced from their homes every single day. In 2015, that number exceeded forty thousand people. There is something dreadfully wrong with our world.
Europe faces unique problems in dealing with an influx of refugees—one that is admittedly large, but the influx should not have become unmanageable. A union of more than 500 million citizens should never have felt so threatened by the arrival of a million or so desperate souls. Yet, the impact of this crisis has come to threaten the process of European integration. And it is not just a matter of controlling the chaos at our borders, stemming the flows of refugees, or providing them the care that they desperately need—especially in winter when the turbulent Aegean Sea claims dozens of victims every week. This is, in many ways, the easiest challenge we face.
The hardest problem involves building successful, diverse communities that serve not only natives, but also the thirty-five million residents of the European Union who were not born there. We cannot afford to live alienated from each other. In other words, the greatest challenge we face over the next generation is also our oldest one: how to live well together.
Legally, there are different types of migrants. Although all international refugees are migrants, not all international migrants are refugees. Indeed those who can legally claim to be refugees and claim asylum in a country are a much more confined category than the normal use of the term “refugee” might imply. Legally, refugees are defined by a convention or international agreement that most nations accepted following the Second World War. The 1951 Refugee Convention was largely the consequence of an acknowledgment of the terrible failures in protection that gave rise to the dreadful suffering and death that took place during the Holocaust.
A searing example of these failures is the history of the MS St. Louis. In 1939, she sailed from Hamburg, Germany, carrying more than nine hundred Jewish refugees, elated by the prospect of liberty. One young boy on that journey, Lothar Molton, wrote in his journal that he was on “a vacation cruise to freedom.” But in what history recorded as the “Voyage of the Damned,” the ship was denied entry to Cuba, the United States, and Canada—despite cabinet-level deliberations in all three countries. Forced to sail back to Europe, the vessel’s captain, a non-Jewish German, refused to return the ship to Germany until all aboard had been given entry to some other country. While his heroism saved hundreds of his passengers, 254 would eventually perish in the Nazi death camps.
The definition of a protected refugee under the Refugee Convention was essentially someone fleeing persecution by their government. This definition was extended later. In particular, in 2004 the European Union included those fleeing serious harm, such as execution or torture, or a serious threat to a civilian’s life through armed conflict. But obviously this definition does not include many other desperate people who deserve support and sanctuary from other circumstances, but who have no right to sanctuary.
Michael Dummett of Oxford University has explained this in the following way: “It needs only a moment’s thought to realize that flight for economic reasons may be as justified and as worthy of sympathy and help as flight from political persecution.” Such refugees might be, for example, escaping famine or environmental disaster. They do not, however, enjoy the right of non-refoulement (non-return) enjoyed by legally defined refugees.
Today, more than 85 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. Most of these hosting countries are, not surprisingly, ones that are closest to those areas from which the refugees are fleeing.
So the experience of Europe this year, while unusual here in the north, is unfortunately commonplace in the global south. Poor countries like Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Uganda, and Ethiopia bear the brunt of the burden of providing protection to the world’s most desperate people.
Last year, we were offered literally a million reminders that the system of refugee protection was failing. Each asylum-seeker bravely crossing the Mediterranean was telling us that something was wrong in countries of first asylum.
How could we have allowed Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to bear the burden of hosting almost five million refugees with negligible backing from the rest of the world? It costs at least $3,000 a year to provide a refugee with a decent level of support; the international community provided just a small fraction of this. When the cracks in the protection system became gaping holes, refugees voted with their feet.
Then, in a panicked effort to deter arrivals, the European Union—the birthplace of the international protection system—jeopardized its tradition of human rights and the basic standards of asylum law. The signal this sends to frontline countries—that they need not fully respect the rules of protection—could be devastating.
In the misguided belief that safeguarding sovereignty means acting unilaterally, governments have resisted an international approach to migration. But as events in the Mediterranean have starkly demonstrated, this approach is self-defeating. It leads to paper-tiger sovereignty, undermines the credibility of democratic governments and the multilateral system, and empowers smugglers and authoritarian populists. We must bring this downward spiral to a halt.
As if all of this were not confusing enough, there are other complications to understanding the chaos unfolding in Europe today. One of these is the EU law known as the Dublin Regulation. This law regulates which country is responsible for processing an asylum seeker’s application and, if they are determined to be refugees, for hosting them. Under the Dublin Regulation, it is the state where the asylum applicant first enters the EU that is responsible for all this. With the huge numbers that have been arriving by boat in recent years in Greece and Italy—and then rapidly moving north—this system has broken down. Confusion reigns in its place. As a result, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to process Syrian asylum applications in Germany rather than returning the asylum seekers to their country of entry, as required by the Dublin Regulation.
Refugees and Barbed Wire Fences
The Mediterranean Sea was crossed by almost one million migrants in 2015. Most are refugees escaping from Syria, Afghanistan, or Eritrea. Some thirty-five hundred are known to have drowned in the attempt, many of them children. The majority of the successful landed in Greece—about eight hundred fifty thousand—with Italy second as an initial country of destination. These often impoverished people generally have paid smugglers to transport them at an average cost of around two to three thousand euros, even though very often the transportation has been on vessels that are grossly unsafe. Most will then spend hundreds or thousands more to reach Germany or Sweden. Apart from smugglers, traffickers in women and children are also active in their insidious trade, and the criminal gangs now operating in both smuggling and trafficking are making large sums of money off the backs of the world’s most vulnerable human beings. The essential point to be made here is that it is a measure of the desperation of these unfortunate people that they are so prepared to risk their lives and treasure on such a journey by land or by sea.
With a total population of 508 million, the European Union should have had absolutely no trouble at all in welcoming and hosting even a million refugees, had it wanted to do so and had the effort been properly organized. But instead, ruinously selfish behavior by some member states has brought the European Union to its knees. There are several honorable exceptions to such behavior, most notably Chancellor Merkel and the German people. They have been extraordinarily generous, not only in welcoming with such compassion a million refugees last year, but also in standing up for the very foundational principles of the European Union. While others proclaimed against Muslim refugees, or otherwise shirked their responsibilities, Chancellor Merkel stood firm in defense of a Europe that does not discriminate, a Europe that recognizes its responsibilities as part of the international system, and a Europe that knows the future belongs to those who best manage diversity.
Yet, despite her heroic efforts, there remains little sign of convergence among Europe’s key leaders and institutions. While praised for her humanitarianism, Chancellor Merkel is seen by most of her counterparts as having made a grave error that exposed Europe to an immeasurable burden. The European Commission, its credibility often unfairly seriously damaged, is at odds with some member states and even with European Council President Donald Tusk, who has taken a hard line on refugees.
One consequence of this paralysis in Europe is the rise and rise of parties in many member states that are not merely anti-immigrant but often xenophobic and racist. Poland in October elected a hard right party to lead it; regional elections in France in December saw the far-right National Front initially gain great success, though this trend was thankfully reversed in the second round on December 13. Even some of the traditionally most liberal states are electing, or are poised to elect, politicians who stand at the extreme right of the political spectrum. The rise of anti-immigrant parties in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands has been particularly remarkable and to many deeply disturbing. Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are now major political figures. All these parties are stimulating anti-immigrant feeling, appealing to the worst instincts of voters, and subverting the very principles on which the European Union was founded. Fences or controlled borders are rapidly being put in place in the Balkans and elsewhere. Public opinion more generally is increasingly apprehensive about the numbers of migrants and refugees coming to Europe. After the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, 70 percent of the Dutch said they favored border closure.
This negative public opinion about refugees is also inflamed by apprehension, often stirred up by histrionic and distorted media accounts, about the number of refugees and immigrants—even while the numbers broadcast are often exaggerated. In fact, in most countries in Europe, citizens believe that there are a great many more foreigners in their countries than there actually are. In the United States, a portion of the public estimates 40 percent of the population is composed of immigrants. In fact it is 13 percent; the numbers in the United Kingdom are not too different.
The razor and barbed wire fences being erected on the Hungarian border to keep out migrants and refugees are particularly ironic, as Hungarians were for so long confined by the Iron Curtain. In 1956, after their failed revolution, some two hundred thousand Hungarian refugees were given protection within a short time throughout Europe and in countries around the world. Yet now, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is the most intransigent and vociferous opponent of refugees in the European Union. It is worth noting that Hungary hosts just seven refugees for every thousand Hungarians; little Lebanon by contrast hosts 232 refugees for every thousand Lebanese—and it does so with a great deal more generosity than does Hungary. But, apart from central and eastern European countries, France, Austria, and even the most generous of hosts—Germany and Sweden—have reimposed temporary border controls.
But it is not only physical walls and fences that are being erected, in a dramatic reversal of their removal in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell. In addition, barriers in the minds of the indigenous populations to the integration of different peoples seem to be taking on new dimensions. Orbán is stoking up prejudice by speaking of barring Muslim migrants and “keeping Europe Christian.” Other central and eastern European leaders have said the same in similarly trenchant and offensive terms. Now, border controls and fences stretch across parts of the Balkans, reinforced with soldiers lobbing tear gas. They have been recently erected by Macedonia, for example, on its border with Greece.
In the most recent Eurobarometer poll, when people were asked to name the most positive result achieved by the European Union, the most popular answer (from 57 percent of respondents) was “free movement of people, goods, and services within the EU.” But this achievement, so important for the future of the whole integration process, is being placed in dire jeopardy. Leaving aside all the more fundamental moral and humanitarian concerns about the rights of refugees, this should deeply worry those who believe, as I do, that European integration is vital for all of Europe.
Another aspect of public opinion established by Eurobarometer polls that runs contrary to developments is that European citizens apparently see both foreign affairs and migration policy as matters that demand European solutions. But the European migration policy to deal with the current situation with humanity and reason—proposed by the European Commission last May—has been rejected by many. These proposals suggested that the refugee burden should be shared more equally across all EU member states, rather than simply leaving most refugees in bankrupt Greece or in Italy. The proposal to redistribute some refugees from those two countries to other member states was based on objective data, including population size and the relative wealth of EU countries. Initially, the necessary majority to pass this binding measure was found within the countries that are part of the Justice and Home Affairs remit of EU competences. However, in December European Council President Tusk declared that there was now no majority among EU governments for a binding quota system. This has to be placed in the context in which, quite correctly, Chancellor Merkel recently told the Bundestag that the survival of the EU’s free-travel Schengen Area hinged on whether national governments could in fact agree on a permanent new regime of sharing refugees.
As such agreement is not forthcoming, a Europe of internal borders (and one showing growing hostility to harboring refugees) is increasingly likely to become an even greater reality than it is today. This is a tragedy. Tension between member states is inevitably going to grow because of the great differences among them in their attitudes towards refugees. It is hardly surprising that Germans, who took in about a million refugees in 2015, and who have promised to take a half million annually for the next few years, should be outraged by, for example, the United Kingdom’s paltry offer of twenty thousand places over five years—and this by a country that has only resettled around five thousand five hundred Syrian refugees since the conflict in that country began.
But it is not just the sharing of refugees that divides Europe. So too does the variable performance of the member states in strengthening their external border controls and the use or non-use in this context of the EU rapid intervention team and common tools for border control that are available. The European Union, for instance, was forced to threaten Greece with suspension from Schengen unless it overhauled its response to the migration crisis. There is a better way, however. In December, the European Commission proposed the creation of a truly united European border guard; rather than retreat into their own national shells, EU member states would be wise to take a bold step forward towards a single European border agency, and, eventually, a single European asylum agency.
This disarray in Europe about refugees from Syria as a result of the antipathy of the population is shared in some respects by the United States. There, 53 percent of adults (in a survey conducted by Bloomberg following the Paris attacks) say that their nation should not continue a program to resettle a mere ten thousand Syrian refugees. Indeed, 11 percent say that they would only favor a limited program to accept Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims totally—a view that President Barack Obama dismissed as being shameful (as indeed it is). These views were largely driven by unfounded fears. The United States has resettled 780,000 refugees since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, and in the fourteen years since then, a mere three of them were implicated in terrorist activity (which did not lead to any attacks).
Clash of Civilizations?
The unfolding refugee drama is an increasingly dreadful one and must be contested. The resulting prospect of larger and larger numbers of refugees being deposited in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan—and indeed in Greece—and living in squalor in a state of virtual imprisonment is unacceptable. Resources, too, for camps in Lebanon and Jordan are already stretched thin, with the World Food Programme (to feed refugees) and indeed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees under severe financial pressure. It is, meanwhile, immoral that the only pathway we offer to desperate refugees to access our protection is to cross the perilous Mediterranean, at great cost and risk of loss of life. We must establish safer passage for those we ultimately will accept.
At another level, relations between the large Muslim population already resident in Europe and the native populations are also coming under stress. This can have implications for societal division of a serious kind. Samuel Huntington published his famous book, The Clash of Civilizations, in 1996. His apocalyptic vision was of a clash between Western society and the Islamic World. As we have seen, part of that Islamic World is not merely in Europe but is now European. Many see the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with its barbarism and proposed caliphate, as the evidence that Huntington was right—that coexistence will lead to division. This type of thinking sees retiring behind borders of one kind or another as the answer.
We must surely not—through the way migration is debated domestically, or in our response to the cry for help from refugees internationally—reject coexistence and multiculturalism. How can we, for example, reject Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS and leave them to die on beaches, in camps, or in frozen rivers in the Balkans? It is worth recalling that ISIS considers refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq as the worst kinds of traitors to their cause of building a modern-day caliphate.
We must now demonstrate not merely our humanity but our belief in the equality and dignity of man and seek in our own society to integrate with the strangers in our midst. Our societies, as Pope Francis underscored recently, “revolve not around the economy but around the sacredness of the human person.” Speaking of migrants specifically, he added: “There needs to be a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery. The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”
Refugees must be required to play their part in accepting our values. Our responses are of course influenced by our strong sense of identity. I think, without any real evidence to support the conclusion, that we Irish have a particularly strong sense of being distinctive and homogenous. George Orwell once defined nationalism in terms of the sense that one is better than others. If the truth is admitted, most of us think that we are lucky to be Irish. Perhaps everyone else more or less feels the same way about their own nationality. We may say that our identity is formed by history and religious conflict, but this often is simplistic because the history of our families or religious affiliations are anything but homogenous.
Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel laureate, put it this way: “The notion of ‘collective identity’ is an ideological fiction.” He pointed out that the “collective denominator” (or being of a certain nationality) can never fully define each one and the “concept of identity when not employed on an exclusively individual scale is inherently reductionist and dehumanizing … of all that has not been imposed by inheritance, geography, or social pressure … true identity springs from the capacity of human beings to resist these influences… .” In the context of maintaining an openness to migrants and refugees, what he is saying here is that we must force ourselves to resist the tendency we all have to reject the unfamiliar and different. We should seek a society and identity that is defined by its values and not by a sense of its nationality.
The evidence of ghettoization of Muslim communities in some countries should act as an incentive to put real effort and resources in particular into integration education. We must avoid the creation of societal communities at all costs. To put this another way, at the heart of our response to the influx of refugees across Europe must be the idea of reinventing the “we” in our societies, of building inclusive communities. We need to commit to a future that recognizes our permanent diversity. And we need to see this as a positive evolution, not as a threat.
This will involve reshaping our labor markets and our public institutions, and will require massive investments in immigrant integration. We are far from doing this. What we have today in Europe is a helter-skelter jumble of systems and policies that not only lead to the deaths of thousands of migrants, but that also fail to meet our labor market needs, while inflaming all the wrong populist political passions and stoking the worst possible instincts in our politicians. This is not inevitable, far from it.
Open, liberal, progressive, democratic societies—let me be clear—are not the norm in most of the world. They are what have distinguished Europe for the past sixty-plus years. Building these societies took a herculean effort—to create a sense of unity and common purpose bound by a set of common ideals. Let’s not sacrifice them on a pyre fueled by fear and neglect. If our democracies and the European project are to thrive, or even survive, over the coming decades, they will have to evolve in concert with the idea of diversity.
It is an idea that frightens many, but it should not. The alternative—the failure of diversity—is the real threat, since it will spawn divided communities, alienation, insecurity. Instead, we must see the strength and opportunity in diversity. It offers us the chance to reimagine and rebuild our communities. To do so, we need to reinvent the common space in our societies so that we can once again pursue common projects, show solidarity with one another, and restore faith in a shared future. Investments in the integration of immigrants, especially at a time when national tills are lean, might not be popular. But they are more essential than ever.
Integration is mostly discussed now as a burden that immigrants are meant to bear. They must learn the language, adopt our traditions, respect our laws. There is, of course, truth to this, but there is a different way to think about the issue. Integration should be about enabling those people who come to our country to reach their full potential—through education, through work, and by participating in our political and social institutions. In this way, they become part of us, and inherently then understand the strength of our values. And in doing so, they reinforce these values. This is, after all, the essence of our contemporary liberal democracies. Our openness is also at the heart of our ability to compete in the twenty-first century. If we are recognized as a society in which people can realize their ambitions, then we will stand apart from most of the world and attract the best and brightest and, at the same time, practically proclaim the values in which we believe.
If we think about integration in this light, then the burden of responsibility becomes more evenly distributed. Yes, immigrants must make real efforts—as almost all do—to work hard and respect our laws. But we, too, must change, as individuals and as a society. We have to ensure that the playing field is level, that access to our schools, to public services, to employment, and to political representation is fair and equal for all members of our communities.
This demands of us to rethink our institutions, as well as our own attitudes about what it means to be Irish, British, French, German, or Dutch. And if we want to establish a litmus test for whether we are succeeding or failing in integrating immigrants, it could be this: Will a young boy or girl born in Dublin today to an immigrant from Syria or Afghanistan or Eritrea have an equal chance as a native son or daughter to become prime minister? This is the standard that we must set and meet. If we can accomplish this, then social cohesion will grow.
In thinking about our future, we need to know what is not attainable. Cultural homogeneity is not possible—we should not be tilting at that windmill. This is not because of immigration alone but also because of the revolutions in communications, transportation, and commerce. Nor does it mean that our individual cultures will weaken—in fact, the Internet and globalization are tools that can strengthen and spread cultures. But it does mean that, in our local communities, we cannot expect any longer to live in splendid cultural isolation.
Pillars of Cohesion
If I were to underline only one unifying thought on integration, it would be this: In thinking about our future, we should pour our energy into creating shared experiences. Simply put, we cannot expect people to integrate into our societies if we are all strangers to one another.
We have had a breakdown in the institutions that once brought citizens in the West together—church attendance has plummeted, labor union rolls have dwindled, military conscription is no longer the norm in countries where it existed previously. Our media, meanwhile, have fragmented to the point where we inhabit our own individual media worlds—symbolized by the sight of people walking down streets imprisoned in their iPhones. One neighbor watches Al Jazeera, the other the BBC—and they develop two very different, often dueling, views of the world. New technologies might unite people globally, but they risk dividing us locally.
In thinking about creating shared experiences, we must start by looking at our schools (including denominational ones)—at their make-up, at their quality, and at their curriculum. All of these dimensions must be suited to a diverse society. Europe has schools in which minorities make up the majority of students—in parts of Berlin, minority representation exceeds 80 percent. In all of Germany, meanwhile, one-fourth of all children and adolescents under eighteen are born into families of immigrant origin; individuals of immigrant origin will make up more than one-fourth of Germany’s population by 2050. Solving this might be the most vexing riddle we face, since it is tied to segregation in housing and to economic inequality.
But there are parts of the school experience that we can shape more easily. Allow me to offer a few examples. We should ensure access to schooling for all children as early as age 3. Research tells us that perhaps the single most important factor in leveling the playing field for the children of newcomers is to provide language tuition at a very early age. Second, we need to make sure the curriculum, especially in social studies, reflects the diversity of our societies. Unless everyone has the same level of understanding about everyone else’s lives, we will not be able to get along. Third, we need to rethink how we teach civics and citizenship in our schools. We have to train children not only in how their societies are run, but also in how to think freely. Democrats are made, not born. Finally, we must eliminate any and all forms of bias in entry to higher education. Throughout much of the West, ethnic minorities are under-represented, and this underrepresentation is not the result of ability.
While schooling is the sine qua non of creating a cohesive society, politics is a second pillar of almost equal importance. It is through politics that a society’s laws, norms, and traditions evolve. Unless newcomers are drawn with relative speed into the political arena, our norms and traditions will not evolve to reflect today’s society—and newcomers will feel increasingly alienated. So it is vital that we find ways to give immigrants a political voice. Already, nine EU countries offer the vote in local elections to non-citizens. There also are more immediate ways as well to bring immigrants into the political process—political parties could, for instance, actively seek members from different ethnic communities. But we should not underestimate how difficult this will be. Even in cities considered to be immigration success stories, political hurdles are hard to clear. Political incorporation will take a conscious effort on the part of immigrants as well. They will have to make a proactive choice to become Irish or Italian or French. In particular they will have to respect the basic values embodied in our conception of human rights.
The third pillar of cohesion is the job market. There is nothing more subversive to a person’s sense of self-worth than long-term unemployment. Having too many newcomers on social security, meanwhile, is one of the main drivers of anti-immigrant sentiment. And, outside of school, the workplace is where social relationships across racial, religious, and ethnic boundaries are most likely to be formed. So we must invest heavily in ensuring fair and equal access to employment for immigrants and their families as soon after they arrive as possible.
Fourth, we must strive to ensure that, once we decide to welcome newcomers on a permanent basis, we give them a clear path to citizenship. We should certainly expect them to meet a reasonable set of responsibilities in common with all other citizens before they are naturalized. But we should not ask them to clear hurdles that are either too subjective or biased.
There is much else we must consider as we move forward. One vexing issue is to be able to gauge the capacity of our societies to integrate immigrants, and if we are exceeding it with the current rate of migration flows. We must be smart in calibrating the two; otherwise, the speed of change will sow discontent throughout society. Also, we must not budge on the question of our laws—religious and cultural practices that infringe on our laws have no place in a liberal democracy. At the same time, we must continue to be relentless in enforcing anti-discrimination legislation.
As we move forward, we must make sure that we are thinking about all of society, not just about immigrants. We must emphasize—and invest in—what unites us. And while we must insist that all newcomers respect our laws and civic norms, we also must fiercely defend their right to express themselves.
Immigration can be a disruptive force. It accentuates winners and losers. It generates unease over the unequal distribution of resources and places strains on communities, especially those with little experience in integrating newcomers. Worst of all, immigration is a political orphan—it has almost no champions among the political classes, whose members see it only as a losing issue. And so what we often get is a dialogue of the deaf between populists and migrant rights advocates. The moderate center is silent.
Our ultimate goal is to establish a national, social, and communal narrative in which all members of our societies can see themselves reflected. We need, in other words, to create a collective sense of “we” to unite our divided societies.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene composed in his old age a philosophical treatise, of which only a few fragments remain. I would like to share one that is particularly relevant to our debate. “The author,” Eratosthenes writes, “rejects the principle of a twofold division of the human race between Greeks and Barbarians, and disapproves of the advice given to Alexander, that he treat all Greeks as friends and all Barbarians as enemies. It is better to employ as a division criteria the qualities of virtue and dishonesty. Many Greeks are dishonest and many Barbarians enjoy a refined civilization, such as the people of India or the Aryans, or the Romans and the Carthaginians.”
Likewise Christianity at its core rejects discrimination and inequality among different peoples. As recent popes have repeatedly emphasized, we should look at those with whom we differ with tolerance and respect. For far too long, we have looked at migration with too much demagoguery and too little nuance. In this time of shocking suffering in Europe, with the far right on the rise, this is more evident—and more dangerous—than at any point since the Second World War.
Rather than be accomplices to failure, we must strive to be partners in success. After all, the vast majority of citizens do not want to see their worst selves reflected in the actions of their government. They prefer to see their leaders strike a balance between asserting control and being generous towards those in need.
Adapted from The Littleton Memorial Lecture, presented by the author in Dublin on December 17, 2015.
Peter D. Sutherland has served as special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for international migration since 2006. He is a professor in practice at the Institute of Global Affairs of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and president of the International Catholic Migration Commission. He is a member of the Migration Advisory Board of the International Organization for Migration. He served as chair of the LSE Council from 2008 to 2015. Previously, he was the attorney-general of Ireland (1981–1984), founding director-general of the World Trade Organization (1993–1995), and chairman of Goldman Sachs International (1995–2015) and BP plc (1997–2009). On Twitter: @PDSutherlandUN.