OPINION: Migration and Security

Last Updated on Wednesday, 5 June 2024, 22:14 by Writer

By Dr Randy Persaud, Professor Emeritus, American University, Washington DC

I don’t know how many of you have read Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints (1973). I put the point this way because, if you haven’t read it, I am not sure I want to recommend you do. It is a work of horrific racial and civilizational arrogance in which the peoples of the Third World are reduced to an undifferentiated mass of parasites. Yet, the far-right in Europe today will say “we told you so”. They will insist that you look at the runaway ‘swarming’ of Europe by those from Africa, the Middle East, and some parts of Asia. Little account, however, will be taken of the conditions that have underpinned the ‘exodus.’

The politics of migration is now fully globalized and fully politicized. The implications for security are also now widely recognized. In what follows, I point to some of the pressing issues related to security and migration, and this with added emphasis on Guyana.

Security and migration are linked at two distinct levels. Firstly, there are questions of the extent to which new migrants disrupt and eventually harm national identities. That was Raspail’s central concern. Secondly, there are the more ‘rational’ forms of threats.

Like Jean Raspail, in most countries, there are sections of the population that believe they are the real people, the founding people, and the only people with a rightful claim to authentic belonging. Put simply, they think they are the original people, and that all other groups are mere additions. They also believe that their culture, language, and heritage must be given privilege beyond all others. To them, others pose a threat to the essence of nationhood, and must accordingly, be prevented from coming in, or if already there, must be culturally quarantined, compartmentalized, and forcefully disciplined into the rhythms, fancies, and worldview of the ‘originals.’

You do understand, of course, that this idea of a ‘founding presence’ is based on mythmaking rather than on empirics. Could one, for instance, say that Canada is a ‘White’ country, when in fact, it is a settler colony where the true natives have been structurally marginalized. Is there really an internal French ‘white identity’ even though the Maghreb has been an integral aspect of the French imagination since the 1830s? Are the Burakumin, Ainu, and Zainichi outside of Japaneseness? Is India really a Hindu nation? And who are the real Australians?

The second set of issues are more ‘rational’ in nature. Here, the concern is that immigrants are taking away jobs from locals, and there are controversies over services provided to immigrants and refugees, and issues of assimilation. Allow me to ‘think aloud’ on the two categories of issues above.

I read with interest Ravi Dev’s “Jettison exclusive narratives” (KN June 5, 2024). I agree fully that we need to forge narratives of cohesion that will signify purpose and direction. Yet, it must be recognized that contestation over the poetics of nationhood is an important part of the process of arriving at a ‘narrativizing epistemology’ of peoplehood. There is no essence per se.

Guyana’s challenge is how to balance the need for foreign labor, with the protection of the new arrivals, and simultaneously, of locals.

It is not easy to convince locals that foreigners have a right to belong. Isn’t it ironic that practically all locals have family and friends in foreign lands, often derive benefits from those abroad, yet they are ‘anti-immigrant?” While it might seem contradictory, we need to recognize that the (cultural) right to belong is not based on rational criteria. Rather, for the locals, citizenship is a personal belonging. The logic here is this – we want your labor, but we don’t want you. It will take quite a lot to work out a framework for accepting the ‘foreign.’ Note that there are also anti-re-migrant biases in Guyana.

There is no doubt that Venezuela’s illegal claim to Essequibo warrants special consideration for Venezuelan migrants. This issue must receive scrutiny and every reasonable measure must be in place to collect and analyze sources of threat emanating from these quarters. No apologies are necessary for this. It is a national security matter, as it would be in any country under similar circumstances.

The challenge of foreign labor pertains to the magnitude, the rate of intake, the sources of the labor supply, and the necessary ‘on-boarding’ on new immigrant labor. Unless new immigrant labor is fully integrated into the nation, you will end up with elevated levels of precarity in a secondary labor market pool. Every effort must be made to regularize labor intake. Given that the PPP is a party oriented towards working people, this should occur quite seamlessly. The challenge would be to reign in recalcitrant labor bosses who may want to invent a second indentureship.

Dr Randy Persaud, Advisor, Office of the President.