We are right to welcome and not fear migrants
Ireland this month signed the UN Global Compact for Migration
Migrants receive food at a camp containing hundreds of migrants who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America in a caravan with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Just last week the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan, signed Ireland up to the UN Global Compact for Migration. Speaking at the event, he noted Ireland’s especial understanding of the concept of migration and acknowledged “migration is a global issue requiring global solutions”.
The process leading up to last week’s signatory event, where 164 countries committed to the Compact, had been rumbling on for years, increasing in intensity since early spring. However the moment would probably have passed without comment by the vast majority if it were not ’t for last minute efforts by a small, but dedicated minority.
This minority would have you believe that by adding its signature, Ireland would be opening its borders to all migrants rather than signing up to a benign, well-meaning and ultimately non-binding compact.
Intent of creating divisions, this cohort are using the language of fear to create the impression that people who were not ’t born in this country are a threat to our way of life.
This contrasts sharply with the language of the compact, which talks about migration as a ‘win-win’ opportunity. In fact, it contrasts sharply with research which also shows time and again that migration is a net societal and economic positive wherever it occurs.
Words matter. It’s at the heart of how we communicate with each other. A discussion we’ve often had in the Immigrant Council office is why some people are referred to as ‘ex-pat’ and others ‘migrants’. Both words contain a, perhaps historic, but nonetheless inherent, value judgement. And yet on paper they should be inter-changeable.
To date, far right parties haven’t managed to get a foot hold in the Irish political system. We should be proud of this, when the politics of hate has infiltrated so many neighbouring countries.
Ireland is the land of a hundred thousand welcomes. Recent polling of the Irish public on attitudes towards immigration and refugee protection found we describe our country as welcoming, optimistic, tolerant and open. Tellingly, there is strong support for values such as ‘fairness’ and ‘compassion’.
However we cannot be complacent and it would be naïve to blindly assume that carrying on without taking the initiative and creating platforms to present clear and evidence-based information about migration.
Neglecting to do this will allow the fear-mongering minority’s ugly ‘us and them’ narrative to dominate, which supports no one. We need to better understand that people have always and will always move, and it would help if we understand why.
Migration is a global and normal human activity, and it will only increase as the global population increases and the impact of climate change, inequality, war and political persecution perpetuates. The answer is not fences, tear gas or virulent anti-migrant rhetoric. This will not stop people moving, it will only create unstable societies riven with division.
No one wants to be forced to flee. The new Global Compact recognises this. Significantly, it recognises the need to deliver protections to vulnerable migrants, while also calling on governments to minimise circumstances which creates the need to flee - like war, political persecution and climate change.
We need the Global Compact for Migration because we need global cooperation to increase legal routes to migrate and better integration planning and investment. We must plan and invest, and we must cooperate as a global community with human rights as our starting point. We cannot allow anti-migration voices to contend migration is negative. Yes, it poses challenges, it involves people and people are complicated - but people are also very similar. Regardless of where we born what language we speak or the colour of skin, the overwhelming majority of us want a safe and happy place to live, the opportunity to work and support our families and access to the essentials in life like good quality education and healthcare.
In the Immigrant Council we’re lucky enough to work alongside many migrants in Ireland, some who have chosen to be here, some who have arrived here due to circumstances beyond their control. What unites them (and us) is a desire to build stronger communities and the best home they can. It is that determined positivity which marks the difference between people I want in my society.
One young man we were delighted to support a few years ago was Jaime, who found out when he was 17 that his residence status had not been properly established after he arrived in Ireland to join his family. He faced challenges had considerable challenges regularising his immigration status.
Chatting to him again this year, he reflected to us how felt the challenges he faced had made him a stronger person. He says it led him to better appreciate what he has and especially embrace the support he received from those in Ireland who did not need to help him, but freely chose to do so.
Today he is a husband and father of two. He is rightly proud of his achievements, attending university and gaining a degree as well as a higher diploma in computer science. He is now working in an international bank and has just embarked upon a MA in business systems. Jaime believes this has only been possible because of the support of the Immigrant Council and the Irish community who supported him.
To us, Jaime represents Irish values far more than those shouting about closing borders and sharing bile and untruths about migration.
We have a choice - to embrace the language of positivity, inclusion, unity, to emphasise our commonalities. On a global stage the Government has committed to so doing. We look forward to seeing that filter through to a national level. Sadly we do not need to imagine the risk of not doing so - we just need to look at our neighbours.
Brian Killoran is chief executive officer of the Immigrant Council of Ireland