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Immigrants and Clandestines: Globalization's New Wretched of the Earth
June 18, 2002
By Luciana Bohne

To convince them to jump into the sea and swim ashore, they didn't hesitate to stab them. This is what happened at dawn [8 June 2002] to forty-three Iraqi-Kurd refugees [off the Adriatic coast between Albania and Italy]. Four of them drowned. The refugees attempted to explain that many of them didn't know how to swim. Born and raised in the mountains of Kurdistan, for them the sea was something mysterious, never seen. Their pleading fell on deaf ears.

For the Albanian human-traffickers, this pleading was a waste of their time. It increased the danger of detection by the [Italian] Coast Guard. So, since the Kurdish refugees refused to jump into the sea [imagine the darkness, too], the Albanian gangsters didn't think twice to resort to using their knives, stabbing two refugees and throwing them into the waves [these survived, actually, and were successfully treated in an Italian hospital, after rescue by coast guards that went on indefatigably for hours]. Getting the message, the forty-one remaining Kurds jumped.

The irony is that [Italian law] recognizes the status of political refugees for Iraqi Kurds and grants them instant political asylum. Such legal details, however, were irrelevant to the Albanian mafiosi.

--Translated from Italian by this author from an unsigned article in "Il manifesto," 9 June, 2002.

You would think this story belongs in the high seas of the Atlantic Ocean, the Middle Passage between Africa and the Americas, sometimes after abolition of the slave trade by some countries, in the nineteenth century, when African captives, destined to be sold in the slave markets of the pompously named "new world," were dumped and disappeared into the sea, one pulling the other on the chain binding them all, rather than be detected by patrolling vessels. Or, you might think it belongs in a British anti-imperialist novel by Joseph Conrad set in the early decades of the twentieth century--let's say, for the benefit of those of you who haven't yet read this very apt novel for our own imperialist times, "Lord Jim."

You would be wrong. It happens every day, in our twenty-first-century time. So long as capitalism exists , needs a high rate of profit, craves places to dump goods, obtain cheap labor, and steal natural resources, it will go on.

Nope, it happened straight in the middle of our triumphant end-of-history times, when we have defeated that socialist monster (never mind that its practise in the USSR was indeed a monstrosity; let's leave that discussion for another time) that threatened all the rich people's of the world's freedom to create the second imperial wave of the wretched of the earth (well, third actually: remember the genocide in the Americas between 1492 and the sixteenth century; maybe fourth; no, fifth; oh heck, who is counting) to make profits out of people.

If you want to see a film that shows nineteenth-century imperialism in the Caribbean,and its cool, inhumanely rational logic, see the Marlon Brando film, "Burn," directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (1970). It's even available in English. Check out Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers" while you're at it. It deals with the equivalent issue of today's suicide bombing, the 1960's use of terror by Algerian resistance fighters against French colonialism. Algerian insurgents resorted to the killing of innocents to win their struggle for self-determination. The French resorted to torture. They lost.

Why do people use that word, "innocent," for people who benefit from tyranny, expolitation, occupation, theft, and oppression in free democracies? It puzzles me. When we vote, don't we empower the government to act in our name? How does that make us innocent? The children, of course, are--no excuse there. But this word "innocent," like "terrorist," needs a a lot of work in the definitional quarter.

Take my word for it: see "The Battle of Algiers" with an African, Asian, or Latin-American friend. Then discuss it. There's nothing like "the parallax view" for testing your theories. The parallax view, you will remember, is a term in astronomy. It means the change in appearance of a single object when seen from two different views.

The story about the Kurds happened to occur in Italy, now under a Bush-like leadership of a nation run like a corporation--ergo, three million people protesting this insult to the homeland and their pockets in Rome last March. Italy was and still remains (until the new, racist, people-resisted and industry-sponsored, anti-immigrant law passes) one of the most hospitable nations on earth. I need only remind you that, in twenty-two years of non-democratic, fascist regime (1921-1943), not a single Italian or refugee Jew was surrendered to the allied Germans, in spite of their pressure.

This goes for the army, the foreign ministry, and Mussolini himself. The six-thousand to eight-thousand Jews (out of forty thousand nationals), exterminated in the Nazi death camps, were delivered there after the Germans occupied Italy on 8 September 1943.Giorgio Bassani's novel and Vittorio de Sica's film adaptation, "The Garden of the Finzi Contini" tells this story.

No government is innocent, of course--especially a fascist one. There is a dark history hidden behind my remarks, which contains the awesome crime of the Anti-Semitic racial laws of 1938, which hurt and insulted Italian Jews who had fought considerably for the independence of Italy and contributed vastly to the new, secular state as ministers and generals.

To boot, one in three Italian Jews had voted for Mussolini when elections came around after his take-over. My remarks also shroud the imperialist, anti-African racism of Mussolini's adventures in Lybia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and Abyssinia. Compared to the compliance with Hitler of most European regimes, however, Italy, along with Denmark, has a relatively low level of complicity with Hitler's genocide of European Jews. German-Jewish social philosopher, Hannah Arendt, says so.

Getting back to the thesis of this essay, the Kurds' tribulation to reach Italy shows that clandestine migration is traumatic. Furthermore, it constitutes the experience of few immigrants compared to the number that crosses borders legally. The xenophobic fear by rich nations of invasion by hordes of dark barbarians is not based in reality.

Actually, according to the International Organization of Migration, only two-hundred million of the six billion people in the world live outside the country of their origin. Contrary to smug, xenophobic American myth-makers, most people don't like to leave home, even to come to America. They migrate because of some catastrophic reason. A potato famine (Ireland, 1840's); land seizure (Scotland, late eighteenth century); landlessness and political oppression for demand of (Italy, 1890's); destruction of infrastructure, industry, and housing (Europe, after 1945); terror of death squads, funded by US taxes (El Salvador, 1980-1992, 70,000 dead); civil war, contra-revolutionary side funded by US taxes (Nicaragua, 1980's, 40,000 dead); US-corporation-sponsored coups that trigger genocide (Guatemala, 1954-to the present, 150,000 dead); US-sponsored military dictatorships (Chile, l973-late 80's, 30,000 dead; unknown number "disappeared.")

Enough. You get the picture--all verifiable and uncontested. And don't give me the lame justification of the Cold War. If that were the cause, the abuses would have stopped. They haven't. Check out Colombia.

Furthermore, contrary to popular mythology, industrial countries need (or will need) the influx of immigrants. In Europe, the need for immigrant labor is urgent. Population projections by the United Nation Population Division (UNPD) report that "very high volumes of migration would be needed to change the trend in the aging population" in wealthy countries. "To keep the ratio of working to non-working population constant, on the 1995 level," the UNPD argues, "from now until 2050 the European Union would need to take in 1.4 million immigrants per year." The annual rate for the 90's was 850,000. The projections, of course, depend on a continuous fall of the European birth rate, which is predicted.

You would think that Western capitalist policy-makers would keep this need for the future in mind, but capitalist planning is notoriously short-sighted: grab-the-money-and-run sort of blokes; leave the future to clean up the mess, but since more capitalist adventurers keep being regenerated the mess gets bigger. Who cares about fifty years from now?

And they're right. At this rate of exploitation of people and the earth, global warming will have caused the water to rise right up to the nose of the president's statue at the Lincoln Memorial in DC, some thirty years sooner than 2050, so a Smithsonian exhibit argued five years ago. The weather will be a nightmare, making new deserts and tropicalizing odd ares. The rainforests will be, for the most part, history. Oil will be ever more scarce. Of course, the earth may be swathed in nuclear winter, by then, owing to Bush's Nuclear Posture Review, or his stupid treaty with Putin, which actually destroys non-proliferation co-operation between Russia and the US. Nuclear winter will make all of the above options irrelevant, except the disappearance of plants and food, as it did after the meteor hit the earth for the dinosaurs.

Cheerful, ain't I. The scary part is that these are not science-fiction scenarios. They are sensible scientific predictions. No matter. Today's free traders and captains of industry don't want to pay decent wages for decent work. They never did, but they were forced to do so by a noble struggle of masses of people for workers' rights--a detail missing in emphasis from American education.

No, labor must stay where it costs the least and where it can be properly exploited for maximal profits. This is achieved through mechanisms of workers' control and oppression by poor states whose paid stooges the West supports, states that the West colonizes through debt, and which it does everything possible to underdevelop so the neo-colonized are forced to buy our goods.

So, contrary to the interest of future generations, we must now have policies of anti-immigration--obstruct the movement of labor from following the money.

Contrary to xenophobic myth-makers, too, immigrants transfer more money to the poor world than the sum of economic aid from wealthier to poorer countries. At the end of the 1980's, the World Bank calculated that 65 billion dollars in earnings by foreign workers were returned to their original countries. This sum constituted 20 billion more than the sum of aid from wealthier to poorer countries. In 1998, this sum was 52.8 billion dollars.

And, contrary to popular delusions of generosity, the US is a miserly donor. The US provides 0.1% aid of its Gross National Product (GNP), the most ungenerous in the industrial world. The European Union provides 0.2% of GNP. The UN recommends 0.7% of GNP.

Contrary to rampant myths about the underlying wanna-be-American ambition ascribed to clandestines an immigrants, they are not seeking a "better life" (how can you have a "better life" away from everyone you love and everything that identifies you? Only a very fatuous, self-satisfied lot of spoiled people would think so, imagining that rain-forest-devouring, culinary and social atrocities like McDonalds hamburgers are the apex of high living and the reward of the elite).

No, they're not running to a "better life." They're running for their life. Anti-clandestine migrant legislation is a denial of responsibility for the poverty we cause, from which comes our riches. Anti-immigration laws, in general, enforce global apartheid, whereby the poor and dispossessed, by decree of the gleeful greed of the rampaging free-trade pirates , are not allowed to follow the money as it tears across the globe as free as the wind. Anti-immigration laws blame the victims for the livelihood in their countries we still from them. Anti-immigration laws punish the poor for our theft--all 20% of us who consume 80% of the workld's resources.

Anti-immigration laws is how we reward orselves for our inhumanity.


Luciana Bohne teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She welcomes remarks from the readers at lbohne@edinboro.edu

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