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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com