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On the Need for Open Borders

The recent past has been witness to the increasing rise of economic nationalism, anti-immigration policies and increasing xenophobia. Countries, which in the past have welcomed immigrants, and have been protagonists of free trade and open borders, while immensely benefitting from the same, are becoming more and more insular. This point was strongly reiterated by the election of Donald Trump. Apart from the US and the UK, many EU member states, as well as Australia are becoming more and more insular.

Germany and Canada have tried to develop an alternative narrative while opening their doors to refugees. Justin Trudeau of Canada and Angela Merkel of Germany deserve immense credit for exhibiting courage and conviction and not capitulating to populists and ultra-nationalists. After Trudeau opened his country’s doors to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees after the US imposed a ban on immigrants from certain Muslim countries, he tweeted:

Angela Merkel, in spite of scathing criticism for her decision to admit over 1 million refugees, has stuck to her guns. In an interview, the German Chancellor stated: “It was an extraordinary situation and I made my decision based on what I thought was right from a political and humanitarian standpoint.”

The rise of the extreme right party, Alternative for Germany, emerged as the third largest political outfit in Germany. Merkel managed to win by a lesser margin which has been attributed to her open door policy.

Along with Macron and Trudeau, one more leader who is trying to offer an alternative narrative is the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has started a campaign, #LondonIsOpen. Said Khan in his message: “We don’t simply tolerate each other’s differences, we celebrate them. Many people from all over the globe live and work here, contributing to every aspect of life in our city. We now need to make sure that people across London, and the globe, hear that #LondonIsOpen. I urge everyone to get involved with this simple but powerful campaign to send a positive message to the world.”

Not restricted to any ideology or country

It would be pertinent to point out, that while the rise of right-wing leaders like Trump and AFD’s Alexander Gauland is cited as one of the reasons for this growing insularity, even left leaning leaders have been equally inward looking. One thing that was common between Trump and Bernie Sanders was their economic populism, which found resonance with the working class.

Not just Trump

While Trump has emerged as the mascot of ‘insularity’ and economic nationalism, it would be pertinent to point out, that not just in the US, but other countries which have benefited from immigration have tended to look inwards on important issues.

London’s mayor has become a major proponent of inclusiveness. (London Gov)

Australia, which has opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) having repeatedly spoken in favor of an ‘open’ Indo-Pacific, has passed restrictive immigration laws. These include the abolition of the 457 Visa (for skilled migrants), replacing it with a new visa program which is far more stringent. Commenting on the abolition of the 457 Visa, Australian PM, Turnbull stated: “The migration program should only operate in our national interest. This is all about Australia’s interest.”

The second point to bear in mind is that some countries have spoken vociferously in favor of trade agreements, and open borders, but have played it safe on important human rights issues and immigration. This includes not just for Syrian refugees, but more recently the Rohingya Muslims.

There cannot be a selective approach. Countries which seek to benefit from globalization need to be open to immigrants and at times shoulder onerous responsibilities. After all, it is not just immigrants who benefit economically, but countries where they have migrated to have also benefit from their skills and productivity.

An enlightened, liberal agenda cannot just be restricted to economic issues, important human rights issues, cannot be obliterated and must get the attention they deserve.