'Immigrants are here to stay'
In recent years, the debate about immigrants has become increasingly
negative in tone, with a focus on crime, unemployment and ethnic
conflict. However, there are positive aspects to migration and asylum
too, as discussed by three academics and 'hands-on' experts who
gave a lecture on this subject recently. Their conclusion: 'Immigrants
are here to stay.'
The discussion session held on 20 September at the GEM in The
Hague was organised by the Prince Claus Fund. The opening speech
was given by historian Achille Mbembe. 'I have been a migrant almost
all my life', he says. The experience has been enriching but has
also left him with awful memories. 'You feel especially vulnerable
at border checks', Mbembe explains. He was born in Cameroon but
currently works in Johannesburg, as a professor of history and politics.
Mbembe advances two theses. First of all: 'Immigrants are here
to stay.' A strict immigration and deportation policy, like the
one currently being used by Dutch Minister Verdonk, won't stop them
either. Secondly, an international court to defend migrants' interests
Next, Hilary Beckles, professor of history at the University of the West Indies on Barbados, outlines the ideal of 'many people, one country'. He puts forward the Caribbean as an example, where despite the presence of multicultural societies there is still a positive community spirit. Since the rise of nation states, however, countries have been increasingly closing their borders to immigrants, Beckles notes. The historic realisation that ultimately we are all descended from immigrants may succeed in turning this particular tide.
Mamadou Diouf, professor of history at the University of Michigan
and a native of Senegal, is the final speaker. He emphasises that
many so-called immigrants are actually nothing of the kind, as they
have already been living in their 'new' homeland for two or three
generations. This is why, according to Diouf, they should be recognised
as fully-fledged citizens who deserve their rightful place in the
'new ethnic and cultural landscape'.