Globalisation, cosmopolitanism and the immigration dilemma

by Nada Korac-Kakabadse

Democracy seems under threat from the twin forces of globalisation and immigration. However, cosmopolitanism approaches to immigration in Europe and beyond offer competing views and outcomes, and why there is an urgent need to re-evaluate immigration policy.

Historical Development

Globalisation, cosmopolitanism and immigration have a history dating back more than 1.75 million years ago with the movement of Homo erectus out of Africa and across Eurasia.

Since the emergence of the first state around 4000 Before the Common Era (BC), people continued to cross fragile boundaries and, in doing so, extended and reshaped them.

Nomads have trekked entire continents while carving out new empires and, although the environment in which immigration exists today is complex as in ancient times it still involves massive exchanges of people between their countries of origin and ultimate destinations.

Globalisation – industry, military and economic power

Globalisation is characterised by colonisation, whether this in the form of conquering new regions, cultivating lands, or establishing dominancy with products and services. Between 1600 and 1800 European empires created an early form of globalisation through their trading activities, allowing European colonisation and associated slave and plantation economies to thrive in the Americas and parts of Asia and Africa.

From the late 16th century onwards Europe’s accelerated economic and military dynamics spawned significant increases in migration, while economics and religion helped propelled missionaries and merchants across continents.

According to Linda Colley’s book ‘Captives,’ by 1800 the European powers, along with Russia and the United States, had laid claim to 35 percent of the world’s total land area, and by 1914 this figure had risen to 84 percent. Many Europeans migrated to America during the 18th and 19th centuries due to economic developments and opportunities and this flow continued into the early 20th century when the termination of slave trade paved the way to mass movement of Asian labour.

Between the 19th and mid-20th centuries a modern form of globalisation prevailed based on Western European and American industrialisation and military power. This in turn created economic interdependences, internationalisation and a need for international relations. In the process Globalisation effectively became a devastating process that propagated the Westernisation of the political order through an imported state system.

The global economic downturn of the 1930s persisted until after World War II and effected a steady but low flow of migration. After WWII globalisation continued through multinational entities such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and other similar entities. This served to promote significant cultural models and processes which were imposed through various economic programmes and later extended by the Internet, global media and popular culture.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century created new migratory outflows. The 21st century has seen increased military activities in the Middle East which have created a new pattern of migration within Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa among other areas.

According to the UN Refugee Agency the current world population is estimated to be 7.6 billion. The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2016 stood at 68.5 million, of which approximately 25.4 million refugees have fled to another country while the rest are displaced people within their own nations. Some 57 percent of refugees worldwide come from Syria, Afghanistan and South East Sudan. Migration is widely spread now that 1 in 33 people on the planet are international migrant, while 1 in every 113 is a refugee. This migration explosion has spawned fierce debate and continues to shape numerous controversial political and policy platforms around the world. The central arguments underpinning immigration debate are human rights versus national sovereignty.

Cosmopolitanism – civility and valuing difference

Since its inception in Ancient Greece 4th century BCE, cosmopolitanism has had a rich, complex and somewhat inconstant history. It has surfaced periodically during times when societies have required rebalancing, only to submerge and then all but disappear. During the Enlightenment it re-appeared as the philosophy of universalism and perpetual peace, and has been advocated by thinkers such as Immanuel Kant and Jacques Derrida. It is viewed by many today as the antidote to globalisation.

A useful definition to consider is that Cosmopolitanism expands the scope of our ethical concerns beyond limitations set by policy makers. A cosmopolitan outlook is concerned with applying ethical principles to all parts of the planet. Although historical interactions and interdependencies have shaped the modern world, cosmopolitan thinking allows us to reflect on the ethical principles of the parochial mind-set which currently influences policy thinking.

Globalisation traditionally uses the assimilation of people and cultures and, in its current form, entrenched Anglo-American culture. This is now seen by some to have reached its peak and is on the decline.

Cosmopolitanism, on the other hand, shows greater sensitivity to value differences. It is about plurality, the acknowledgement of ‘otherness’ and a commitment to stimulating the self-reflexivity of a divergent and entangled world. Cosmopolitanism promotes and places high value on inclusivity, diversity, tolerance, respect and espouses the importance of multiple affiliations. It further calls for citizenship education in its broadest sense and the cultivation of ‘moral reciprocity’ based on shared commonality and the development of empathetic and genuinely respectful citizens.

Cosmopolitanism calls for an openness to the world and an awareness of a worldly sphere of responsibility. This is embodied by practising civility and a demonstrating commitment to dialogue and non-violence. However, despite the huge and obvious benefits to humanity, when cosmopolitan ideals meet the state’s interests under globally imposed economic pressures, cosmopolitanism values are largely cast aside.

The challenges of migration

Globalisation in the late 20th century gave tour de force to four freedoms: movement of goods, services, capital and people.

The fourth freedom, while often promised, struggles to deliver and creates fierce debate as segments of the world’s population continue to scatter across continents and disperse amongst nations. The arguments and language used in immigration debate often indicates an individual’s position on the issue, and includes terminology such as the ‘undocumented worker,’ implying productive labour without papers, or ‘illegal immigrant,’ suggesting an undesired person.

Alternatively, language can capture the reasons for leaving home in the first instance, namely involuntary and voluntary migrants. Involuntary migrants are forced to move due to circumstances beyond their control, such as being displaced by war, famine, or a well-founded fear of persecution. Voluntary or ‘economic migrants’ move as a result of their own desires and motivations to search out improved financial and social conditions.

The impact of immigration on individual nations varies depending on whether a country is a point of origin or a destination. The resulting dilemma is one of how to manage an expanding number of immigrants. With a rise in the global population the numbers of immigrants themselves are staggering. According to Eurostat (1st January, 2017) foreign citizens made up on average 7.5% of persons living in EU Member States.

Both legal and illegal immigrants have made considerable contribution to the vast exchange of currency between nations as a large percentage of immigrants send money to family members in their countries of origin.

Although the country of destination often receives extensive contributions and benefits from immigrants, they also face three moral dilemma:

Contentious immigration laws – for example, the US and Spain allow for the collection of income tax from illegal immigrants, whilst denying them full access to government services. Military service has been a means to gaining legal citizenship in countries such as US, UK and Italy. The repatriation of immigrants to high-risk environments and immigrant profiling for the purposes of risk management are equally contentious, as many immigrants arriving in Europe via the coastal routes of Spain, Italy and Greece often do so under dangerous conditions and many lose their lives during the journey.

Government strain under escalating costs – although the relationship between immigration and terrorist attacks is extremely limited, many governments feel they need to manage terrorist threats and invest heavily in border controls and costly security systems. They also feel a need to protect social welfare systems such as health, education, transportation, and unemployment insurance. For example, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway typically have homogenous populations who share a common history, language, religion and culture, and have traditionally offered extensive social services to support them. Large-scale immigration adds an additional burden to modern day social welfare systems, which are slowly dwindling throughout Europe

Populations feeling threatened – those in destination countries often feel uncomfortable by profound changes due to newcomers in their communities. Many feel that immigrants pose a serious threat to a country’s economy by damaging the equilibrium of the social welfare system, culture and an established way of life. In reality, labour intensive businesses such as construction, tourism, food processing, and agriculture benefit from both legal and illegal immigrants and are in largely in favour of migration.

An urgent need to re-evaluate immigration policy

Current immigration policy debates are based upon a dichotomous world-view, namely that of citizens and foreigners. This often results in a stigmatisation and even demonisation of whoever is perceived as being ‘the other.’

Rather than implementing costly and defensive measures, such as the establishment of The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (or Frontex), enhanced border surveillance, risk analysis reports on migration flows and other militarised approaches, why not consider a starkly different approach? Instead, invest in the many war torn and divested communities that require improvement and help those in most desperate need, minimising continued aggravation in the process.

Help is also desperately needed for destination countries’ local communities, particularly where residents are relatively deprived. This serves to create a localised mind-set that clings to outdated values and traditions and is easily exploitable by political movements which champion anti-migration fears.

Underinvestment nurtures a prejudiced mind-set that can thrive in deprived communities. It is a direct result of globalisation, accentuated by an economic race to the bottom. At the very least, a cosmopolitanism approach to immigrating dilemmas requires transnational accountability and respect for international law.

Throughout the centuries, Europe has often championed cosmopolitan ideals, which at the same time it has struggled to implement. The importance of a cosmopolitan education is embodied by the Continent’s Erasmus programmes, including the EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the mobility of university students. Beginning in 1987 this has enabled more than 230,000 students to study abroad each year across more than 4,000 higher education institutions in 33 countries.

The Erasmus Mundus programme for scholarships and academic co-operation between Europe and the rest of the world has been similarly successful. Established in 1990 it now operates in 27 countries with the aim of modernising higher education in EU neighbouring countries. Cosmopolitan education can also have a positive impact on immigrant teaching and learning due to its emphasis on valuing differences. This helps immigrants to view their differences as assets, rather than deficiencies.

There is an urgent need to re-evaluate immigration policy from a cosmopolitan perspective. Populations in destination countries, private enterprises, social service providers, legal and illegal immigrants – whether refugees, asylum seekers or economic – all need to be consulted in order to create more effective and humane policies. Their voices should be heard ahead of addressing the central question: ‘how do we achieve a balance between human rights and a nation’s right to sovereignty?’

Nada Korac-Kakabadse