Migrant Lives

Toward A More Humane Response To Migration

The world can do a lot better than incarcerate migrants en masse, or turn away boatloads of desperate passengers, argues former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos.

Migrants rescued near the coast of Malaga, Spain, on May 23
Migrants rescued near the coast of Malaga, Spain, on May 23
Ricardo Lagos*


SANTIAGO — We are gradually becoming more nomadic in our time. Young people are increasingly moving abroad with the idea that, by getting to know other countries and cultures, they will enrich their transition into adulthood. But there are also the others, the ones who place their hopes for a better life on a flimsy raft or a midnight dash across the border.

Humans have always been this way: seeking new horizons. That is why migration can only be understood as an ancestral, acquired right. And from this perspective, we are outraged to see the tragedies related to contemporary migration.

Has Europe forgotten that it grew in the 19th century because of the outward migration of workers it couldn't feed and the exodus of people persecuted for religious and political reasons? Does the United States not recall that it owes a good deal of its growth precisely to immigration? The ability of the United States to assimilate Irish, European and now Latin American and Asiatic cultures has been notable. Let us add all the Africans who arrived as slaves and whose emancipation ennobled the country.

We must widen our outlook and understand the migrant.

For us in Latin America, immigration is intertwined with the very origins of our various republics. In Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, it is at the core of the national identity. European migrants began to arrive here a century and a half ago. Some sought a better life. But in many cases, they were fleeing the old continent's conflicts: Spaniards and Italians from internationalist workers' movements; Spaniards fleeing the Third Carlist War; exiles from German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck's 1878 edict banning socialism.

Moving into the 20th century, millions more arrived — from Poland, the Ukraine, Palestine, the dying Ottoman Empire and other places. And now, in the 21st century, the process continues. Argentina has an estimated 2 million immigrants, according to government figures. Chile is absorbing a fair portion of this flux as well. Years of economic growth and political stability have made it an attractive destination, and migrants currently constitute 2.7% of the nation's population. That is more than half a million people, 70% of whom are from South America.

A "chaotic" situation

Why go back and look at these facts and figures? Because they tell us that for over a century, we have been conscious of what migration is and what it means to the future of our societies. That is why we condemn President Trump's initiatives, why we take issue with how states like Malta or Italy are responding to migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Since mid-April, the Trump administration has implemented its zero tolerance policy on the U.S./Mexico border and the Office of the Attorney General has decided to jail, not just hold, anyone entering the country without papers. Violators are charged with a felony (rather than just a misdemeanor), meaning they are sent to a Federal prison.

Former Chilean president and author of this article Ricardo with then U.S. President Bush in 2004 — Photo: White House

That, in turn, means the prisoner cannot be accompanied by his or her small children — bringing brutal consequences. Mexicans and Central Americans have borne the brunt of this harsh policy of imprisonment followed by immediate expulsion.

While Trump has revoked the policy following a barrage of criticisms, the situation remains "chaotic," as many will testify, when it comes to clarifying where the minors are and how they are to be reunited with their families. Simply put, Trump's policy is inhumane, and that — more than the legal issues involved —explains why it has been so universally criticized. There's also the fact that it began just when the U.S. government announced it would abandon the UN's Commission on Human Rights.

Forge welcoming and inclusive societies — societies of, and for, the 21st century.

Something similar is happening in the Mediterranean, where weeks ago, Malta and Italy announced they would turn away the refugee ship Aquarius, with 600 on board. In the case of Italy, the new right-wing ruling coalition's hand was evident. The boat has been received in Spain, but as the French president and Spanish prime minister have pointed out, this is a matter of concern to the entire EU, not just to its southern countries.

Expect more boats crossing the Mediterranean as poverty and hunger assail the Africans.

What does all this tell us? That migration has become a key part of the international agenda and a challenge requiring clear policies in response. We must widen our outlook and understand the migrant not just as social burden or political pawn, but as a source of economic development.

Here in Latin American, we must become a receptive region, open to immigration and adopting policies geared toward human rights and cultural interactions. These should be designed to help integrate people and regulate migratory flows. Let us learn to observe the other and foment education systems that help us to relate better to diversity, seeing it as an opportunity not a threat. That is the only way to forge welcoming and inclusive societies — societies of, and for, the 21st century.

*Ricardo Lagos was Chile's president from 2000 to 2006.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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