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“Opening borders increases both freedom and security” | Climates Changes

"Opening borders increases both freedom and security"

François Gemenne is a researcher in political science, associate at the University of Liège and lecturer at Sciences Po. His research is mainly devoted to migration and displacement of populations linked to environmental changes, in particular natural disasters, as well as to adaptation policies to climate change.




This article is the second part of an important interview with François Gemenne. The first part is found here.



The number of migrations will increase due to climate change ?

Not only will they increase, but they will change in nature, particularly by becoming more and more constrained. More and more people will be forced to migrate. And more and more people, the most vulnerable rural populations, will not be able to migrate, because emigration requires many resources.

People will move more, as the factors that push them to migrate worsen under the impact of climate change. Inequalities are the main driver of migration, be it real or perceived, political, economic or environmental.

We are faced with a structural phenomenon, but we refuse to consider it as such. We prefer to speak of a crisis, where migration is seen as a problem to be solved.


Because inequality is the driving force of migration ?

People migrate because they are confronted at home with political, economic and environmental inequalities. They will leave a place where they are in a weak position for a place they consider or hope for better.


Would a reduction in inequalities in the standard of living between the countries of the North and those of the South likely reduce immigration? ?

In the long run, yes. Not in the short term. The propensity to migrate decreases when people’s average income initially reaches around $ 15,000 per year.

First, the higher the level of the person at the bottom of the social ladder, the more resources the person will have to devote to migration. And as long as there is inequality, people will want to migrate. If we massively increase development aid to developing countries, and hence people’s income levels, it will lead them to migrate more. At least until we get to the point of equality.

Most of the migration today comes from a little more countries “ developed “Migrants rarely arrive from the Central African Republic or Sierra Leone, the poorest countries in Africa. Those who can get in and pay the smugglers are people who have been saving money for many years.


From a cynical point of view, to avoid migration, people must either remain very poor, or they must reach a level of wealth close to ours.

Not only in terms of wealth, but in terms of law, safety and environmental protection close to ours. Which is still a long way from happening, even if it may constitute a distant horizon. We must therefore accept that, when we get there, there will be more structurally migrations. We are entering a century of migration.

But rather than saying let’s try to face this reality, to support it and organize it in the best possible way “, we remain in a withdrawal logic. So what to want resist for this phenomenon, across the fields on the edge of Europe, on the edge of our cities, it is a losing battle.

When I was in high school in the mid-90s, our teachers talked about the Internet the same way. We had great debates in high school – The internet is a good or bad thing ? Internet an opportunity or a danger ? These are exactly the same debates that animate us today about migration !

Today, our position of resistance and closure of borders creates chaos, creates this impression of crisis, creates these tensions in our societies, racism, rejection and potentially violence.


And the Internet has imposed itself, without being able to prevent it.

We have all accepted that the Internet is transforming all aspects of our lives and the organization of society. Hardly anyone would have the idea of ​​holding back the Internet. We try to maximize the opportunities and limit the dangers. But for migration, we’re not in that mood yet.


In the very long term, we must therefore balance the standard of living. What can be done in the short term ?

We must try to organize things so that it happens in the best possible way in the interests of the migrants, in the interests of the destination societies and the societies of origin.

Because today, our position of resistance and closure of borders creates chaos, creates this impression of crisis, creates these tensions in our societies, racism, rejection and potentially violence.

Safe and legal access routes to Europe, including for economic migrants, must be allowed to end shipwrecks and smuggling networks. It is also necessary to pool resources and organization: immigration competence must be transferred to a supranational level, for example to a European agency for asylum and immigration. And more cooperation is needed at the international level, which does not involve subcontracting with countries of transit or of origin, as is readily understood in European bodies.

Paradoxically, this issue which, in essence, requires international cooperation is the one on which there is less. States are convinced that they will manage the issue better within the strict framework of their borders.

In the long run, the most rational and pragmatic solution is simply to open borders. We are far from this. Governments and much of the media convey the idea that the border is the means of controlling migration. If you close a border, people will stop coming. And if I opened the border, everyone would come.

However, all research shows that the degree of opening or closing of a border plays a marginal role in the decision to migrate. People will not decide to leave their families and their country just because a border is open there in Germany. And the people who are haunted by the bombs that fall on them in Syria will not stay there because the border is closed. In Calais, even though the border with the UK is completely closed, migrants will try a hundred times, a thousand times to cross it.

On the other hand, the degree of opening of the border will determine the conditions of the migration, its cost, its danger. Opening borders does not mean making them disappear. The states stay there. We are not eliminating passports, we are simply eliminating visas. It also allows for better control of entry and exit, because states know exactly who enters and exits. This solution increases both freedom and security.

People remain in a relatively fixed identity, in which Europe is conceived as white. The reality is that we are a mixed country.


There are areas where things are going well ?

There are many places in France where things are going very well, locally. The spearheads in welcoming migrants are often the mayors: Juppé in Bordeaux, Piolle in Grenoble, Hidalgo in Paris, Lent in Grande-Synthe.

Nationally, New Zealand is developing a relatively open reception policy, which is working well. There are paradoxical countries, such as India, which has a completely open border with Nepal, Buddhist, and a completely closed border with Bangladesh, Muslim. This case illustrates the racist nature of our migration policies. What worries us in Europe are not Belgians like me who emigrate. Most people are convinced that Africans leave their country directly to cross the Mediterranean and arrive in Europe. Gold, 55 % of international migration from West Africa goes to West Africa.

Migrants arriving from Libya in Europe are generally classified as economic migrants because they are black. But they migrate mainly because they are persecuted in Libya, mistreated and sold as slaves in the markets. On the other hand, Syrians are classified as political refugees because we see images of the war in Syria, but for the most part they migrate mainly for economic reasons. They were not persecuted in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, but lived in miserable living conditions. They migrate to Europe to resume their career or for their studies.


What role does the demographic factor play in migration ? As the demographic transition is not taking place in Africa, the continent will grow from 1 billion to 3 billion by 2050.

The best way to control the birth rate in Africa would be to bring all of Africa to Europe (laughs) ! All studies show that, from the second generation, the birth rate of African women is closely aligned with that of the host country’s population.

These birth rates create fear among us, we fear the demographic danger in Africa, which will move to Europe. People remain in a relatively fixed identity in which Europe is conceived as white. The reality is that we are a mixed country.


Black, white, Arab France, that is, twenty years ago ! Now, the National Rally and also the right are highlighting France’s Christian roots and tradition.

They want to remain Catholic, white. The problem is that no other party takes the opposite position.

Democracies, those for which the issue of human rights still matters a little, are becoming a minority in Europe !


Because it seems politically unthinkable, as well as the solutions you propose. For the moment, the opposite is happening: governments increasingly reactionary, increasingly xenophobic. It’s a little scary for the future.

It is still very optimistic to be afraid. I have noticed that Europe will soon be ruled by the far right. They are already at the next stage, where small pockets of resistance are being organized to welcome migrants illegally.

In Belgium, despite a far-right government, in a park north of Brussels, there is a large movement of solidarity and welcoming of migrants to prevent them from spending the night out. Nearly 45,000 people are organized with a Facebook account to take turns. This solidarity movement is increasingly becoming a political resistance movement in the face of an authoritarian regime.

Democracies, those for which the issue of human rights still matters a little, are becoming a minority in Europe ! We need to organize other forms of resistance. It is a rather pessimistic view of the future. I hope I’m wrong, and that the attitude of the Spanish government opens a new path in Europe, that the voters positively sanction this attitude of welcoming migrants.

  • Interview by Hervé Kempf and Lorène Lavocat


Source: Hervé Kempf and Lorène Lavocat for Reporter

Images : © Éric Coquelin /Reporter

. chapô: migrants on the Hungarian border, in August 2015. Wikipedia (Gémes Sándor / SzomSzed /CC OFHER 3.0)

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