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Saturday February 24, 2024

A question of race

By Editorial Board
March 29, 2023

Given that the International Week of Solidarity with the People’s Struggling Against Racism and Racial Discrimination has just come to an end, it is worth having a look at what exactly the UN classifies as racism and the people struggling against it. According to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, its measures do not apply to “distinctions, exclusions and, restrictions or preferences ... between citizens and non-citizens”. Considering that race is one of the main distinctions between the nations of the world, this principle not to address policies towards non-nationals is quite a major loophole in the global effort to combat racial discrimination. Countries can get away with enacting essentially racist policies simply by claiming that they only apply to non-citizens who happen to be of a different race. We can see this duplicity in action by observing the immigration policy of many Western nations. The UK has recently proposed legislation that would stop refugees arriving on its shores in small boats from claiming asylum, while President Biden’s administration in the US came under fire when pictures were revealed of its Border Patrol agents riding on horseback and whipping Haitian asylum seekers.

Instances where majority-white countries pass draconian laws to expel or limit the number of black and brown immigrants and refugees might contravene certain human rights conventions that protect asylum seekers, but technically do not violate the convention on the elimination of racism. Nevertheless, these policies are clearly racist and the relevant international convention is clearly too limited in scope to deal with the kinds of racist measures that a globalized world produces. Attempts to limit immigration from the Global South to the West are, arguably, the most clearcut example of transnational racism in the world today. The arguments often given in support of these measures include: Western countries are full, new immigrants cannot be integrated and are changing the culture of the West, they are a burden on the economy and are bringing problems like crime and terrorism. Unsurprisingly, these concerns do not seem to apply to immigration between white-Western nations, which appear to be in a competition to see who can take in the most Ukrainian refugees.

What differentiates a Syrian, Haitian or Honduran fleeing war and poverty from a Ukrainian doing the same? Why is one welcomed while the other is shunned and left to drown in the sea in some dingy boat? The answer can only be race. It speaks volumes that President Joe Biden, the supposedly tolerant, liberal alternative to the bigoted Trump, has basically continued with the latter’s immigration policy. Meanwhile, newly elected rightwing governments are passing measures to make it ever more difficult and dangerous for migrants and refugees to reach their shores. New Italian PM Giorgia Meloni is forcing migrant boats to dock further north along the Italian coast, raising the operating costs of NGOs that operate rescue boats that are working to ferry migrants across the seas more safely. Reducing the scale of operation of these NGOs will only drive migrants towards unsafe, illegal boats operated by criminal gangs, increasing the risk of their drowning while enroute to their destination. The global anti-racist frameworks, somehow, do not address such policies and are clearly in need of an update.