A Note on the Question of Migrants and Migration

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By Laifungbam Debabrata Roy

In the context of the present heated ILPS campaign for an appropriate law, a sort of “legal barrier”, to control migrants entering Manipur, we need to consider some sobering thoughts. Migrants and migration has always been a human and social behavioural characteristic all over the world. Would we be here today if our ancestors did not migrate?

Just yesterday, on 25 August 2015, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crepeau, called on the European Union to establish a human rights-based, coherent and comprehensive migration policy* which makes mobility its central asset. `It is the only way in which the EU can reclaim its border, effectively combat smuggling and empower migrants,` he said.

Migration is here to stay. Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and campaign supporters, detention, withholding access to basics such as shelter, food or water and using threatening language or hateful speech will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come.

Territorial sovereignty is about controlling the border, knowing who comes in and who leaves. It has never been about sealing the border to migration. Democratic borders are porous by nature. Providing migrants with legal and safe mobility solutions will ensure such a control. This message is not understood by those outside who have a stake in migration into Manipur, with the resultant hostility and resistance – such as we have seen in the nascent efforts by the so-called NEPO with a call for another “economic blockade” of Manipur from the Cachar District of Assam.

It is necessary to develop a strong public discourse on diversity and mobility as cornerstones for contemporary societies in Manipur. This seems to be sadly absent in present day Manipur! Opening up the regular labour markets through smart visas allowing people to come to look for work and incentivise them to return if they don`™t find the job in question would allow for a much better regulated and controlled official labour market. This requires that our government must pull up its socks, start acting and not put its foot into its mouth every time. It is our duty to clearly enunciate the reasons and methods being sought to be applied, so that the common person across our borders can also understand.

There is need to exercise great caution that such measures as are being sought must be supported with sanctions against employers who exploit irregular migrants in underground labour markets (in agriculture, construction, care or hospitality). This would considerably reduce the pull factor they exercise on irregular migrants and further reduce the market for recruiters, smugglers and exploitative employers.

Safeguarding the mobility of migrants saves lives. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that in many areas of India today, there are deeply exploitative and abusive structures and practices that discriminate againts people. They are vulknerable to human rights violations, and we, in Manipur, should not be party to this trend or practice.

Our land is an integral part of a gateway between three great sub-regions of the world – South, South-East and Far East Asia. It has been so from ancient times. This has become even more relevant today with the coming of the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway, both of which will transit Manipur. This is already an established fact. Yet, we hear repeated comments and calls to get ready for this great transition that is imminent.

Talking about `flows`, `foreigners`, `marauders`, and `swarms` is an unsubtle way of dismissing the legitimacy of the migrants`™ claim to human rights, by creating images linking them to toxic pollution or cultural disasters. We are talking about men, women, children and even babies, who have faced traumatic and extremely harrowing experiences. These are people just like us, and none of us have the moral high ground to say that we would never do the same if we were in their shoes.

The political and popular discourse in Manipur concerning the ILPS campaign has seen a race to the bottom in the anti-migrant sentiments and use of inappropriate language which is often linked to criminalising migrants. Migrants are human beings with rights. When we dehumanise others, we dehumanise ourselves.

Manipur`s leaders must show moral and political leadership in fighting much more vigorously racism, xenophobia and hate crime, in consolidating the common human rights culture that is now framing the evolution of all traditions, in strengthening the free movement of persons throughout the region while developing regulated mobility solutions at its external borders, and in celebrating the diversity of cultures and religions as enrichment for everyone, citizens and foreigners alike.

(#) The opinions expressed in this note are not of CORE but of the author`s.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur`™s June 2015 report on the EU, `Banking on mobility over a generation`, (A/HRC/29/36): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Pages/ListReports.aspx

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