Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Category: Migration

Moral Progress – An Illusion?


In the face of an increase in shootings and terrorist attacks, Erdogan’s “cleansing” operations, the Brexit, an on-going refugee crisis and numerous other worrying developments, a post about moral progress might seem entirely out of place. Who would believe that there could be anything like that? Isn’t it obvious that human beings are unable to learn from history, that every hope that the world could become more just and peaceful in the long run is in vain? Don’t the recent developments show clearly that multiculturalism cannot work, that real integration is an illusion, that religious dogmas are stronger than arguments and that humans are unable to change their behaviour so as to stop global warming? Despite all reasons for being sceptical, some philosophers still firmly believe in the possibility for us humans to progress morally. In this post, I argue that we ought not to give up our hopes for a more humane, just and peaceful world, and explore ways in which moral progress could be achieved.

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Migration & Feasibility: Real Constraints or Cheap Excuses?


In the current discussions about our duties (of justice) towards refugees, feasibility constraints are often invoked to justify the limits of what can be done: Austria has to close its borders and limit the number of daily asylum applications due to feasibility constraints, the feasibility limit of refugees admitted to the European Union as part of the current resettlement scheme with Turkey is set at 172.000 or mayors of various cities claim that it is not possible for them to shelter refugees.

Following these debates, I often gain the impression that infeasibility claims are invoked far too easily. Hardly ever they are based on feasibility studies and often they seem more of an excuse to shy away from our duties (of justice). At the same time, powerful arguments for the need to account for feasibility constraints when identifying our duties of justice in the non-ideal real world have been put forward in the literature on non-ideal theories of justice: what justice demands from us should not go beyond what we can possibly do. How is it possible to account for feasibility considerations in this later sense, without allowing them to become a cheap excuse in political debate to shy away from our duties of justice towards refugees?

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More thoughts on the £35,000 threshold – a response to Jesper Pedersen

The UK government has recently announced that it is raising the income threshold for non-EU citizens who wish to immigrate to the UK from £20,800 to £35,000. This threshold will apply not just to new immigrants, but also to those who have lived in the UK already for more than five years. It is the contention of this post that this new £35,000 threshold is not just unwise or poorly thought out, but also unjust.

Jesper Pedersen considers this issue with admirable even-handedness, but what if, rather than doing anything akin to sitting on this particular fence, we wanted to vault right over it, and claim – as I do here – that the policy is unjust? What support for making this statement could we muster?

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Is the £35,000 rule unjust?

From the 1st April onwards any non-EU immigrant to the UK who does not otherwise have a connection with the country* must earn at least £35,000 by the end of their fifth year here, or otherwise face deportation. This policy is expected to make a small but largely insignificant contribution to lowering net migration numbers.

The commentariat’s verdict has been unequivocally harsh. This discriminatory law, it has been pointed out, will do next to nothing to keep out the kinds of people that draw the ire of the tabloids: unemployed “scroungers” and low-skilled immigrants who, it is claimed, depress the wages of – and take jobs away from ­– low-skilled British workers.

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It’s raining men, hallelujah! On migration and sex ratios

In a recent article in Politico Magazine, professor in political sciences Valerie Hudson (Texas A&M University) addresses an often neglected consequence of the current migration crisis. As most of the one million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa that arrived in Europe in 2015 are young men, recent mass migration potentially disrupts the gender balance in European countries with liberal migration policies. Although The Economist notices that for big countries, like Germany, the effect of recent immigration on the already existing gender imbalance is negligible, changes in sex ratio might indeed be considerable in countries with less than 10 million citizens, like Sweden, Hungary, Austria and Norway.

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“Refugees” and “economic migrants” – a morally problematic distinction

More than a million migrants and refugees have crossed European borders in the last year, posing yet another challenge to European unity. There is one thing that really strikes me in the public debate about how to deal with this huge influx: people tend to take it for granted that the legal distinction between “refugees” and “economic migrants” and the differential treatment that goes with it are morally justified. There is a broad consensus that, of course, we have to grant asylum to people fleeing from the horrors of the Syrian civil war, but that we are justified in refusing asylum to people escaping from poverty. But is there a morally relevant difference between taking refuge from poverty and escaping from war? I do not think that there is, and hence believe that the differential treatment of the two groups is unjust.

The legal point of reference for the distinction is the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.

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Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon: An unjust system, how should individuals act?

In Lebanon the law covering the work of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) is deeply unjust. The situation of MDWs in Lebanon and the Middle East has been described to be a “little better than slavery”. That the law and practice should be reformed is clear. Whether this will happen any time in the near future is much less clear. What I want to focus on in this blog post is the question of how individuals who object to the law and practice should act.
A brief background: There are an estimated 200,000 MDWs employed by Lebanese families. The vast majority are women from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Nepal. MDWs are employed on short-term contracts. They are admitted into Lebanon on work visas that link them to a specific employer (a sponsor) and obliges them to live at the home of their employer. Their contracts are not covered by Lebanese labour law. This means they are excluded from entitlement to the Lebanese minimum wage guarantees, maximum number of working hours, vacation days and any compensation for unfair termination of contract. The contracts the migrants sign in their home countries with recruitment agencies are not recognized in Lebanon. Upon arrival they sign a contractual agreement (in Arabic), binding them to a specific employer (sponsor) often with different terms than the contract they signed home. The fact that their stay in the country is tied to their employer means they have practically no room for negotiating the terms of the contract. The government has recently imposed a standard contract for employing MDWs but it is far from being fairand is in any case poorly enforced. The facts are that there is a high incidence of abuse against MDWs. This ranges from “mistreatment by recruiters, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, forced confinement to the workplace, a refusal to provide any time off for the worker, forced labor, and verbal and physical abuse”
                                                       Source: Al-Akhbar (http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/18752)
The question: International organizations and more recently local NGOshave been advocating and proposing reforms. Meanwhile, what should individuals do?  They should take a clear stance in favor of the reforms, support NGO initiatives and awareness campaigns and combat attitudes of racism. That much seems obvious. A more difficult question, I find, is whether individuals ought to
  (A) refrain from employing MDWs as long as the practice is unjust; or 
  (B) employ MDWs while individually applying the terms and conditions that a fair law would  require.
On reason in favor of (A) is that employing MDWs counts as contributing to sustaining an unjust practice. One can easily avoid participating in the system as there is no sense in which refraining from employing an MDW imposes an unreasonable cost on individuals. Additionally, even if one could improve the conditions through individual arrangements with the MDW herself/himself (the vast majority of MDWs in Lebanon are women), one has no control over the other dehumanizing factors starting with the recruitment procedures in their home countries. Moreover, it is not only the contractual framework that is unjust. The justice system offers little protection, and a biased media and widespread racism make it the case that MDWs are highly vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. I find this position rather convincing, but I also have the worry that it seems to be the easy way out.
I also think there are strong arguments in favour of (B). One can point out that the vast majority of MDWs migrate to escape severe poverty and send most of their earnings back home (remittances were estimated at $90million dollars in the first half of 2009; and remittances make up a high shareof the GDP of some countries).[1]Surely, it is better to offer them employment under fair conditions, notwithstanding the objections above, especially when noting that they are going to seek employment in Lebanon anyhow? The difficulty with this line of argument, however, lies in the host of tricky questions it raises. To mention only some, should one ensure that her prospective employee was not coerced (or misinformed) into taking up the job in her home country?  If so, when does the cost of doing so become unreasonable? What counts for a fair wage and working conditions? Is that the country’s minimum wage? What if someone cannot afford paying the fair wage? Does that mean one should opt for (A)?
These questions raise a difficulty for the following reason: if the rationale behind choosing (B) over (A) is that (B) improves on some person’s conditions and as such reduces the harm whereas (A) merely allows the harm to happen, then any improvement on the current conditions, no matter how small, would justify (B). This seems problematic. My intuition, is that one should try to maximally provide what ideal conditions would require. Take the example of wages for instance. I am assuming that determining what counts as a fair wage, whether equal or higher than the minimum wage, is not very complicated. Now, if the ideal wage exceeds what one is willing to pay for the service of an MDW, then one should not necessarily opt for (A) but rather pay the maximum amount beyond which the service is no longer attractive. This would imply, I presume, that people with higher incomes should pay higher wages. The assumption here, of course, is that individuals are genuinely interested in making the right ethical choice.
I am not sure I can fully defend the above intuition. Therefore, I would like to hear your views on this. I find the choice between (A) and (B) difficult, and this is a dilemma faced by many friends and family members home.

[1] Still trying to find more recent figures!

Which way will Europe go in May 2014? Is free-movement the key to the elections and a just Europe?

In the aftermath of the euro-crisis, there is an increased awareness (both in the hallways of the EU parliament and amongst the citizens of Europe) that what is most needed is some type of political union. It is my contention that the greatest threat to such a political union and any sense of solidarity between the many people and nations that make up Europe is the attack on free movement that first arose from several national right-wing parties. Preventing free movement is a top priority for all these parties: Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France, UK’s UKIP Party, Geert Wilder’s PVV party in the Netherlands, Norway’s Defense League, Sweden’s Democrats, Hungary’s Justice and Life Party, Bulgaria’s Attack Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, the Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, Germany’s new anti-euro party (AfD), and closer to home the Flemish NVA Party led by Bart de Wever. All are expected to have record high turnout in May 2014; several are also trying to join forces to form an anti-European and anti-migration coalition. Their rhetoric that the euro-crisis and the rising unemployment figures are all due to the free-movement policies is immensely successful, so much so that it is being adopted by many more center and left-leaning parties. Within Europe, their discourse attacks the most recent members of the EU, those from Bulgaria and Romania. From beyond the borders of the EU, their discourse is one of a defense of the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition that grounds Western and European civilization. Tragically, both of these positions often boils down to a form of Islamophobia as the implicit assumption is that free-movement has allowed for Muslims (the Jews of the 21st century) to invade Europe. This point is even more acute this week with Monday being International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
If they have their way in May 2014, Europe will shift so far to the right that it will, like Humpty Dumpty, have a great big fall. The solution is that the voting public needs to realize that immigrants, and

third-party nationals, are the solution and not the problem. Here are three reasons why Europe needs to further open the borders, rather than further restrict movement.

    1.     The economic expense of restricting free movement is excessive. David Cameron, among other leading European politicians, is trying to keep this evidence from the public until after the elections. It is not only a historical truth that Europe could not have survived without immigration; it is the current economic reality of all major European nations as demonstrated by Phillipe Legrain (LSE). The other economic cost is the rising budget of Frontex, the EU’s border management agency. While it’s official budget was only €86 million (in 2013), this is only the administrative costs as all the equipment costs (which are well into the billions) are taken directly from the national budgets of the poorest European countries (who are required by EU policy) to ‘control’ their borders.
2.     The ethical price is too high to pay. As Nina Perkowski documents there have been almost 20 000 deaths from those trying to get into Fortress Europe. This scandalous number does not include the many, including the elderly, children and pregnant women, who have been seriously injured, imprisoned or exiled all for wanting nothing more than a better life for themselves or their loved ones.  
3.     The controlling of these borders, especially as implemented by Frontex since Eurosur (a pan-European surveillance system) went live in December of 2013, has broken many basic human rights and thus blatantly ignored the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. These include the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions in supposedly temporary prison cells, the ‘alleged’ use of torture, etc. 
(for the interactive map see: http://frontex.europa.eu/trends-and-routes/migratory-routes-map)
If the above three reasons to open Europe’s borders don’t convince you, perhaps the political or pragmatic truth will. As long as pro-European parties continue to adopt the anti-immigration rhetoric of the right and deny the importance of open borders, there is very little hope of either economic or political solidarity in Europe. Political solidarity in a democratic and just polity cannot be constructed upon a Schmittian friend/enemy distinction; the ‘us’ cannot only exist as long as there is a ‘them’ to define it.
What do you think? What way will Europe go? Is there another issue that you think will be more pivotal than free movement?

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