WE LIVE in a world without borders in a very fundamental sense. The Web has made communication across the globe instantaneous. We are all globetrotters, even if only in a virtual sense. In fact, and for reasons quite different from the past, our world is increasingly diasporic.
Theorists have argued that this is both a negative and a positive. On the one hand, the international corporate networks of globalisation may lead to dehumanisation and exploitation of labour. On the other hand, it has led to a recognition that we are all, to quote VS Naipaul, “citizens of the world.”
Thinkers of our time meditate on the effects of attempting to solidify national identities. This may have emerged initially because of the Second World War and Nazism. But it is also a response to the closed borders and xenophobia that accompanies ideas of nation.
One of the legacies left to us by the Palestinian theorist Edward Said has been his conceptualisation of the “other.” When he wrote of the ways in which imperial powers constructed stereotypes about those whom they subjugated, or wished to subjugate, he gave us tools for looking at ourselves. The “other” is that dehumanised person who is situated somewhere outside the pale of an authority that sees itself as superior. So, Mexicans are “others.” Palestinians are “others.” People from the Caribbean are “others” in the UK, even though their contribution to building Britain after the devastation of war is immense. Could Britain have been rebuilt without them?
Had it not been for the crisis generated by a heartless quota of deportation to fix figures, the global conversation about belonging and the treatment of these Caribbean people or their descendants would not really have begun, though these facts have long been known.
For us, increasingly, Venezuelans are “others.” As such, for those who make policies they are fixed and faceless.
We have a contradiction across the globe. There is massive movement of peoples because of war or strife or what concerned observers have called the onset of WW3. Refugees are taken from boats or concealed containers by peacekeeping and humanitarian forces. Children die.
The struggle is always to find ways to keep borders open. Yet, we also have a world where, by the very fact of modernity, we keep on moving and everything moves us towards such flux. Yet, for some reason, the drive to close borders and to keep out refugees keeps on escalating.
We have a unique situation just a few miles from our own borders. If we could walk on water, we could walk to Venezuela. But yet, those who have found their way here by whatever means run the immense and probable risk of exploitation, including human trafficking.
When I was growing up in Trinidad we still believed that neighbours had a responsibility to each other.
Yet, as far as I am aware, as neighbours to the people of Venezuela we have done nothing to create a system that would allow for the alleviation of their suffering in what is now a three-year ordeal.
What would it take to give amnesty to people in search of food, shelter and a life and why do we need the rhetoric that people are trying to make TT “into a refugee camp?” We live beside Venezuelan people who share family ties and relationships with us.
Would it take such an immense effort to provide legal and legitimate aid to those currently in need and in danger of exploitation? Can we not do this as well as protect our country and its citizens?
The fact is that economic prosperity leads to comfortable insulation. I saw it happening in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger. I remember being part of a panel discussion on RTE television in the company of immigrants from Eastern Europe and from Nigeria.
We were faced with a woman who had created a political party with the mantra that Ireland should look after her own and keep out refugees. A major issue that led to support for such attitudes was that immigrants were being hired at lower wages than the minimum wage. They were seen to be taking jobs from Irish people.
Within three years of this televised discussion Irish people had voted in a referendum to change its citizenship laws so that babies born in Ireland were no longer automatically eligible for citizenship if one parent was not Irish. This, despite its historical experience of famine and emigration.
Then came the dark days of a recession that broke banks and the economy.
Who knows how the tides might turn.