Europe must recognise the unconditional right to visit of citizens of formerly colonised countries. At the same time, it must become the motor of a new transnational drive to development and poverty reduction.
The centre of detention for ‘illegal’ immigrants on the island of Lampedusa has become the most celebrated symbol of the treatment reserved for the « boat people » of the African continent by Fortress Europe. The “illegality” of these immigrants is not what is proclaimed by formulas such as “foreigners in an irregular situation”. It is an illegality decreed according to a categorisation which comes from a Europe which has effectively abolished all “legal” immigration of people originating from the African continent. It is not so much a violation by people inside the system of a legality which respects human rights, but rather the consequence of a denial of human rights by a sovereign power. The people “detained” at Lampedusa, like those in other European detention centres, are denied from the start the “right to hospitality”: the central element of cosmopolitan rights according to Immanual Kant who defined it as the “right which the foreigner has, at his arrival in the territory of others, to not be treated like an enemy”.
The “right of visit”, in other words “the right to free circulation”, which Europe gives to citizens of rich countries who welcomed without the prerequisite condition of a visa, is denied to those coming from poor countries – those same countries which Europe annexed under colonial statute just several decades ago in subjugating their populations. Of course, the right to visit does not equal the right to settle in a visited country and to benefit from all the advantages of the natives. But take note nonetheless, first of all, that those who argue against the idea of a right to immigration in virtue of this distinction don’t do anything in general for the recognition of a right to visit, or « right to hospitality », which they do not call into question.
Secondly, for those leaving the African continent it is not a question of a general right to be welcomed – which Europe recognises de facto for those coming from rich countries. Europe does this under the pretext of a reciprocity which it does not however accept as a sufficient condition for the numerous poor countries which would agree voluntarily to a reciprocal right to be welcomed. Rather, it is about a right to reparation, in compensation for the pillage of the African continent by Europeans, as much under the form of direct pillage executed during the long colonial ordeal as under the form of indirect pillage by means of unequal exchange since decolonisation. Pillage and subjection which have created “under-development” as a lasting condition which is extremely difficult for Africa, just like the rest of the formerly colonised world, to overcome by their own efforts in a global system which is by essence hierarchical.
In compensation for the long pillage and crimes against humanity which Europe and its offspring in the Americas committed against the countries and populations of colonised continents, elementary justice requires the combination of two actions : a right of visit without restrictions for people coming from the impoverished continents (as well as the strict respect for the right to asylum for persecuted people) and a massive plan for the financing of development and the transfer of technology for countries that were previously colonised, accompanied by the massive education of their peoples, equally inside the countries concerned as in Europe. If it will not recognise a right to welcome for these formerly colonised people – that is to say the obligation to give them a job or a minimal revenue – which would in any case compensate badly the historical injustice because it could only concern a minority of people formerly colonised – Europe has the obligation to give to these countries a massive amount of aid, and not the derisory crumbs which it gives at the moment (much less than 1% of its GDP), so that they can overcome their under-development.
By making the only conditions of this aid the respect for human rights and democracy, Europe would finally fulfil the “civilising mission” which it hypocritically gave itself when it imposed its barbarian yoke on its colonies. The development of former colonies is the only way, both just and efficient, to reduce the human haemorrhage which these countries undergo – a haemorrhage which is even more costly because, as we know, those who emigrate are in majority those people who are most needed for local development. This loss is hardly compensated by the monetary remittances of the immigrants to their countries of origin.
A Marshall plan for the former colonies would be in the interest of Europe itself and of humanity as a whole. In these times of global grave economic crisis, a crisis which many are predicting to be equally profound, if not worse, than the Great Depression between the two World Wars, there are two sure routes out : either a new world war in the place of that which put an end to the depression of the 1930s – this route is happily impossible because it would annihilate humanity – or a “war against poverty” at a global level, a true effort of the same scale as a world war, and not the masquerade baptised in this way by Tony Blair and his homologues – a “war” of a very unusual type, because it must begin with the massive reduction of military expenditure and the reinvestment of these funds to the benefit of the goals of global development.
A Europe which renewed its growth could at the same time welcome once again the masses of immigrants from the third world which its demography makes indispensible for its own development.
Gilbert Achcar is a professor at the department for the study of development at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
* On Fortress Europe and the treatement it gives to immigrants, see the remarkable multi-language internet site : http://fortresseurope.blogspot.com/