Migration and open borders is a basic human right

Migration and open borders is a basic human right
By Zan Azlee

Human beings are resilient creatures. No matter where we are, we always do our best to survive. We either adapt to the environment around us or we leave and look for a better environment. It is our natural behaviour.

Look deep into world history and you will see how human beings have always moved around. Migration has been happening since the beginning of time.

Tens of thousands of years ago, human civilisation has always practiced migration. They would gravitate towards where there was water, usually rivers and seas because it was a source of food, travel, communication and, obviously, water.

They would also plant crops for food and when the land they populate loses its fertility, they would up and move again to find more fertile soil. That’s what it means when people say that we are willing to move to greener pastures. It’s just the natural way of us human beings since the beginning of time.

Basically, we practice it even until today. Cities, towns, and villages developed in areas that are strategic and where the best resources are available. Aside from that, people also move to where they feel they have the best opportunities to thrive, either for their careers or their families.

The most crucial reason for human migration is to escape oppression, persecution, and danger. Even tens of thousands of years ago, human beings have moved because of this. They leave and escape from environments that are hostile and threaten their survival. Well, all human beings want to live, right?

So this brings me to the point of what I want to talk about – migration and open borders. I have always believed that open borders and human migration are basic human rights.

If human beings have always needed air to breathe in order to live, then suddenly taking air away and denying it would be violating the basic human right of living. And so it is similar to human migration.

Escaping strife

Since the beginning of human civilisation, people have been migrating and moving around the world to survive. Take that away and you are denying a basic human right.

It’s not that migration isn’t allowed to happen now. It’s just that the most desperate need for migration isn’t allowed.

For the most part, we still migrate to obtain a better life such as for education, work, and just basically better living conditions in our perspective. But this is usually only for those who have the privilege to do so.

When it comes to the most desperate and dire need for migration, we don’t allow it. Innocent people who are escaping life-threatening situations are denied their basic right to migrate.

The best example would be those who are running from war, hostility, and genocide. Malaysia has never been a welcoming place for these people.

In this country, the word refugee has no significant meaning. Malaysia is not a signatory of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Basically, we do not recognise refugees.

Anyone who enters our borders without official permission is considered an illegal immigrant and will be detained and deported. There is no consideration for their reasons or justification. It is as simple as that.

Rohingya in Malaysia

We all know this. The Malaysian government has denied entry to hundreds and thousands of Rohingya refugees who have run away from their homeland in Burma to escape the violent environment there where the Myanmar government is persecuting and oppressing them.

For those who do make it to our shores, they hide from the authorities like mangy dogs and struggle to find work to feed their families. Their children are denied the opportunity for education and their sick are denied basic healthcare. All this, in my opinion, is a violation of human rights.

Nobody chooses to leave their homeland without a valid reason. And when you see hundreds and thousands of them wanting to leave, there obviously has to be a very significant and valid reason.

For decades, the Rohingya have claimed genocide in their homeland. Could hundreds of thousands of them be lying?

There actually can be no harm in allowing refugees to settle in Malaysia. Governments would argue that this is detrimental to our own society.

One of the main arguments is that it would take a toll on our economy because they would suck up our resources, jobs would be taken away from more deserving locals, and salaries would drop due to the surge in human resources.

However, many economists have shown through research that this isn’t true. In a Freakonomics podcast episode, the salary drop was proven untrue.

Also, when there are more people working in a society, there would be more people contributing financially back to society as well in the form of spending and taxes.

That’s a win for our society and since they would also be sending back money to their families back home, the economy there would benefit too. And that’s a win for their society too.

If you’re afraid of jobs being taken away from you… seriously? Are you really afraid that your job as a government official, bank officer, teacher, accountant, or graphic artist is going to be taken away by a struggling Rohingya refugee?

You would sound like an idiot if you said so. The jobs they do actually complement our other jobs.

Misplaced concern

And if they can compete with local professionals for professional jobs, then that would actually create healthy competition to improve our industries. How many successful people who contributed to the society they migrated to have actually been refugees?

I’ll name a few – Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Madeline Albright.

Another argument governments give is that social problems will increase. This is also not true and is really just xenophobia.

Every society has its own set of social problems. This is the case in any society and has nothing to do with migration. In fact, if refugees are seen as illegal and are not allowed to work or receive education or healthcare, that’s when social problems occur.

Recently, a friend of mine who happens to be a registered Rohingya refugee here in Malaysia, Ziaur Rahman, wrote a beautiful book titled ‘Survivor – My life as a Rohingya refugee’, published by Gerakbudaya.

It is a very engaging and surprisingly easy read about his life beginning in Burma and all the way to Malaysia. Not only is it an interesting story, it is educational as well.

I would seriously suggest people read Ziaur’s book. It will open your eyes as to the struggles these people have gone through for generations and hopefully, it can also open your hearts and minds to the importance of open borders, human migration, and refugee recognition.

The book can be purchased at the Gerakbudaya bookstore in Petaling Jaya or its online store.

As for Malaysia, my plea is for our government to recognise refugees and be a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Even more hopeful, I would one day like to see the world practicing free and open borders so that people from everywhere can be free to move around in order to thrive.

Of course with Covid-19, borders have been tightened even further that movement across borders has been restricted for all.

But perhaps governments should see this as an opportunity to assess how to make their countries more safely accessible not just to tourists & foreign investors, but to migrants and refugees as well.

[This article was orginally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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