Open Borders: The Case against Immigration Controls

Article excerpt

Teresa Hayter. Open borders: The Case Against Immigration Controls. Pluto Press, 2000, pp188. ISBN 0-7453-1542-9, L12.99

Teresa Hayter challenges common-sense views over migration and asylum issues and makes a case for the recognition of the free movement of people on the planet as a universal human right. For this, the author sets out to provide a progressive critique of the history and current situation of border controls in the West with specific references to the British case. She argues that the opening of borders could make the world a more harmonious and peaceful but less racist place by promoting cooperation, democracy and greater mutual understanding. In particular, she questions the legitimacy of cynical distinctions between asylum seekers and economic migrants at the expense of the latter.

As an activist writer and anti-racist campaigner, Hayter provides a clear picture of how 'anti-migrant' practices lead to great suffering and abuse of human rights, and help to justify racism. She argues that most people who flee to escape persecution take a drop in their standard of living. 'Even when they are allowed to work, they usually cannot obtain employment which fits their skills and qualifications. Doctors and professors end up as sandwich makers and security guards' (p. 105). Using various information sources, the author also goes beyond individual observations. Referring to a London Council Survey, for example, she notes that 70 per cent of 200 people interviewed did not have enough to eat, and nearly 75 per cent were completely penniless, with no money for bus fares or other necessities. They had to walk many miles across London, with small children and sometimes injuries, to the designated shop for spending their vouchers. They were subjected to racist abuse when their attempts to spend the exact amount of their vouchers held up supermarket till queues. Their children were taunted at schools as 'voucher kids'. They ran out of milk for their children in mid-week, having spent their single L25 voucher, and could not go to the local shop to get some (p. 108).

Open Borders deepens the debate about 'social policy'. Hayter examines, for example, the results of the Labour government's attempts to sort out the 'over-density' of refugees in London by dispersing of refugees around the country. She demonstrates that the policy interventions of Labour did not make the situation better for refugees. After the dispersion, new-comers lost their communities' support in London, and became target for racist attacks within the 'host' communities which often have high unemployment rates or lack previous experience of interaction with different cultures (p. 111). The book also describes the intensification of detention practices in recent years, underlining the fact that nearly 1000 refugees are locked up each year (p. 118). The anti-migration spirit of these policies reached such a level that there was an increasing resemblance between 'dispersion' and 'detention' centres with regard to their social and legal implications. …