Rethinking Migration Policies. Ideas, Proposals and Experiences from the World Congress Human Movements and Immigration

12 October 2004 | Report | English


Focusing on Diversity in a Global World

Pasqual Maragall. President of the Government of Catalonia.

International migrations are one more factor of current globalization, which is not only an economic phenomenon. There are flows of capital and services, but there are also flows of ideas, cultural products and people. We find the expression of the globalization of migration flows in the range of initiatives carried out at an international scale. Of particular importance here is the Global Commission set up in December 2003, which has recently published the report Migration in an Interconnected World. This report stresses the close links between migrations and other issues of world policies, such as development, trade, aid, human rights and security.

Today these international flows affect all five continents and the flows of people moving from one place to another are increasingly more complex and diverse. New kinds of migrants are appearing, as the line between forced migration and migration linked to work is becoming ever more diffuse. Traditionally emigrant countries are also becoming receivers, while others are becoming transit countries for migrations. The complexity of the diverse factors we find at the root of all migration projects makes clear the interrelations of current globalization, its advantages and its disadvantages. In this context, it is necessary to bear in mind that the decision to emigrate, the migratory route, crossing the border, researching opportunities, the welcome and incorporation in the host societies, are aspects that require a range of actions by the governments and the institutions, both at a global and local level. The approach to this global reality, therefore, must take into consideration many dimensions: the relations between the states, individual and group dynamics of the protagonists of migrations, as well as the concerns of the host societies.

From the point of view of migrations in Catalonia, this book offers a broader view; also more distant but in all cases very suggestive. This volume seeks to have an innovative effect on the debates taking place. I would like to point out some aspects. First: We must not forget that the most immediate sphere of management of migrations is the local, from which it is possible to extract examples of successful management and programmes. At a local level there is an emergence of policies where citizens are becoming the key actors, rather than in relation with the state. Second: The important role of civil society. The migration processes are introducing new elements into this field, while bringing about a very positive reinvigoration. The role of civil society in the processes of integration is fundamental, alongside the policies that favour this integration.

Third: The recognition and valuing of difference. Within our society the cultural, linguistic, religious or ethnic minorities which have emerged from immigration demand recognition and accommodation of their diversity thus opening a necessary democratic negotiation. This book, fruit of the contributions received and of an intense debate developed in the HMI Congress held within the framework of the Forum 2004, is an attempt to regard migrations and immigrants as an opportunity and not as a risk. The Universal Forum of Cultures Barcelona 2004, organized jointly by Barcelona City Council, the Government of Catalonia and the state government, under the auspices of UNESCO, was established as a new kind of international event that involves the search for local solutions and brought together outstanding figures from the international panorama to respond to the fundamental questions for the future of humanity. So the aim of the Congress, following the objectives proposed by the Universal Forum of Cultures Barcelona 2004, was that of offering a framework of debate capable of generating a global response to the challenges of migrations in the 21st century. And to show that migrations can and must be integrated into the political and social projects as a springboard to the development and expansion of democracy, modernization of societies and mutual understanding.

Immigration and Justice

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. Under Secretary-General United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund

One day, a Cuban woman in her twenties arrived in America packed inside a wooden crate box aboard a cargo flight that landed at Miami International Airport. At the time of her discovery, U.S. immigration officials were trying to determine if she was a migrant who should be allowed entrance to the country or if she was technically a stowaway who could be sent back to her homeland. It seems her fate was to be determined not by her motivations for fleeing but by her mode of transport. This story occurred on the other side of the Atlantic. But there are plenty of other migration stories that occur on this side. With each passing sunrise and sunset, thousands of people flee their countries in search of better lives. There are as many types of migrants as there are people, and their individual lives, and stories, vary tremendously.

The journey is the most treacherous for irregular immigrants — who put their own lives at risk, some knowingly and others not, for a chance to improve them. It is not uncommon, for those who are poor, to spend their entire life savings on the journey. In the worst cases, a migrant’s quest ends not with a better life, but with no life at all. As we all know, and as news organizations report, payment for safe passage offers no guarantee. For the majority who survive, the work of undocumented migrants often takes place in less than optimal conditions, with little pay. The truth is that they often take the jobs that no one else will do. The human rights violations experienced by migrants are well documented by the United Nations and human rights organizations. And yet despite the trauma and drama they experience, immigrants are often viewed not with compassion, but with fear and even hatred. They are made scapegoats for social problems such as crime and unemployment, and they are unfairly blamed for cultural decline. I have been asked to speak about immigration and justice with a focus on women and I do so with a sense of urgency. I have many friends who are immigrants, and thus the issue is very close to my heart. There was even a time when I worked with immigrants while I was completing my doctoral studies in the United States. I worked with immigrants from the Arab world, mostly men, who had come to the Detroit area to work in the auto manufacturing plants. And I can tell you that one of the most difficult aspects of being an immigrant is being away from one’s family.

The desire to be in a loving and caring family is a common human trait that unites all of us, no matter from which country, culture or religion we come. And immigrants do make families away from home if they are accepted into families and communities in the locations in which they live. Throughout my life, I have had many families away from home — families that took me in as one of their own — despite our different religions and cultures — and they form a central part of my life, my development as a young woman and a professional and of course part of my cherished memories. I say this at the start because in these difficult and divisive times, I believe it is important to focus on the ties that bind us together as human beings. It is important to focus on the lives and realities of immigrants. It is only by gaining a deeper understanding, as individuals and societies, of immigrants that the important issue of justice can be approached. And it is only through vision and leadership that justice can be achieved. The issue of immigration is emerging on the global agenda and it is of critical importance to the United Nations system and to multilateralism as a whole. It represents a test of the world’s response to globalization — to open borders for the flow of capital, goods and information, and hopefully for the movement of people. It tests our collective commitment to international human rights and international cooperation.

In this paper I will focus my remarks on the interrelated issues of immigration, justice and gender. I believe it is important to focus on gender because half of all immigrants are women and gender discrimination and violence are issues of pressing concern. To make my case for justice, I will build on the mutually reinforcing concepts of human rights and human security. The emerging concept of human security is concerned with reducing and — when possible — removing the insecurities that plague human lives. It is concerned with increasing freedom from fear and freedom from want. Human security contrasts with the notion of state security, which concentrates primarily on safeguarding the integrity and robustness of the state and thus has only an indirect connection with the security of the human beings who live in these states. In effect, human security is an essential building block of state security that is strengthened whenever human rights are respected. From a human security perspective, the movement of people should be looked at comprehensively, taking into account the political, civil, security, economic and social dimensions affecting peoples’ decision to move. It cannot be approached solely from the perspectives of the countries of origin, transit or destination.

It must also be approached from the perspective of the different stages and motivations for migration. Unfortunately, today’s policies, norms and institutions are not doing this, leaving major gaps in the protection of migrants’ human rights — gaps that are being exploited by unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers. It is appalling that at the dawn of the 21st century, a woman can be bought and sold. But this is the reality. And it is made even more tragic, and shocking, by the fact that the traffickers are likely to get away with the crime. Migration, including forced migration, is a cross-border issue, which challenges governments to cooperate with each other. Alongside the movement of capital, goods and information, migration is one of the key elements of the process of globalization. In fact, it is argued that the flow of people and capital is more important to globalization than the trade of goods. In other words, migration drives, and is driven by, globalization. And yet capital, goods and information flow much more freely and are protected much more forcefully than human beings on the move. Today trade, patent and property laws are enforced with more vigour than laws to protect human rights, and this is especially true for migrants who often lack legal status.

A graduate student, who followed the tomato trade from Mexico to the United States, said that the tomatoes are treated with more tenderness and care than the Mexican migrant workers who pick and pack them. Today the movement of people across borders, while not new, is of a new magnitude because of its growth and diversity. In less than 20 years, as borders have opened and the process of globalization has advanced, the number of international migrants has more than doubled. Currently, 175 million people reside in a country where they were not born. Most immigrants — some 56 million — are in Europe; 50 million reside in Asia, and 41 million in North America. Immigrants represent less than 4 percent of the western European labor force population, compared with a 15 percent share of foreign-born workers in the United States. Contemporary patterns of movement are significantly more complex than those in the past, not only because of the numbers of migrants, but also because the flows are now truly global. There is a significant increase in the diversity of the areas of origin. Today’s migrants come from a broad spectrum of cultural, economic and social backgrounds. When we think of immigrants, we usually picture men. But for more than 40 years, the number of female migrants has been nearly equal to the number of men who migrate. And it is well documented that many migrant women face double discrimination — for being a migrant and for being a woman. Yet the gender issues of migration have not been given the attention they deserve.

Female Migration

The growing participation of women in migration has raised both prospects and pains. The fact that women are migrating on their own rather than as part of family migration seems to suggest greater freedom and choice. However, their concentration in vulnerable and exploitative service sectors has generated much debate and valid concern. Both domestic work and entertainment are not covered by labor laws in many countries, hence women’s working and living conditions are very much dependent on the “charity or goodwill” of their employers. We have all heard the horror stories of migrant domestic workers virtually imprisoned by their employers, unable to leave the home, and forced to work long hours, some without any pay. Despite their contributions to their host countries, women migrants are not generally assured of justice and basic protection. As part of the efforts of some countries to ensure that migration is temporary, women migrants cannot easily change employers, even if their conditions are far from satisfactory. Nor can they move to a different job outside of domestic work. While migrant women contribute to making family life more comfortable and easier for their employers, they are separated from their own families, who often have to fend for themselves. This year, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants told the UN Human Rights Commission that many migrant domestic workers have to deal with abuse, mistreatment and sexual violence by their employers, and that many are without identity papers. This is a serious issue, which governments must address. She encouraged States to provide special documents and papers to ensure legal status for all workers and called upon governments to take all necessary measures to ensure that the rights of migrants are protected.

Trafficking on the Rise

Today far too many women who migrate in search of better lives find themselves living in what can only be described as conditions of slavery. Human trafficking is on the rise. And the victims who find themselves ensnared in the trafficker’s web are in great need of assistance and support. They are exposed to sexual violence and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and yet they have very little access to medical and legal services. Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a multi-billion dollar market. The value of the global trade in women as commodities for sex industries is estimated to be between seven and twelve billion dollars annually. This growing trade in women is a highly profitable enterprise with relatively low risk compared to trades in drugs or arms. Women are trafficked to, from, and through every region in the world. The moneymakers are transnational networks of traffickers that prey on the dreams of women seeking employment and opportunities. The activities of these networks threaten not only the well-being and status of women. They also threaten the social, political and economic well-being and stability of nations where they operate. Like all businesses, the transnational trade in women is based on supply and demand.

For decades the primary sending countries were Asian countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, its former republics, such as Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Russia, have become major sending countries for women trafficked into sex industries all over the world. A 2004 US government report estimates that around 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year. Promising well-paid work or education and training unobtainable at home, traffickers lure, trick and coerce people who are desperate to improve their lives into conditions to which they never agreed. Traffickers force women and girls into prostitution. According to a recent study, 90% of foreign migrant sex workers in the Balkan countries are victims of trafficking. But only 30% are so recognized, and only 7% receive assistance and support.

The drafting of the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings provides a valuable opportunity to protect victims of this crime throughout the European Union. For the convention to be truly effective, however, it must have at its heart measures that safeguard human rights. It must also address issues of demand and not only supply. Combating the trafficking and smuggling of people has traditionally been approached primarily from a state security perspective, as part of the effort to fight the spread of crime. But it is well known that criminal networks exploit the absence of multilateral migration policies and cooperation among countries. Facilitating and managing regular migration and protecting the human and labour rights of migrants are important steps in reducing trafficking in people.

UN Convention To Protect Migrant Workers

One step governments should take is ratifying the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families, which entered into force over a year ago. Today only a small number of migrant workers are protected by the Convention since only 26 countries have ratified it so far, and almost all of the countries that have done so are sending countries. To my knowledge, no EU member state has yet ratified this important treaty. The Convention seeks to prevent and eliminate “the clandestine movements and trafficking in migrant workers” and extend the protection of human rights law to all migrant workers and their families throughout the migration process. Article 24 of the Convention states: “Every migrant worker and every member of his or her family shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” It is vital governments take steps to protect those who are most vulnerable to trafficking and help those who are victims of this crime. It is also time to harmonize laws and procedures and increase cooperation between states to bring traffickers to justice.

And it is time for all countries to foster more cooperation to make migration more humane, just and equitable. Recent efforts to combat terrorism have put state security concerns at the forefront in discussions on international migration, often to the detriment of migrants and refugees. In the name of preserving state security, the detention of irregular migrants without due process is on the rise globally, and so is intolerance and xenophobia, whereas human security is becoming more and more at high risk. Less than three months ago, this trend prompted all of the human rights experts working within the United Nations system to issue a public statement expressing their strong concern regarding the continued deterioration in the situation and the denial of the human rights of migrants. While they recognized the sovereign right of states to adopt laws and regulations concerning the entry of aliens and the terms and conditions of their stay, the experts called on states to abide by international humanitarian and human rights law. They expressed their concern about current attempts to institutionalize discrimination and exclusion of migrants and the increasing tendency to restrict the human rights of migrants. And they expressed special concern about the situation of women and children migrants, especially those who are deemed to be regular or irregular. We all know that irregular immigration is a real problem, and states need to cooperate in their efforts to stop it — especially in cracking down on smugglers and traffickers whose organized crime networks exploit the vulnerable and subvert the rule of law.

But combating irregular immigration should be part of a much broader strategy. Countries should provide real channels for legal immigration, and seek to harness its benefits, while safeguarding the basic human rights of migrants. They should also take concrete steps to address the root causes of migration, which is often lack of economic opportunities and poverty.

The Role Of Migration In The Face Of Demographic Challenges

Ten years ago, at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, 179 governments agreed on a 20-year plan to address all facets of population, including migration. To reduce migration pressures, and increase the viable option of remaining in one’s country, they called for strengthened efforts to narrow the economic gap between rich and poor nations, to defuse conflicts before they escalate, to ensure that the rights of minorities and indigenous people are respected, and to respect the rule of law, promote good governance, strengthen democracy and promote human rights. The world’s governments also agreed that greater support should be provided to meet people’s basic needs for food, nutrition, education and health, including reproductive health to enable women to plan their families and prevent HIV infection. In order to make greater progress, donor nations were urged to increase international development assistance to these priority areas, and to promote fair trade and debt relief. By addressing migration as an integral part of international development, there is a greater chance of justice being served. Today it is clear that the growing inequity between and within countries affects migration patterns.

To address migration, the growing poverty and demographic divide between rich and poor countries must be addressed. During the next half century, the population of the European Union will stagnate or grow slowly while the population of the world’s poorest countries will increase three-fold. With Europeans living longer and having fewer children, there is a need for immigrants to fill jobs and deliver services. The same is true in Japan, the Russian Federation, South Korea and Singapore, among other countries in which birthrates are falling and populations are aging. For these countries, immigration represents part of the solution. And there are many positive lessons we all can learn from the United States, Canada and Australia for example, as countries whose population grows through migration.

Migration As A Positive Factor

For people in poor countries, emigration is also part of the solution. It is not surprising that many of them see Europe as a land of opportunity to begin a new life. As long as inequity and imbalances between labor demand and supply are growing among countries, people will seek opportunity where they can find it. Poverty is often cited as one of the main causes of irregular migration. So, from a policy perspective, less poverty should mean less migration pressures. At the same time, it is clear that migration itself reduces poverty in poor countries. In 2004, migrants sent home at least $90 billion to their developing countries in remittances — a significantly larger amount than the $60 billion those countries received in development aid. This is more money than poor countries received from aid or capital markets, and the real number may be twice as high — making remittances higher than foreign direct investment and in some countries more valuable than exports. So there is a clear case to be made for the economic benefits and poverty reducing aspects of migration. It is important to note that this money goes directly to the people to whom it is sent and thus cannot be siphoned by governments. Migration plays a direct role in economic and social development — a role that was mentioned at the G-8 Summit, where leaders noted the importance of remittances in financing small businesses, education and housing in recipient countries.

But migrants also play an increasingly cultural role, enriching diversity in countries of destination as well as transmitting and opening new global perspectives and enabling human interaction in their communities of origin. Migration is therefore an issue in which all countries have a stake. It is time to stop using migrants as scapegoats for social problems and begin looking at the benefits a better managed international migration system can bring. Managing migration is not only a matter of opening doors and joining hands internationally. It also requires each country to do more to integrate new arrivals, without necessitating that they lose their cultural identity. Immigrants must adjust to their new societies — and societies need to adjust too. Immigrants do not want to live apart in their own ghettos. They want to integrate, while retaining their own identity. Immigrants make significant contributions to societies, which should not be overlooked or underestimated. For example, without them, many health systems would be short-staffed, many parents would not have the home help they need to pursue careers, and many jobs that provide services and generate revenue would go unfilled. All who are committed to human dignity should therefore take a stand against the tendency to make immigrants the scapegoats for social problems. The vast majority of immigrants are hard-working individuals who want a fair opportunity for themselves and their families. They are not criminals or terrorists. Managing migration properly and protecting the human rights of immigrants can create a win-win situation for all countries, thus surely achieving human security as well as national and global security.

Metaphors of Migration

Juan Goytisolo. Writer

We hear much talk of roots, both here on our peninsula and beyond. Of the roots of our societies and historic communities. Of our deep-rooted traditions in particular geographical areas since the dawn of time. Of how Man, like the vegetable, is a product of the land, of some timeless coordinates whose characteristics determine his idiosyncrasy and nature. Hence the aspirations of certain individuals and groups to develop fixed identities, perennial essences, immutable ethnocentrisms. There is what is ours and what is alien, and the differences between one and the other are presented to us as opposing or insurmountable. National, ethnic and religious myths are founded on this alleged “millennia-proven” identity, rooted forever in some corner of this minuscule planet on which we live. But Man is not a tree – he has no roots; he has feet, he walks. Since the time of homo erectus he has moved about in search of pastures, more benign climates, or places where he can seek shelter from inclement weather and the brutality of his fellow men. Space invites movement, and is inscribed in a sphere much vaster and in continuous expansion, in which the stars and planets outline their trajectories and orbits, sketching polygons and arborescent constellations, algebraic expressions and syllabaries. Our ancestors wandered beneath this protective dome and entrusted their destinies to the breadth of their wanderings.

Everything points to the mobility of our ancestors. Their collective migrations from north to south and vice versa. Across the whole spectrum of the wind-rose. On foot, with neither guide nor compass. Driven simply by their innate instinct and their longing for surroundings suitable for the satisfaction of their elemental needs: hunting, pasture, a shelter at night, the protective niche of the clan. Technical progress, from the Stone Age to the Iron and Bronze Ages, was accompanied, as we know, by new forms of violence. There is a direct relationship between the appearances of the most advanced civilisations and an increase in violence. Peoples and communities not only emigrated at the whim of their needs: they subjugated or annihilated other civilisations, constructing a new world on the ruins of the previous one. Five thousand years of human history are written in palimpsest text: in stratigraphy that allows us the achronistic reading of the great cities, from Istanbul to Mexico. Men move around, and with them, words: the infinity of oral stories that metamorphose along the thread of their exchange and circulation. Some of them took shape in the legends surrounding the foundation of monotheist religions. The majority avoided stagnation and dispersed themselves into a galaxy of tales, in which there is no claim upon authorship but on their transmission. Fables and mutating stories, with infinite possibilities for adaptation which, like moss, lichen and ivy, passed from China to India, from India to Persia, from Babylon to Greece, from Egypt to Rome, along the so-called “highways of the wind” that disseminate the seeds of words to remote lands by means of a vast form of fecundation and pollination.

To clarify: men and women can root themselves in whatever land they deem appropriate, but they can also abandon it in search of a better life, for freedom, to make money or out of necessity. Navigation techniques and the compass cut space down to size, accrediting our smallness and sphericity. For more than four centuries, we Europeans set foot on every continent, island and archipelago of the planet. We took our knowledge there with us and our technical advances, but we also took our dogmas and precepts which we imposed by force. In short, we took creativity and nobility and with them the brutality and ignominy of the so-called colonial adventure. Overwhelming architectural feats and urban inventions alongside slavery and exploitation, on a global scale, which diminished the feats of previous civilisations, struggling or in decline. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1789 was a fragile little light that neither put a stop to wars of conquest, nor the subjugation of entire continents, nor genocide, as described in The Heart of Darkness by Conrad. Our civilisation brings with it two of the great literary travel legends: that of Ulysses in The Odyssey and that of Robinson Crusoe on the island of Mas a Tierra. The story of the voyage of Penelope’s husband before his return to Ithaca, and that of Daniel Defoe’s hero faced with the challenge of building his world against the odds in a hostile environment. While the former was the seed – whether consciously or not – of the great travel books, ranging from those of Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo to the constellation of stories of the last two centuries – a genre that has been degraded today by ease of transportation and mass tourism – the Scottish sailor at the heart of Daniel Defoe’s work is not seeking adventure but survival, a victim of his precarious fate. This tale of shipwreck is today the story of tens of millions of men, women and children, foundering in a sea of misery, oppression and brutality of the countries that are compassionately and deceptively known as “developing”. All of them are Robinson Crusoes.

All of them are tenaciously striving for survival at the cost of countless hardships and the risk of dying in the endeavour. Migratory movements – not for conquest any longer, but as a result of the collapse of numerous societies in this globalised world, whose masters behave like the colonists of the old colonial estates – are the object of perceptions and metaphors that, in their own particular way, update the ancient animal fables. Some see them as “clouds of African locusts”, voracious termites, uncontainably proliferating rodents. I prefer to turn to the imaginary of Berber legends about storks, as I did in a chapter of one of my novels. As told by Domenec Badía – who, disguised as an Abyssinian prince, travelled throughout Morocco some two hundred years ago – storks were then respected as humans and were cared for in hospices especially established for them. They were men who, with the aim of travelling and discovering the world, were transformed into birds, flying to Europe and establishing themselves temporarily in its lands before returning to their native country and recovering their original form. Today, the storks emigrate to Fortress Europe and, from their nests in the walls of Marrakech, fly across Schengen airspace; but the men and women who watch them may not. We are living in an era when goods, capital and merchandise can circulate freely and yet people dream of an impossible visa or risk their lives to reach the forbidden shores.

Many are trapped on the Spanish or Italian coasts while others, less fortunate, rest on the bottom of the sea. The storks have more luck than them: here, the metaphor of their migration is one of an unattainable or broken dream. We all want to be storks, but many cannot. And the ones who manage to achieve it are seen by many as invaders: the xenophobic metaphor of the locust, the termite or the rodent that erode our community structures, that contaminate our land with their disturbing “otherness”. How forgetful we are. We were emigrants too. Not as adventurers or conquistadors but in search of a better and more dignified life. Forcibly expelled by our own compatriots in 1939, or victims of the underdevelopment following the material and human devastation of the Civil War and the implacable dictatorship that ensued. When I achieved my dream of going to Paris and enjoying there a freedom and rights that the autocracy of those years had denied me, I did so in a train crammed with my compatriots. Paris was full of Spaniards. The men worked in the construction industry and in factories; the women worked as domestic help for bourgeois families who used to call them, condescendingly, conchitas. And the situation was the same in Geneva, in Brussels and in the major German cities. We were stork-people, though some of them saw us as locusts, rodents or termites. With the manifestation of the European dream, the majority of our emigrants returned after 20 years and became integrated in the dynamic of the tremendous social transformations that pushed aside, like an old antique, the continuist strategies of the dictator’s successors. “The world is the house of those who do not have a house,” we read in A Thousand and One Nights, and those who did not have a home or who could not bear their incarcerating boundaries, learnt to travel, to transmute themselves into other beings before themselves and others. Disorientated, peripheral, little by little they discovered new habits and customs: not just those of the metropolis in which they were dwelling but also those of the other foreign communities established there. Africans, Arabs, West Indians, Turks and Hindus who, in successive migratory waves, tried to build themselves a life like Crusoe. I lived in that world for decades and I learned as much from that experience as from reading Cervantes.

The movement of human bodies changes the space they inhabit. My neighbourhood was regularly transformed without changing in itself. I witnessed the constant emergence of peoples, languages, costumes, customs, culinary practices. By making an effort, I made sense of new languages and alphabets; I became aware of my growing internal diversity, my valuably-acquired complexity. Since then, homogenous, compact cities have seemed flavourless and foreign to me. In my favourite neighbourhoods in Paris, Berlin and New York, I have corroborated that beautiful phrase from Élie Faure: “Spirituality has never sprung from councils, precepts or dogmas, but from the very core of life in creation and movement.” Movements, migrations, the transmission of skills and knowledge, without which civilisation would not exist. We congregate in major cities but we come from different places with diverse experiences. We learn to understand the urban realities, as Baudelaire taught us, from the destabilising perspective of change. To see the world as a continuous process of deconstruction and construction. To see culture as the sum of the influences that we have received throughout history. Precisely the antithesis of timeless essences and fixed identities. Movements and migrations are unstoppable and the mass communications media stimulates them. Millions upon millions of satellite dishes throw up images of a world that appears to be within reach, a world of ostentatious wealth and astonishing wellbeing, where, in the words of an Albanian detained on disembarking on the Italian coast, “they feed dogs with silver spoons.” In the face of the overwhelming magnetism of satellite dishes, parables and words cease to have any relevance.

In Latin America, North Africa, Sub- Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and far-away China, the shipwreckees of misery want to become Robinson Crusoes and fly like the storks to Fortress Europe. They know they will have to successfully overcome the difficult tests to which the gods will put them, in the hope of sooner or later finding a nook to nest in. Nature has a horror of empty spaces, and job positions unfilled by the natives will inevitably be filled by those who emigrate. Do I mean by this that we should open our frontiers without restraint and welcome, for humanitarian reasons, anyone who aspires to come and work in our land? This would be as counterproductive and utopian as the constantly revised Alien’s Law which was applied meanly and messily during the Popular Party’s mandate. Self-interest and respect for European labour laws and regulations, however, make it advisable to facilitate the legal migration of immigrants with clearly established rights and obligations and thus prevent the accumulation of irregularities and outrages of the last few years, such as the systematic non-renovation of tens of thousands of residence and work permits which turned people who once held these papers into “illegals”, and an anti-North African policy based on the promotion of alleged “cultural affinities” – for cultural, read religious – which, as I wrote recently, turned Lithuania and the Ukraine, risum teneatis, into two countries with greater historical and cultural bonds with Spain than our southern neighbours. Space changes with the movement of people.

The migrations that have arrived in the past, are arriving now and will continue to arrive on our peninsula will pollinate our soil with the moss, lichen and ivy of their tongues, customs, music, condiments and cuisine. The Barcelona of the Raval, the Rambla and the Ribera already resembles the Parisian districts I frequented forty years ago or the Berlinese/Turkish Kreuzberg where I spent a few months in 1981. The seeds and spores of the “highways of the wind” fertilise urban spaces and create new forms of life. In my own experience, coexistence on the inside of the urban fabric becomes a testing ground from which all of us can benefit. To drive immigration out from the city centres where it has found a niche to shantytowns that will swiftly become ghettos is to sacrifice social coexistence to the interests of blind speculation. What is happening today in the troubled banlieues of Paris, Lyon and Marseilles is a clear warning to us all. Marginalisation is a breeding ground for delinquency and a backwards leap to myth. Immigrants both can and should learn much from us: the concept of citizenship, equality of the sexes and universally recognised human rights which are barely applied in their countries of origin. But we also should be able to learn from them in these fluctuating and permeable urban spaces, whose equilibrium is founded in the existence of dynamics that are not just different but sometimes opposing. This is where the culture of the future will put forth shoots – if our exhausted planet can manage it –, the culture that, twenty years ago in Brussels, I called “surplus Europeans”.

The culture of the host country, where they will have integrated with a greater or lesser degree of success, and their own culture, which they will have brought with them on a journey full of turmoil. Let us return to A Thousand and One Nights and the theme that the world is the house for those who do not have one. Let us not put up “no entry” signs, nor approach migrations from the stringent perspective of law enforcement. We are all emigrants, the children and grandchildren of emigrants. The world is a heterogeneous place, evolving, and will continue thus to an increasing degree. Circumscribed identities, ahistoric nationalisms which only look backwards and cultivate their exclusiveness, are turning their back on the unstoppable movement of peoples, languages, customs and artistic expressions. We can all be different, and learn from the experience. The disasters of globalisation in servicing the frenzied and suicidal selfishness of the rich will only worsen the contradictions created from the free circulation of goods and capital and the defensive frontiers set with protective barriers of our Fortress. For this reason, with even greater resolve, we must understand and uphold our potential identity as Robinson Crusoes. All of us have the potential to be shipwrecked and to long for the free flight of the storks. Mass paradoxes: in the current era of technological revolution and the proliferation of instant long-distance communications systems (the Internet, mobile phones, etc.) we realise that “real” communication spaces are threatened by the growing speculation of urban land and that a culture of homogeneity is obliging some governments to invoke their cultural exception to preserve the diversity of both languages and high culture.

As Octavio Paz warned, our epoch will also be one of the vengeance of “particularisms”: that of an interaction between the assimilationist drive of States and the idiosyncratic reactions that resist it. In her illuminated and trenchant essay, Perpetuum mobile, the Belgian anthropologist Christiane Stallaert, strives to deconstruct “the illusion that ethnic and coexistence strategies (i.e. state) are being channelled lineally towards a quiescent point, or that the political frontiers declared as immutable will be able to detain the capricious movement of the creation and interaction of collective identity.” For this, she adds, there is a need to “abandon a utopian vision of multiethnic and multicultural coexistence and approach the future from a realistic perspective, from an awareness that the identifying and socialisation processes involved in any such coexistence are enveloped in perpetual and endless motion.” This is the great challenge that is facing us: not one of a multicultural utopia or of homogenous ethnicity, but something more fragile which is continuously subject to revision. The challenge of a dynamic created by the permeability of supposedly antagonistic models, capable of preventing the stagnation of the ghetto and the dangers inherent in marginalisation. Barcelona and Madrid increasingly resemble Paris, Berlin and Brussels. The colourful fruits of human diversity demonstrate that if black is a stain amongst whites, then also, as Quevedo observed, white is a stain amongst blacks. Our coexistence project should be submitted to constant critical revision. The long history of genocide and displacement in every part of our planet demonstrate the need for explicit commitments and agreements. In this way nobody will be able to impose potentially lethal utopias.

All of us need to be Crusoes in the heart of our communities and rebuild them on a daily basis. Not within the framework of gigantic and speculative urban development projects but by means of the productive interchange of experiences and knowledge – alongside the conflicts and arguments – within the social fabric of the city. Barcelona, with its immigrants who initially came from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula and later from Latin America, North Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sub-Saharan Africa, displays the huge variety of situations that exist between assimilationist projects and centrifugal strategies. The charnegos (Andalusian immigrants) who established themselves in the city were once upon a time “the other Catalans” and some of them are still regarded as such today. Anyone who has arrived in the last decade is confronted, as in Brussels and Quebec, with blurred and permeable cultural and ethnic divides. Some of them will seek integration – not an almost impossible assimilation – by means of learning and attaining a command of the Catalan language, for which they will receive the support of the Generalitat and educational and social institutions. Others will learn Spanish, with all the benefits this will give them in other communities and regions of Spain. One and all will see themselves prevailed upon to define themselves linguistically, although the national identity problem is of no concern to them.

There will be North Africans and Sub- Saharans speaking Catalan while Spanish citizens refuse to do so. Many old and new Catalans, whether faithful or not to their ethnic and linguistic identities, will form a common front against new arrivals from Muslim countries, the target today, as we know, of the attacks of a hard core of “Aznarian thinkers” – please excuse the oxymoron – who reiterate, perhaps without even realising, the most hackneyed clichés of the last two centuries of European anti-Semitism. Resistance to these ethnic-religious reactions will, in turn, give rise to identity stagnation in troubled ghettos and shantytowns, setting in motion the rejection mechanisms of other sectors of the population. All of this will give rise to conflicts of a very varied degree and nature, which will not be resolved through decrees or laws but by means of tactical compromises. The social and cultural dynamics of the city will create shock-absorbing mechanisms in the heart of civil society, which will mitigate the impact of the poorlynamed “clash of civilisations”. We will need to reinvent on a daily basis new forms of coexistence, to become the Robinson Crusoes of urban spaces that are in perpetual motion. The social and associative fabric of mixed neighbourhoods must harmonise the disparate and reconcile opposites. We must add, always add, Gaudí used to say. Let us thus reject those poisonous metaphors that slip from linguistic differences to ethnic differences, and from these to the crudely racist. The life of Man is in continuous rotation even though it may not move. All of us are potential stork-people or the children or grandchildren of them. Let us not put discriminatory obstacles in the path of those who have already landed on our soil.