Imagine if the citizens of a wealthy Australian city such as Sydney decided to erect a barrier to stop other Australians entering. Imagine also that Sydney set up detention camps where people attempting to get in were detained indefinitely, with some allowed entry but others deemed “economic migrants” and denounced for their greed.
Outrage and condemnation would surely pour forth from the rest of Australia. The Sydney people would inevitably be accused of putting themselves ahead of their fellow Australians. There would be cries of how dare they treat their fellow Australians this way, especially those who are suffering and struggling to build a better life for their families. The Sydney people would be accused of denying their fellow Australians a fair go.
Such terrible behaviour seems impossible to us, but this is how our fellow human beings are being treated as Australia pursues its current border control policy. The Oceanic Viking affair offers the most recent example of Australia’s attempts to keep people out.
Why is it alright to treat our fellow human beings this way, when we would never do the same to our fellow Australians?
Why do people deserve fewer rights than us just because of where they were born?
Why are Australians more deserving of a fair go than other human beings?
The answer to all of these questions is that all human beings deserve to be treated with basic dignity, and this basic dignity includes the right to freedom of movement.
But if what Australia is doing is not alright, what should we do?
Many people will say that open borders and freedom of movement are simply impossible to put into practice, and that were we to open our borders we would simply be swamped by refugees and our society would collapse; benefiting no one.
Whether or not an open border policy would have such an effect, it is important to realise that framing the question as one where the only options are the current situation or the chaos of an immediate move to open borders obscures rather than illuminates the solution.
The choice is not between either maintaining the world as it is or instantly opening national borders. The choice is between doing nothing or starting to move beyond the tribalism of the age of nation states in which we currently live. If we start work to build a more integrated world based on principles such as democracy and human rights we will over time be able to increase freedom of movement around the world. Moving beyond our tribal approach to such issues as freedom of movement does not mean instantly throwing our borders open to all. It means taking the steps to build a global political system that enables our common humanity to start transcending our tribal national identities, making possible in the future a higher degree of freedom of movement between states.
Now, again, I realise that many readers will say such a development is impossible. But just as every other step of progress in human history was decried as impossible until it happened, so it will be with the movement to build a globalised political system based on respect for our common humanity to accompany our globalised economy.
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