The True Role of Immigrants

The True Role of Immigrants – Open letter from President Evo Morales re the EU “return directive”.

Up to the end of the Second World War, Europe was a continent of emigrants. Thousands of Europeans left for the Americas to colonize, escape from hunger, financial crisis, war, totalitarian governments and the persecution of ethnic minorities.

Today, I am following with concern the process of the “return directive”. The text, agreed on 5 June by the Interior Ministers of 27 countries of the European Union, has to be voted on in the European Parliament on June 18th. I feel that it drastically worsens the conditions of detention and deportation for undocumented immigrants, regardless of how long they have spent in a EU country, their work situation, their family ties, how much they want to and have been able to integrate.

Europeans arrived in Latin and North America en masse, no visas or conditions were imposed on them by the authorities. They were always welcomed, and continue to be. At that time, our American countries absorbed Europe’s economic poverty and political crisis. They came to our continent to exploit its natural wealth and transfer it to Europe – to the great cost of America’s Native populations. As is the case of our Cerro Rico de Potosi and its fabulous silver mines which provided money for the European continent from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The people, the wealth and the rights of Europeans immigrants were always respected.

Today, as a result of its positive image as a place of prosperity and public freedoms, the European Union is the main destination of immigrants around the world. The great majority of immigrants go to the EU to contribute to this prosperity, not to take advantage of it. They are employed in public works, construction, hospital, domestic and caring services which Europeans cannot or will not do. They contribute to the demographic dynamics of the European continent, maintaining the relationship between those who are active and inactive in such a way as to enable its generous social security systems, and the dynamics of internal markets and social cohesion. Immigrants offer a solution to the EU’s demographic and financial problems.

Our emigrants are for us the development help that Europeans do not give us – since few countries really achieve their minimum aim of 0.7% of GDP in development aid. In 2006, Latin America received US$68,000million in remittance [monies sent back], more than the total foreign investment in our countries. Worldwide remittances reached US$300,000 million, more than the US$104,000 million granted for development aid. My own country, Bolivia, received more than 10% of GDP in remittances (US$1,100 million) or a third of our annual natural gas exports.

So, immigration waves benefit both the Europeans and marginally also the Third World, given that we lose our qualified labour force in which our countries, despite being poor, have invested human and financial resources.

Unfortunately, the “return directive” project greatly complicates this reality. While we understand that each State or group of States has the sovereign right to define its own immigration policies, we cannot accept that our Latin American compatriots, brothers and sisters, should be denied their human rights. The “return directive” foresees the possibility of imprisoning undocumented immigrants for up to 18 months before they are expelled – or “distanced” according to the directive’s terminology. 18 months! Without trial or justice! As it stands today the text of the directive clearly violates articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Article 13 of the Declaration which states:

“1. All persons have the right to move freely and to choose their residence in the territory of a State.

2. All persons have the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.”

And, worst of all, there is the possibility that mothers and minors will be imprisoned in detention centres where we know that depression, hunger strikes and suicide are going on, without their family and school situation being taken into account. How can we accept without reacting that our undocumented Latin American compatriots, brothers and sisters should be put in camps, when the great majority have spend years working and integrating? On what side is today’s duty of humanitarian intervention? Where are “freedom of movement” and the protection against arbitrary imprisonment?

At the same time, the European Union is trying to convince the Andean Community of Nations (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) to sign an “Association Agreement” which includes a Free Trade Agreement similar in nature and content to that imposed by the United States. We are under intense pressure from the European Commission to accept conditions of great liberalization for our trade, financial services, intellectual property and public services. In addition, under the guise of legal protection we are being pressured for having nationalized our water, gas and telecommunications on International Workers’ Day. I ask, where is “legal protection” for our women, adolescents, children and workers who look for better horizons in Europe?

To promote the free circulation of goods and finance while our brothers and sisters who try to circulate freely face imprisonment without trial, would be a denial of fundamental freedoms and democratic rights. If the “return directive” is passed, it would not be ethically possible for us to deepen our negotiations with the European Union, and according to the diplomatic principle of reciprocity, we reserve the right to introduce the same visa restrictions for European Citizens that have been imposed on Bolivians since the 1st of April 2007. We have not exercised that right up to now precisely because we were hoping for a good sign from the European Union.

The world, its continents, oceans and poles are going through great global difficulties: global warming, pollution, the slow disappearance of energy resources and biodiversity, while in every country hunger and poverty increase, weakening our societies. To make immigrants, whether they have documents or not, scapegoats of these global problems is not the solution. It doesn’t correspond to any reality. The social cohesion problems that Europe is suffering from are not the fault of immigrants but rather the result of the development model imposed by the North, which destroys the planet and dismembers human societies.

In the name of the people of Bolivia, of all my brothers and sisters of this continent and other regions of the world, like Maghreb and the countries of Africa, I appeal to the consciousness of the European leaders and parliamentarians, of the people, citizens and activists of Europe, not to approve the text of the “return directive”. The text that’s before us today is a directive of shame.

I call also on the European Union to work out over the next months an immigration policy which respects human rights; which allows us to maintain this dynamics that is beneficial to both continents; and to repair once and for all the huge historic debt, both economic and ecological, which European countries owe to a large part of the Third World, and in so doing close the open veins of Latin America. They must not fail today in their “policies of integration” as they have failed with their so called “civilizing mission” during colonial times.

Fraternal greetings from Bolivia to all of you, authorities, Euro parliamentarians, brothers and sisters. And our solidarity, particularly to all the “clandestine people”.

Evo Morales Ayma

President of the Republic of Bolivia

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