Globalization and xenophobia

  • 2000-06-22
  • By Paul Goble
WASHINGTON, D. C. - Governments which welcome the free flow of
capital and goods across their borders increasingly are seeking to
defend the advantages globalization gives their citizens by
restricting immigration into their countries and rejecting the
applications of those who request asylum.

Such policies are frequently popular with those who see immigration
as threatening their livelihoods or way of life. But this approach
not only entails tragic consequences for the individuals who are
involved but calls into question the widespread view that
globalization by itself will promote tolerance and international

June 16 was International Refugee Day, and migration rights groups
around the world sought to call attention to both things. Perhaps the
most dramatic report came from a Dutch group which pointed out that
over the last seven years, more than 2,000 people have died while
trying to reach the countries of the increasingly restrictive
European Union.

Many of them have succumbed when their boats have sunk in the
Adriatic or Mediterranean seas. In the first four months of this year
alone, about 120 people lost their lives while attempting to cross
the Straits of Gibraltar. And others have committed suicide while
being held in detention centers near borders or at major European

Indeed, the group United for Intercultural Action says their deaths -
documented at the group's web site at -
point to the emergence of what it calls "Fortress Europe," whose rich
residents ever more often seek to prevent others from participating
in their prosperity.

In a strongly worded appeal, the group argues that "it is impossible
to shut down borders for people when capital and goods are moving
freely." And it suggests that Europe's attempt "to keep out migrants
and refugees is based on intolerance and xenophobia and needs to be

Few people are prepared to argue that governments do not have the
right to control their borders and regulate who can cross them and
for what purposes. Indeed, national control of borders is often
viewed today as one of the most fundamental characteristics of state

But efforts to maintain tight control over the movement of people
even as there is increasingly free movement of capital and goods and
services may have some unintended consequences.

On the one hand, they may appear to provide government sanction for
xenophobic attitudes. After all, if governments restrict migration,
then many of those who oppose such migration out of ethnic or other
prejudices may conclude that their views are thus legitimized.

Some of those people in turn may thus decide to demonstrate their
hostility against those they dislike, who are already living among
them, in a variety of ways, support ever more nationalistic
politicians, and thereby poison the possibilities for democracy and
human rights.

And on the other hand, such anti-immigration attitudes and actions
simultaneously increase tensions among countries and undercut the
hopes of those who believe they could improve their lives by moving
somewhere else.

By increasing tensions among countries, anti-immigration actions
could reduce the flows of capital and goods and thus reduce the
benefits of globalization and support for it in some countries.

And by reducing the chances of those who are oppressed or
economically disadvantaged in one country from moving to another,
such actions can trigger three political developments which could
threaten the international system.

First, authoritarian governments which conclude that their
populations cannot leave and thus have no choice but to submit are
likely to become ever less willing to make the kinds of concessions
that they might be driven to in order to reduce population losses.

Second, people who cannot migrate as individuals may decide that the
only way they can achieve their ends is by directly challenging the
governments they hold responsible for their misfortunes, sometimes
peacefully but in other cases by extra systemic violence.

And third, at least some of them may decide to secede as a group from
the states that they feel are keeping them down, movements that by
their very nature challenge the legitimacy of the existing
international system and threaten the peace.

Such risks do not mean that countries could or should refuse to
control migration, but they do suggest that the imposition of tight
restrictions on the free flow of people may backfire, hurting not
only those who seek to enter but also those who may believe that
keeping them out is the best way to defend the advantages of