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US immigration

US and Europe no longer have a moral duty towards illegal immigrants

Michael Chugani says the influx of mostly economic migrants is straining social fabric and fanning hardline populism in the once-welcoming liberal West. Donald Trump has got it right with his zero-tolerance approach

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 2:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 2:01am

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Anyone who’s been to the Statue of Liberty would have seen these famous words. The statue has long stood tall in New York Harbour as an icon of freedom for immigrants. But, as welcoming as the words are, they now belong to a bygone era. 

Can we, with all honesty, apply those words to the migrants sneaking illegally into the United States from the Mexican border? I think not. Likewise, it’s a stretch to apply the words to those flooding into Europe. From TV images at least, these migrants don’t look anything like tired and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Many pouring into the US and Europe look healthy, able-bodied and young.

Some may well be genuine refugees fleeing persecution but most are economic migrants, plain and simple. Why else would they choose only wealthy Western nations? Why don’t those sailing to Australia head instead to Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, or China?

Why don’t those crossing from Mexico to the US head south instead to Brazil, Argentina or Chile? And why don’t those sailing to western Europe go instead to the Ukraine, Russia or Poland?

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The short answer is they don’t want to live in those places and they know they will be shown the door anyway. It may be politically insensitive to say this but the migrant crisis has become a white man’s burden.

Liberal democracy made it a moral duty for Western nations to do the right thing. Germany alone has taken in more than one million migrants in the past few years. These nations no longer want to shoulder the burden even if those fleeing are tired, poor, or yearning to be free. Their moral duty to be compassionate has long passed its sell-by date.

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I am not being heartless but it does no one any good to pretend the world still regards the Statue of Liberty inscription as a moral compass. There was never any global compassion for migrants anyway. That compassion came mostly from Western nations, with Hong Kong and Bangladesh being exceptions.

Hong Kong laudably opened its doors to tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. Bangladesh, a poor nation, did itself proud by giving temporary shelter to the Rohingya people fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

Feeling morally obliged to accept migrants not only swells the tide, it imperils liberal democracy by fanning hardline populism. Already, we are seeing this in Europe and the US, where populist leaders and hate groups have used migrants as scapegoats for the ills in their countries.

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Young and able-bodied migrants shouldn’t be fleeing anyway. They should stay and fight to make their countries a better place. If they refuse, then the countries they flee to should make them do it by deporting them.

Gandhi never fled. He stayed and fought. So did Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Safe havens should only be given to children, the feeble, and genuine refugees fleeing persecution. Those fleeing gang violence or for economic reasons have no moral right to be classified as refugees.

US President Donald Trump’s earlier policy of caging the children of illegal migrants was reprehensible. Thankfully, families are now being reunited. But there is nothing immoral about Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.

Watch: Trump signs order to stop migrant family separation

As he said just this week, the migrant crisis can be easily solved if people stop coming illegally. If migrants still choose to flee with their children, they should be told in no unclear terms that their children will be given temporary shelter but they will be sent back to make their countries better places.

Yes, such a policy means separation of families but it’s a choice the migrants themselves make. If migrants don’t want to fight to improve their countries, it is not beyond imagination to build islands or find uninhabited ones to put them and their families, where they can build new societies funded by the international community.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host