A Compact of Decency

Migration is the human condition; we are all travelers on this earth and it behooves us to care for our country of origin as much as for our country of destination because both countries are our Earth. — Jorge Skinner-Klée Arenales, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations.

I delivered the  following statement at the European Union side event at the 3rd Round of Informals on the Global Compact on Migration, on April 4, 2018, 1:15-2:30 p.m., Conference Room 7, UN Headquarters New York:

“IN 2011 the Philippines entered into an agreement with the European Union and its member states on the joint management of migratory flows. It provides for a consultation mechanism on migration-related issues; for commitments to include migration concerns in national policies of the states parties of origin, transit, and destination.

“It proceeds in the Common Law manner to embrace new situations as they arise—providing for full cooperation on the basis of specific needs-assessments that consider the push-pull factors of migration; national laws and practices on protection and rights of migrants; fair treatment and avenues for integration of lawfully residing non-nationals; providing education and training as well as measures against racism, discrimination and xenophobia.

“It addresses human trafficking and protects the victims, instead of using their plight to victimize them more. It provides for the return and readmission of persons under humane and dignified conditions, promoting their voluntary and sustainable return to countries of origin. It imposes an equal duty to cooperate on visa issues, identification, and security of travel documents, as well as border management and development issues such as human resources, social protection, maximizing mutual benefits from migration, gender, ethical recruitment and circular migration and the integration of migrants. It was built on the positive experience of earlier Philippine bilateral labor agreements with Germany, Spain and Italy—pretty much as the present attempt at a Global Compact might be built on earlier conventions, which need not be revisited unless our purpose is to undo the good thus far achieved.

“The Philippine-Germany Agreement on the Placement of Filipino Health Professionals provides for skills training including language; and specifies that they “may not be employed under working conditions less favorable than those for comparable German workers.” It mandates coverage by compulsory insurance in the German social security system. It shows that safe, orderly and regular migration is attainable. They exemplify what we have been saying: providing the conditions for safe, orderly and regular migration is not solely the responsibility of the country of origin but also of the country of destination.

“It shows that it can be done because it has been done. And if it is not done, it is only because the will to do it is lacking—on the part of governments of sending and of receiving countries; the first to show the people fleeing their neglect that they are pretending to help them; and the second to blame these victims for their own shortcomings and gain political advantage in divided societies.

“The duties fall equally on receiving and sending countries so that those who slip through the fingers of one pair of hands may be caught up by other hands into which migrants might fall until they land in welcoming hands—so they do not plunge headlong into the horrors of undocumented migration.

“You might say these agreements cover regular migration. But they were more than that. These agreements regularized irregular migration. In short, when the Philippines discusses migration with the rest of the world, we are not sailing in uncharted waters. We’ve done it before and done it decently.

“We too had our share of irregular migration, or refugees as they were disdainfully dismissed by Western countries that turned them away—back to their doom in the multinational facility of Dachau and Auschwitz, of which everyone now is washing their hands. The circumstances were as desperate then as now.

“We had no plan on how strangers should be treated except as one of our own. Our conscience and common humanity were our only accessible code of conduct toward people fleeing a situation about which we said then as all of us should say now, “There, but for the grace of God, go us.” Or, as wave after migrant wave broke on our shores, “Here, in God’s mercy, welcome.” This without any expectation, that when our bad turn came, we shall be received as we had received others; because decency is not a currency of exchange but the vocabulary of action when man meets stranger. And it is upon this ground that any Compact should be erected: never as a legally binding document but—said a famously precise German by whose movements his neighbors told time—as a categorical imperative of human conduct. Act only as though your action will be a law binding everyone including yourself.

“If we all accept that minimum, we can proceed smoothly on what it should in essence be, Compact of Decency Toward Migrants—invited or not, for a long or short time, until they find a strange new life where they’ve gone or return to the familiar if unhappy old life they left.

“I noticed there is a worrying concern about emasculating state sovereignty by a non-binding, merely moral compact on migration. I am surprised that there should be such a concern among states of the European Union. Nothing but conquest can diminish state power. It is from a sovereign state that all powers flow, including for the regulation of migration. Even if the Compact were legally binding, a state can tear it up. Because what can stop it? Hence Brexit. We did it recently too.

“Every compact implies a provision for its dissolution. But a state enjoys a monopoly of violence not to inflict it on whim or to gain a domestic political advantage in a broken society; but to use it for the safety of all who come into its jurisdiction—be it by native birth, invitation or desperation. Though not all are welcome, yet none shall be harmed for that reason. So no eugenics of the native born. See, everyone has a stake in a Compact of Decency.

“To raise concerns about diminished state power at any stage of this moral undertaking can come only from those who feel that their states regrettably lost some measure of sovereignty in what, all told, has been the better union of their best interests in a shared and common market of ideas and ideals, of practices and goods, problems and solutions—all in a single wide community of varied nationality.

“Decency. Nothing is lost by decency; much is gained by it—not least self-respect. Much as we dislike foreigners whose uninvited presence troubles us, so much should we deplore our nationals hurting foreigners who’ve stumbled unto our shores. Thank you.”

To the foregoing Guatemala elegantly responded with the words I have used as the epigraph to the statement.





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