Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content.Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.
The United Nations Network on Migration has set the theme of Migration Week 2024 as Cooperation and Partnership: Implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration: Progress and Challenges.
It should not come as a surprise to our community that we are not going to be campaigning to create a world where ‘orderly’ migration is the ultimate goal. Instead, we have chosen to flip this week on its head, and talk about an issue that deserves far more attention than it receives: decolonising migration. Colonialism, decolonisation and migration should be part of the same conversation. However, there is a widespread resistance to discussing these issues.
Decolonisation is not a buzzword. It is about repatriation and systemic justice. It means identifying and acknowledging how colonialism shapes systems, including migration systems. We must identify and acknowledge how colonialism has created the conditions for contemporary migration and/or displacement, and how it forms the basis of structures, including immigration systems. This is something we will be unpacking throughout Migration Week 2024.
Regular and orderly migration undermines transformative justice
The Global Compact on Migration stresses the importance of regulating migration so as to not overwhelm infrastructure. This plays into state emphasises on ‘order’ as part of upholding racist structures while dismissing transformative alternatives that prioritise liberation, reparations, abolition and decolonisation. In short, promoting the idea of ‘orderly’ seeks to strengthen and uphold racist, restrictive migration routes while playing into the constructed idea of a ‘crisis’.
Immigration regimes are essentially an expression of state power over racialised bodies. Immigration regimes reiterate the inside/outside dynamic and have legitimised the racist exclusionary measures, which is inherently colonial. Limiting the movement of racialised and marginalised people is imperialist in nature. In the modern world, colonisers continue to dictate the terms of how and where people can move through border controls, surveillance and production of racial hierarchies in immigration regimes. Dehumanising bodies from the Global South and subjecting them to brutal border regimes when many flee the results of colonialism cannot go hand in hand with true decolonisation.
Aspiring to create ‘orderly’ migration systems in a neocolonial world will be of little comfort to those fleeing the legacies of colonialism or ongoing extractive foreign intervention. Nor is safety a priority for nation states who are striking to further militrise cruel borders or expand the detention state.
Colonialism is alive and thriving
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of many examples of enduring colonialism. The DRC has endured a dark history of imperialist and capitalist exploitation that still persists today: King Leopold of Belgium claimed the Congo as his “private property” and exploited the land and people for rubber, and the Congolese continuously experienced systemic violence in the world’s unending thirst for copper and cobalt. The brutal colonial regime and capitalist exploitation have contributed to ongoing conflict in the DRC, with almost seven million people displaced. Despite this, Belgium has not (like many other colonial powers) recognised the devastating role it played in creating the conditions for today’s atrocities nor engaged in dialogue on reparations or repatriation. We see similar situations play out in Palestine or Sudan to name a few.
Borders drawn on maps by colonisers in the 19th and 20th century are being strengthened. Immigration systems continue to reinforce imperialist racist hierarchies and segregation. The West continues to exert its influence by extracting resources and through violent foreign interventions. Imperialist tactics and regimes continue to flourish and be reproduced- China is a new emerging imperialist power.
Colonisation is still raging. The process of decolonisation hasn’t even begun.