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July 07, 2021


Insight by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, states that "everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State and everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country". The right to leave a country, however, includes the right to obtain the necessary travel documents, i.e. visas and passports. However, the political and bureaucratic barriers that states impose on the exercise of this right are numerous, ranging from citizenship and immigration laws that ignore the human rights paradigm, to delays and obstructions in embassies, consulates and police offices in many states. The issue is made more complicated and difficult by a sin of origin: the birth. The body's free movement depends on the nationality of the passport. 

The company Arton Capital has developed the passport index, where each passport is analysed and ranked according to its travel possibilities and the ease of obtaining a visa. The prestige of the passport depends on the number of countries where you can enter without a visa or where it is fairly easy to obtain one. European passports are among the most privileged because they allow to travel almost anywhere without restrictions. Syria, on the other hand, is at 197th place, only preceded by Iraq and Afghanistan and followed by Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Palestine and Pakistan. This means that citizens in possession of these passports cannot travel to almost any country.

In reality, this is not quite the case. The company Henley & Partners, founded in 1997 in London by Christian Kälin and Juerg Steffen, offers 'residence and citizenship planning' services to thousands of wealthy people. In other words, the London-based firm acts as an intermediary between the super-rich and the countries selling citizenship. Do you want the Austrian citizenship? You invest 3 million euros and it's yours. In Malta, on the other hand, the minimum contribution required is 1 million euros, and so on. This means that the political and economic elites of certain states, most often responsible for the instability of the countries themselves and the consequent migration of their citizens, can buy citizenship and acquire the right to travel and movement. 
Travelling, therefore, is a privilege for few rich. The freedom of movement certainly depends on the passport nationality but also on how rich this person is. In this system of global apartheid of mobility, "a modern equivalent of feudal privilege (...) is produced", according to the moral philosopher Joseph Carens, "a status which is inherited and which significantly increases a person's life chances". 

The right to move and to travel needs to be at the heart of the public debate and considered as a universal right, not as a privilege of the few. We need to rethink visa policy - work, health, tourism, study - and expand family reunification. We need to support, promote and finance humanitarian corridors and imagine a global governance, an international collaboration for migration, as well as for the environment. 
In spite of walls, borders, immigration rules, externalisation of borders and detention centres entrusted to corrupt partners and regimes (think of Libya, Niger or Turkey), the movement of thousands of people has never stopped over the years and will not stop in the future. People will continue to demand the right to move, to educate their children, to be cured of a disease, to improve their lives, to escape a conflict or from a desertified region. And even if the price to pay is high, they will still do it. 

With no other possibility of legal travel, the only solution is to rely on the network of smugglers and traffickers. But in a 'free market' system of supply and demand, how much do criminal organisations get for offering a service to those who want to migrate? The United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODC), estimates that 2.5 million migrants were smuggled in 2016, with profits - underestimated - reaching traffickers amounting to 5.9 billion.  

The European Union, over the period 2021-2027, intends to allocate 30.8 billion for border security and to increase Frontex's permanent body of guards to 10,000. Other EU measures include: removing rescue ships from the world's deadliest border, the Mediterranean Sea, where over 33,000 people - it is estimated - have drowned since 2014, in favour of surveillance drones. 

How is it possible that all this money is being spent to curb migration? How is it possible that such abuse has become so normalised? 

There are alternatives to walls, protectionism and this short-sighted obsession with borders. However, we need to overturn the narrative and our thinking, get out of a narrow nationalism and start thinking in terms of belonging to planet earth, the home of all. This is the only way to have a political discussion about the universal right to travel, the right to move and seek one's happiness in another place in the world.

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