Mark Saey | Civiclab

The subject

We chose as our subject ‘people without legal residence and refugees’, right after we watched the movie The Freedom Writers. The movie is about an American colleague who teaches an ethnically diverse and difficult group and shows the fascinating thing about project teaching but also the fundamental question of how to implement this in every school for every class. We began preparing the two mandatory parts to secure the purposiveness of the trajectory:

a) Description of the subject:

‘The necessity of world citizenship.

In her classic book on the history of European migration and refugee routes Saskia Sassen underscored the need for a better understanding of the unity of our world and the spatial structure of migration. More insight into the geographical spheres of influence of the rich countries and the causes of unequal development on the world level, would help governments to devise a more humane and more efficient asylum and migration policy (Sassen S. (1999): Guests and Aliens, N.Y.: The New Press)

Using lots of statistics Sassen showed how the common view of an indeterminate invasion of herds of fortune hunters and the image of the receiving countries as passive actors (only choosing to more or less close or open borders) do not agree with reality. The number of immigrants in Europe is about 5% of total population. The largest waves of refugees and migrants occur in the developing world. And rich countries face immigration that not only is imbedded in the spatial history of their colonial past but is also sustained by the demand for cheap labour. Border controls are therefore not the only means to regulate migration. And as the core of policies they cause a set of severe problems which Caroline Moorehead aptly described in her homage to the courage of refugees and their will to survive (Moorehead C. (2006): Human cargo. A journey among refugees, London: Picador):

The wall rich countries erect to keep out the poverty and misery of the rest of the world seems far less solid than is often assumed. Less than half of asylum applicants are approved. But it is quite clear that governments are incapable to effectively hold back all others, among which also those who for different reasons do not apply for asylum, and send them back to the countries they accidently were born into. This undermines the credibility of their approach and that way also the confidence of their citizens. To the measure that these policies are systematically presented as the solution ever more citizens will believe that people without legal residence are above all opportunists who want to abuse our hospitality and therefore do not deserve our aid or protection. As EU MP Annemie Neyts underscored (…) these prejudices in their turn create the opportunities for authoritarian and populist parties to erode our democracy and induce other parties to hunt down everyone “who doesn’t belong here” (Neyts A., quoted in: Commers R. & Blommaert J. (red.) (2001): Het Belgische asielbeleid, Berchem: EPO). Yet, the hard reception of asylum seekers, the toleration of the inhumane conditions in which undocumented migrants often end up, the lock up and deportation of so many arrested sans papiers, all create an embarrassment which surfaces with every argument that wants to escape the straight forward critique of still many citizens.

This critique holds four core arguments. First, that this can be no wise policy for countries of which the population is rapidly aging. Second, that this is hard to accord with the free movement of goods and capital. Third, that this cannot possibly be in agreement with the spirit of human rights declarations. And four, that only the political option for a more sustainable global development can allow governments to do more than organise the one after the other round of regularisation to unlock the all too national dossier.

It’s especially this last argument – compared to the controls, lock ups and deportations – that clearly shows how we are dealing here with what Moorehead, following Gervais Appave of the International Organisation of Migration in Geneva, has called ‘the unresolved problem of globalisation’.’ (JWW, p.139-141)

b) General didactic idea

‘General idea for the trajectory.

 It has long since been clear that the problematic of undocumented migrants and refugees can touch us all. Since they live amongst us, sit next to us in the tram or the bus, shuffle along with us to the counter in the supermarket. Since a couple of years they no longer see any other option than to confront us through all kinds of actions with the breach of their human dignity, at the risk of being arrested and deported. What would it give when we were to emerge our pupils in the paradox of untouchables in the countries of human rights? What would it produce when we were to introduce them to what happens in the shade of our consumer societies? We suspect that in the displacement of their innocence the reality will appear of a world that has run its course, and they will start to ask questions about the real implications of many of their moral choices. But we can also assume that when we could sustain the moral confusion long enough, this will spark the investigation of the meaning and purpose of world citizenship.

First this will surface as an undefined consequence of a more systematic critique of the present asylum policy which will demand their indignation: questions about the severity and largesse of the discovered poverty and exclusion, about the impact of politics, law and prejudice on life in the hidden caves of our societies. Questions about righteousness and freedom and about the possibility to change society and the importance of an engagement. Following these, considering world citizenship will happen in an already somewhat more clear perspective, in which a sustained involvement will accompany the growing distance in their reflection, when they will also ask questions about the global developments that cause the problematic situation and create the need for rethinking democracy on a global scale.

If we are capable to keep going their search and involvement, their growing understanding of the unequal development of this world and of justice as also a global issue, will not only make them more critical and wiser but also more convinced of the meaning of the unending struggle for human rights for all.’ (JWW, p.142)