Stories from the field

Day 2015-06-09

Jennifer Mateer – Blog Post 1: Free Flow of Power

I was recently reading a response to the influx of boats in the Meditteranean Sea bringing refugees into Europe. The author, Fatou Diome, discusses which people are considered valuable and which are not and how this means that certain individuals are left to die at sea instead of being helped by various Navy and other military resources.  

I thought this spoke to our discussion on the commonwealth, and in particular the way in which the “big 4” would like to have a more relaxed visa process, without including the rest of the commonwealth country. In this instance, the “big 4” “have the right passport… [and with this] passport, you go anywhere around the world, and act like you run those place, with your pretentious demeanor”.  Diome is discussing this in relation to the EU, however with a similar commonwealth migration plan, there would be “the free flow of the powerful, the ones who have the money, and the right kind of passports” and restrictions for those individuals without the same power. This reinforces the problematic and neocolonial hierarchy of the commonwealth and is something to be deeply considered.  We “see on the headline the flow of African migrants arriving in Europe but you don’t speak of the Europeans going in Africa” – how could we ensure the commonwealth migration was different? I know from my time in Rwanda, the influx of Europeans hindered the formal economy in many ways (volunteers on gap years taking jobs away from Africans because they would do the work for free), while also increasing the tourist economy (restaurants geared at foreigners were doing well and employing Rwandans). 

Being in India currently really highlights this for me as India and Canada are both commonwealth countries, and I would have certainly enjoyed an easier Visa process for entry into the country. In fact, there was a lot of drama around getting a Visa! I wonder though if Indians would be given the same advantage if there were a more relaxed system in place? Are Indian bodies considered more of a threat to Canada (ie. they’ll use up social resources without adding to the country… they will bring antiquated customs and social norms etc) than my Canadian body in India? To be clear, I do not hold this fears about Indians in Canada, but the xenophobia in Canada exists.       

I think this also relates to the idea of worth – the worth people hold either intrinsically or not. Within resource management and water rights framework that I work in, worth plays into how decisions around allocation are made. In many ways, those people who have limited water access are considered unimportant or unworthy of political attention and as such water flows away from them (metaphorically). Water instead flows towards power, towards money, and in-effect flows towards those considered “worthy” by the state. Rather than privileging some with visas and water rights, shouldn’t we strive towards a more equitable relationship within the commonwealth and the world more generally?


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