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A Life Adventured: The migrant/refugee

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the current migration and refugee crisis, is scale trumping humanity?

Refugee crisis in EuropeSomething about the way the story of the ongoing epic migration and refugee crisis is being told perturbs. Scale trumps humanity. Overwhelmingly, the focus is on the sheer girth and amplitude of the crisis. Mind-numbing statistics tumble from the mouth of broadcasters, and the cameras pan over and around scenes of multitudes on the move almost the same way that documentary makers film the flight of sky-darkening flocks of migratory birds or the earthquake mimicking stampede of wild bulls across a great river. The tragedies that occur with saddening frequency are anonymous: another boat sinks in the Mediterranean, hundreds are dead. We don’t see victims; we don’t know them. We see pictures of the flotsam and jetsam, of the foul detritus of failed voyages. And the cameras move on.

Until the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach turns up and the world is stunned and horrified. For instance, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently told Fareed Zakaria of CNN that that picture transformed policymaking in parts of Europe from indifferent to totally engaged. That, I would argue, is because that picture foregrounded a powerful truth.

What is this truth? It is this: while this migration and refugee crisis might be on a biblical scale, it is still about discrete, distinct, singular human lives. Each one of these people on the move is an individual, a bundle of consciousness, a brain, emotions, feelings, deep needs and aspirations, parents, families, friends, the whole nine yards. Above all, the truth is that each one of these individuals has chanced, gambled her life. In other words, each life caught up in this crisis is a life adventured. And when a human life is adventured a tragic ending is often the result.

Strict Immigration Curbs Rejected by Swiss Voters

Hanspeter Wyss's picture

Thanks to 74 percent of Swiss voters and to all of the 26 cantons who voted against the referendum to introduce strict immigration quotas, I am now relieved.  If the referendum on November 30 by the environmentalist group Ecopop had been successful, I am not sure whether Switzerland would have let me return. The supporters of the referendum “’stop overpopulation – safeguard our natural environment”’ (see blog) sought to limit the annual net annual immigration to 0.2 percent of Switzerland’s resident population. This quota, representing about 16,000 people per year, is a fifth of the net immigration to Switzerland in recent years (an annual average of 81,500 immigrants from 2008 to 2013). The 0.2 percent curb would have applied to all migrants, including asylum seekers, people wanting to be reunited with family members already living in Switzerland, migrants looking for better job opportunities, some of the more than 730,000 Swiss abroad who would like to come back, or very rich individuals who would like to live in Switzerland because of lower taxes.  The latter group may be thankful to those 59 percent of Swiss voters who rejected another referendum from last weekend on whether to abolish lump-sum taxation in all 26 cantons (five cantons have already decided to abolish this tax regime).  Such tax privileges are accorded to wealthy private foreign nationals who take residence in Switzerland for the first time or after ten years of absence, but are not allowed to work in Switzerland.

Remittances from Qatar: Less-informed Families Receive Less

Robertas Zubrickas's picture

Doha Skyline from the museum of Islamic art | flickr@jikatu/8041248308

Over the past decade, there has been an almost exponential rise in international remittances. We from recent research that remittances are critical for the well-being of individual households in developing countries – helping them to emerge from poverty, send their children to school, and invest in small enterprises, health, education and housing. Yet not much is known about determinants of remittance flows within transnational households (those with one or more members working abroad), an increasingly important topic for policy makers with the sums involved.

Quote of the Week: Margaret Hodge

Sina Odugbemi's picture
“Migration is a feature of globalisation. You can’t stop it; so every time a political party says it is going to be tough on immigration, it fails to deliver and loses trust.”

Margaret Hodge, a British Labour politician, who has represented Barking, a district in East London, since 1994. On 9 June 2010, she was elected Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which is responsible for overseeing government expenditures to ensure they are effective and honest.

Do Most of Us Favor or Oppose Immigration?

Hanspeter Wyss's picture

I often hear that large parts of the society have rather negative views about immigration, in spite of the fact that a large majority of research papers clearly identifies more benefits than costs to people in the host country from immigration (see Shanta Devarjan’s blog).  So, I decided to look more closely at some of the empirical evidence on public perceptions on migration.

When Robots Attack!

Tanya Gupta's picture

Robots have been a part of our mythology for thousands of years, the emphasis alternating between their positive transformative power over human society and acting as agents of great destruction.  Our image of robots has been shaped to a large extent by Hollywood and literature.  Celluloid robots in Star Wars, 2001 Space Odyssey, Robocop, Star Trek and many of Isaac Asimov’s novels have become a part of the human story.  Off-celluloid, robots have been helping our society in concrete ways (for example police work (bomb disposal), infrastructure projects etc.).  However when Watson won Jeopardy it brought artificial intelligence and robotics a new kind of attention.  People started to wonder if robots could replace humans.  When we think of robots we think of self driven cars, household robots or even warrior robots.  However, in our view, the influence of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more subtle and their presence more ubiquitous than one would think. One such impacted sector is the agriculture sector (in the US) which is on the cusp of a massive transformation, as it moves from mechanization to automation. When rolled out and commercialized (soon) this massive scale of automation will have a significant impact on US farming and on immigration for sure.  But does this also impact the development landscape? If so how?

Agricultural robotic systems have been implemented in fruit and vegetable harvesting, greenhouses and nurseries. Harvest Automation, for example, has developed the the HV-100, a 90-pound robot for commercial nurseries that can pick up and rearrange potted plants. There are quite a few silicon valley startups that are contributing to this revolution in the region known as “America’s Salad Bowl”, around Salinas Valley. California, where Salinas Valley is located, produced $1.6 billion dollars worth of lettuce in 2010 and 70%+ of all lettuce grown in America. Lettuce Bot, a new robot developed by Stanford engineers Jorge Peraud and Lee Redden, both from farming families from Peru and Nebraska, can “produce more lettuce plants than doing it any other way” (Yahoo Finance).  Lettuce Bot’s innovation is that while attached to a tractor, it takes pictures of passing plants and compares these to a database. When the weed or a lettuce head that is too close to another one is identified, a concentrated dose of fertiliser is sprayed. A close shot of fertilizer kills the errant weed or lettuce head but actually feeds the further off crops at the same time.

Prejudice and Immigration

Guest post by Paolo Giordani and Michele Ruta*

Immigration policies are often driven by prejudices. In a recent paper, we argue that immigration prejudices in receiving economies tend to be self-fulfilling. In particular, anti-immigrant attitudes sustain restrictive policies that lower the economic benefits of immigration by reducing the quality of the migrant labor force, thus reinforcing initial prejudices. This suggests that immigration reforms in receiving economies, such as the one presently discussed in the U.S., have long term economic implications. We elaborate on this point in three simple steps.