Life’s Work

What good is gaining entrance to a city of refuge if one isn’t given the means to subsist within it. This week the European Committee on Civil Liberties voted on a draft directive to provide asylum seekers free legal assistance and access to the labor market.

Many critics of this new legislation argue that allowing asylum seekers access to the labor market will encourage economic migrants to abuse the political asylum system. It is important to understand to do otherwise would be inhumane. When denied means of subsistence, political asylum seekers are forced to rely on state support (which carries with it it’s own risks for exploitation and personal safety) or enter into under the table cash economies in order to provide for their basic necessities. These kinds of illegitimate labor render asylum seekers especially vulnerable to exploitation (for instance the indentured servitude of housekeepers and nannies) or high risk including criminal activity such as drug dealing.

This brings up the further question of why the current system of political asylum does not consider economic deprivations grounds for political asylum claims. One way to respond would be to worry over opening up the proverbial flood gates to allow anyone from the ‘developing’ world to have a right to migrate.

Indeed, the effects of economic globalization and the new inequalities that it has created have recolonized where one’s physical place on the globe becomes imbued with indications of their worth and disposability (think the seemingly disposable worth and labor of South Asians for example).

If the current system of citizenship in Europe continues on its exclusionary trajectory that internalizes this globalized racism, it is doomed to result in a system which Balibar has labeled European “apartheid”. In this institutionalization of racism, non-citizens are both relied on for their labor but accorded a second-class status by being denied citizenship in their place, and their families place of residency.


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