Globalization and the Wall Around the West

A Turkish police officer stands next to the body of the young boy. Photograph: Reuters

A Turkish police officer stands next to the body of the young boy. Photograph: Reuters

In recent weeks and months, the press has paid increasing attention to the problem of migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe in an effort to escape dire conditions in the Africa and the Middle East.  Among the most stirring images released recently was that of a three year old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi, who drowned with his mother and brother while heading to Greece to escape the violence and insurgency that has been raging there 2011. By some estimates, as many as 300,000 migrants and refugees have poured into Southern Europe this year, a sign of the heightened instability and economic difficulties faced by war torn and lesser developed countries along the Mediterranean Sea.

The massive relocation of people is not a new phenomenon, of course. During and after World War II, hundreds of thousands of people fled the desperate physical and economic conditions resulting from war.  Thanks in part to a roughly $13 billion aid package from the United States, known as the Marshall Plan, Europe’s political and economic conditions stabilized. Decades later, conditions improved to the point that Europe has now become a major destination for migrants and refugees. Indeed, as in the United States, the pull of economic opportunity is so strong that many migrants will go to great extremes to find a better life, even immigrating without authorization. For this reason, the United States and Europe have made substantial efforts to stem the tide of unauthorized migration, resulting in the massive buildup of immigration enforcement and physical barriers that have effectively built what some scholars have described as a “wall around the West.”

The irony of today’s situation is that the current era has been widely heralded as the “Age of Globalization,” in which capital, goods, and information flow freely across international boundaries creating a “borderless world.” Yet, in reality, borders between developed and lesser-developed countries have hardened, not softened with the course of globalization (as illustrated by the case of the U.S.-Mexico border). Thus, the plight of Europe’s incoming migrants and refugee populations raises many practical and ethical questions about today’s global economy:

  • Instead of creating more opportunities for everyone, has globalization simply created more opportunities for some and not others (or perhaps even at the expense of others)?
  • What right do migrants and refugees have to seek better opportunities for themselves? What right do the United States and European countries have to deny their quest for better opportunities?
  • What responsibility, if any, does a person have to others when seeking their own self preservation? What responsibilities, if any, do we have to our neighbors when they are in need?
  • What can and should be done, if anything, to address the plight of people fleeing dire poverty or the destruction and misery of war zones? What can and should be done, if anything, to protect national boundaries from encroachment by outsiders in need?
  • In the European context, in particular, how should this relatively new community of nations plan on sharing the burden of providing assistance to the current wave of migrants and refugees. Are the current quotas assigned to different countries reasonable or even feasible?
  • What is the type of treatment that should be given to (economic) migrants and (political) refugees? Should they be treated the same? Should either be forced to live in camps, separated from their families? Should either be granted automatic legal status to reside in a country until they are able to return home?

4 responses to “Globalization and the Wall Around the West

  1. It seems to me that there is a riff between preaching and practicing. Countries like Britain, Poland, and Slovakia are being called out as not accepting their fair share of refugees. I happen to agree with the plan to distribute refugees to certain countries depending upon those countries’ resources and population, although it seems like it is much easier said than done. I do not think that leaders should stand by or offer up excuses while people fleeing war zones and terrorism are asking for help. Also, I think that their panic and outrage is justifies given that they had to uproot from their homes and literally run for their lives.

    I was actually in Budapest this summer, at the Keleti station, and I saw people, families sleeping below the bridges and in the Metro stations below ground. I am sad to say that I thought they were simply homeless Hungarians, not immigrant refugees fleeing from war and in search for asylum. They should not be forced into camps, but rather distributed as family units to E.U. countries with the room and economic means to spare, until they can return to what is left of their homes. As for the restoration of said homes, I cannot be certain of what should be done.


  2. This image is all over facebook and online news sites. One of my English professors posted an article about our reception of this story:

    Attached is an editorial from the Guardian with the tag line,
    “it is people and stories that move us, not statistics.”

    The article emphasizes that even though we’ve known about this crisis for years, the statistics (of MILLIONS of refugees) have held little influence. Yet, the story of the little boy influenced our perspective of the refugees more than any other in the last three years. Instead of considering the refugee crisis as happening somewhere on the other side of the globe, now it’s embraced as an unacceptable catastrophe that requires immediate help from us all.

    The article does not scold this delayed response; it resolves that instead of feeling “inadequate,” we should instead “simply be glad” that something happened to claim attention to this crisis– that a response to a story rather than years of growing statistics is only human.

    I appreciated that the article not only addressed the receptive side of Alyan Kurdi’s death, but also engaged in the human tendency to be moved by people and stories, not statistics. I wonder if our whole class would agree that this tendency is not a flaw? I think this is a bigger idea that we can extract and reapply to other topics this semester.


  3. The moral questions raised regarding the global economy are tough to answer because morals largely are not black and white. However, I would like to address two of the questions posed by this article:

    In regard to the question “has globalization simply created more opportunities for some and not others (or perhaps even at the expense of others)?”, my opinion is that more opportunities have been created for everyone, but not all opportunities are preferred and some can be seen as exploitative. I believe if a wealthy nation has a company that is going to expand globally, that company has the obligation to offer the same safety and wage requirements offered to their in-nation employees to their out of nation employees – or at least fairly similar.

    In regard to the question “What right do migrants and refugees have to seek better opportunities for themselves?”, my opinion is that all people have the right to seek better opportunities for themselves, but should not seek a free ride. Given an opportunity to escape a dire situation, one should reciprocate the generosity by contributing to the helping society once they are back on their feet.
    -Karli Wittenberg


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