We need to find public space for different Diasporic groups: Dr Valeria Bello

In research, curiosity is a stimulant that makes you explore new ideas, thoughts and phenomenon. And the first step of curiosity leads to another, and then another and finally, you arrive at a destination that satiates your inquisitiveness. My interaction with Dr. Valeria Bello, research fellow at the United Nations University and an author of repute, follows the same trajectory. It was while reading her book "Why Prejudice Is a Global Security Threat" I got interested into an area, which till very recently, was a neglected domain for primary source for information.  In fact, it came to me as a second thought that, most of the like racism; discrimination and violence owe its genesis to prejudices.

After initial initiation into the subject, what followed thereafter was a series of correspondence with Dr Bello, which finally culminated into a Skype interview. with Vijay Kumar Soni, GRFDT A former “Marie Curie” Intra-European Research Fellow, Dr Bello works in areas such as prejudice, extremism and the securitization of migration. Here is an excerpt from the edited version of the interview. 

You have linked international security with racial and national prejudices. How have prejudices shaped human migration in the past?

Prejudice can take different forms; it could be a simple negative attitude towards others, which may or may not be as serious as xenophobia or racism. It comes from a prejudicial perspective towards migrants. So, even if prejudice is a kind of attitude that several person can have, without entailing any serious discrimination, it is only an opinion. It is a source of entry to broader spectrum of negative disposition towards others that can degenerate into a form of xenophobia or racism. We have seen this in several countries where people, more or less, have their own personal opinion on migrants. But when people start to include prejudice in their speeches the entire population starts to have problematic attitude towards migrants. This, of course, has a consequence on mobility. When people arrive in a country they find hostile an environment. It affects the inclusion of the person into a new place. This brings in alienation and some form of frustration and hostility sets in. So, it could be a starting point for the growth of hostility.

What role has politics played in shaping prejudicial attitude towards migrants?

I think politics plays a very important role because when in public speeches, politicians start making overt racist, prejudicial or xenophobic claims then other people also start feeling legitimized in thinking that what they believe about migrants is right. So, they legitimize the opinion based on prejudicial perspective. Of course, we cannot generalize it but it happens in every society, in every group of people. If we generalize it and think that all migrants will behave in a way, because each migrant has a specific problem and comes from a specific culture, then it is a is prejudice opinion towards others. The prejudice opinion can sometimes remain with an individual. But if politicians use this kind of discriminatory attitude to impact the electorate of any group then the other person could feel legitimize in following that kind of logic because people believe in their leaders. 

If the leaders tell people that migrants are criminals, then people would more seriously start considering that the migrants are criminals. So, politics play a very important role in forming prejudicial attitude towards others. Not only in the public speeches but also in public policies that the governments put in place, for example the refugee policies, migration policies, or the policies on border control. It has an impact because stricter the border control, the harder it will be to obtain visa and more the possibility to ask the smugglers for a passage service. Therefore, in that case people would arrive without documentation. They are then put under sanitation. The society could believe that because they have travelled undocumented, they are breaking the law and so they are criminals. All these factors are directly connected with the policies and play an important role. 


Other policies, which are very vital, are the public policy on work, labour, market and education. If there is an important change in these policies, for example a cut in the healthcare service, a cut in the public schools or salaries. What happens is that if it happens concurrently with the growth in number of migrants then people start thinking that because migrants have arrived it led to the deterioration in these sectors. In fact, it's not the arrival of the migrants but the fact that the government has put less money in these sectors, which is responsible for the deterioration in these sectors. All these policies and the speeches of politicians are very important in framing prejudicial attitude.  


Do you think the growth of pseudo-nationalism and parochial territorial identity will continue to determine immigration policies? 

I hope not. I think it should not. There have been enough studies which shows that these policies are in the interest of nobody. Countries who continue on this route will actually get worst out of the migration. It is not beneficial and many countries have understood that. Now, what we have to see is what kind of compromises countries will have to make in reaching an agreement or the terms of sharing the responsibility towards forced migration. We will have to share the responsibility. Then there is a migration that is the consequence of climate change. We have to consider this because many of the climate migrants arrive as economic migrants. They need the same protection as guaranteed to refugees from conflict or discriminatory situations. If that kind of protection cannot be provided to them then we have the duty to prioritize it. The climate migrants should get visa to move to a different place once their homelands are no longer livable.  We have a duty and responsibility towards them. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate migrants, this is the most delicate situation because the states do not see a way to consider climate migration without entailing important responsibility that goes with the refugees’ situation. But there could be ways to consider, to give priority to economic migrants who come from climate damaged lands - those lands that are no longer livable because of climate change. 

Most countries have understood this and have been providing help to economic migrants, but the protection is very limited. These migrants travel to richer countries under precarious conditions and have to face discrimination and abuse on the way. When such a person arrives at a destination country, he/she is declared a refugee while his/her status was not so when he/she set out on the journey.  If a woman is abused and enslaved on the way, when she arrives in a country she needs protection. We must ensure that most of these persons can start as economic migrants and are allowed regular travel to countries.

We create more refugees because of the lack of opportunities to travel regularly. This is true for most countries. They would need to provide opportunities to travel and migrate in regular ways and this could facilitate even the return of migrants to their homeland if they so wish. Traveling undocumented means that these migrants are trapped in a place and cannot go back to their countries even if they want to and that is another issue, which we have to take into account. Many countries have now understood al least the basics of the situation with the global combat on migration. There has be to political will to make this happen.   


Migration issues have been politicized for vested interest. Do you think it is true globally? 


I think it has been politicized more in some country than in others. The concerning situation is that migrants are sometimes the most vulnerable people because of the travel they are forced to undertake. It is not only unfair but it is also politically incorrect. I believe that migrants benefit the place they migrate to. The economic migrants have brought in so much novelty, innovations, new ideas, and new cultures to the host countries and have created positive and dynamic flow in the societies. If you see most of the persons who have contributed to the technological innovations or scientific innovation in the world, they were migrants, if not all then many of them. The fact of changing places brings new experiences - this generates new thoughts of innovations. If you always stay at the same place, new things won't take place.

How have trans-nationalism, new media and virtual identities have helped in forming Digital Diaspora. How cohesive is this group?

I think it is a very interesting question because there have been studies which have tried to understand trans-nationalism, identities and the role of diasporas. The Diasporas are more attached to their home countries and some years ago in 2009, there was study that proved that when a person is in a different place and country he/she balances his/her identities. He or she can adapt to different identities of the groups. The person who is within a specific group uses the identity of that group but when the same person interacts with another group, he she follows the identity of that group. So, trans-nationalism and diasporas have highlighted something very important that being mobile and the ability of moving from one place to another will not only make the group more cohesive but enable the person to adopt to groups with more intercultural values and the possibility of dialogue between the two.


This allows better inclusion of everybody, better dialogue between different groups. At the same time, the group will not be less cohesive but rather the person will be able to move more spatially across different identities. That's very important because it means the persons will better understand each other. Sometimes we do not mean anything hostile or negative towards the other group but the way we express ourselves could be interpreted the other way depending on mental setting and social values of the person.

The more a person is mobile and adapts to different values then a better inter-mediatory culture develops and it is easier to communicate with each other. I think we hold many misunderstanding in different cultures, people and groups. If we can manage our identities in different settings, it wouldn't be detrimental to the cohesiveness of the groups. It is another additional ability that we develop. It's like any other skill, for example driving. If you learn to drive, it does not mean you forget to swim. It's an added ability and skill to understand other cultures and to communicate in different cultural settings.  

A good number of Diasporas have started participating in their homeland politics these days. What makes them do so?

I think it's not only for the Diasporas but also for the citizens in general. They want to have a say more than in the past. It's a common feature of groups with common interests, objectives and ideas and not only of the Diasporas. What we need to understand is in what ways the opinions of the different groups are discussed and brought to politics without politicizing the issue per se. It's an attempt to find a space where groups could initiate a good debate, dialogue for their own interest of different groups. Common objectives should govern the well being of everybody without politicizing these issues. We are all humans and even if we have different cultures, we do have some common objectives of the wellbeing. We need to understand how to make this work in a way that the issue isn't politicized. Unfortunately, some places have politicized these issues for different groups. 


How have participation in political process of host and home countries helped the Diasporas?

I think we need to find the space for different Diasporic groups, including women. It needs to be discussed at various levels including civil societies and then brought into politics in a fair way which is beneficial to everybody and not only in the interest of a particular group. It defines a way to reach and achieve our objective and respect the lives of others and the interest of others. It's a balance that politics need to find and all citizens and groups need to be heard. They all have the right to be heard and to be represented.

I have been living in Spain for almost 10 years and I cannot vote here. I can still vote in Italian elections but I no longer live there. I think I would like to have the political right to vote in the country I am living in, if not in the in General Elections then at least in the municipal elections. It's the way for me to express my opinion at least at the local level. If possible it should be extended to the general elections as well. For me, it's something that needs to be discussed. Once we have settled the issues of human mobility then we need to think about the rights to shape the place where we live. 

What are the most challenging issues faced by the migrants in the host country?

I think the most challenging task for a migrant is to get the documents and legal papers. Prejudice is most challenging for those who have different cultural and ethnic background. Once a migrant arrives at a place, finding new opportunities and to live a normal live and be recognized are common aspirations. At the moment, these are the most challenging issues for the migrants. 

Indian Diaspora is among the leading Diasporas in the world. What are the challenges you foresee for them? 

I don't think it's the question of numbers -- of how big or small a Diaspora is. Some of the most concerning challenges for a Diaspora is the same, irrespective of the groups they belong to. All groups have the aspiration that they will change the place once they arrive because they have specific ways of life. If a new group arrives, it tries to change the standard and way of living of the place. If a group is big they have an impact, but also become an easy target of specific complaints. This could also be true for internal migrants.

The public speech on migration and diversity has to find its own space in a particular place. Of course, there are specific minorities who are very much discriminated in some places and when this discrimination become institutionalized through specific laws, specific policies then its a different issue. Those minorities then find it very difficult to find their own space. So, we need to make sure it doesn't happen. But migrants are also capable of finding their own space despite these constraints and prejudices.

Given an opportunity, what areas of migration and diasporic research would you like to take up in the future?

I am deeply interested in the way Diasporas communicate within public school space. It is the most important space, particularly considering the fact that the future generation of the Diasporas needs to pass through the schools. That, I think, is unavoidable and it beings forth all the issues. That's the place where migrant children learn to socialize, that is the place where they compare their families’ values with other cultures.

It's true not only for the migrants but for all citizens. They all encounter various ideas and values while staying together for an important period of time. The school-experience plays an important role in establishing your interaction with others and that’s the place where Diasporas could start a dialogue, an inclusive dialogue within the schools. As a result, Diasporas can benefit a lot - not only their families but also the future generation. Schools are very important place for value and attitude formation. 

What is the future of research in human migration? Where are we headed in Diasporic studies?

First, we have to see what is the result of the global migration, the refugees and the new agreements that we bring forth between the states. It is important to continue to understand the delicate relations between the society and the new comers. We also need to understand the new generation of citizens and what they think for the future of the world.

New generation have very different idea of the future because they are the one who will face the consequences of today's action. The new technological environments in which they live have different meaning for them. We need to understand whether they appreciate what we are doing today and the future they would like to see. We actually work for the future, not only for ourselves but also for our future generation.

By Vijay Soni

Interview Date:   Tuesday, Sep 04, 2018
Person Name:   Dr Valeria Bello

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