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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Fighting immigration 'a waste of time'
Illegal immigrants on a boat stopped by the Spanish coast guard
Illegal immigrants: 'its wrong to fight their arrival'

The Western world is wasting time and resources trying to stop immigration - legal and illegal - argues the eminent trade expert Jagdish Bhagwati.

While European politicians are busy debating how to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, Mr Bhagwati told News Online the leaders of the west have got their priorities wrong:

"All the time we've got this illusion that we can stop the flow. You can't. People will walk in, swim in, fly in. It's beyond our capabilities to stop illegal immigration without affecting civil liberties in a very big way.

Jagdish Bhagwati
Jagdish Bhagwati says trying to stop immigration is 'crazy'
"Even the Germans couldn't send back their 'gastarbeiters' in the 70s, even though their contracts said they could.

"Because, as they said: 'we imported workers, and we got men instead'. We're dealing with human beings, not contraband."

Jagdish Bhagwati is one of the world's best-known trade scholars and a professor of economics at Columbia University in the United States.

Blair's and Aznar's proposals 'crazy'

Mr Bhagwati devoted his keynote speech at the World Bank's ABCDE gathering in Oslo on Tuesday to the subject of immigration.

He told News Online he felt proposals by Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at the EU summit in Seville last week were "crazy":

"When they propose to punish foreign governments if they don't stop their own people leaving, it's crazy. They're not going to be able to, unless it's a dictatorship, which would probably shoot at its own people.

"This is really monstrous, asking someone else to do your dirty work. We have to now come to terms with the phenomenon, but not try to stop the phenomenon."

If the west treated immigration as a fait accompli, Mr Bhagwati said, it would free up resources to deal with the issue in constructive ways.

He argued for actively helping immigrants to assimilate, especially in areas where their sheer number is seen as a problem.

"The problem arises when they congregate. And they congregate because we are trying to drive them underground. Instead of trying to help them, we try to stop them.

"We have to have some dispersal policies with inducements - not management -, teach them how to vote in local elections, give them additional rights. Because once you acquire a stake in the system you begin to conform", Mr Bhagwati told BBC News Online.

Long term benefits

Some opponents of open border policies argue this would be detrimental not only to countries on the receiving end, but for those developing nations loosing their human resources to the West.

Mr Bhagwati agreed this could be a problem initially, but not in the long-term:

Office sign of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service
Across the western world, governments wonder how to cope with immigration and assimilation
"The people at the bottom who manage to acquire some little income, they will be able to exploit an opportunity to travel. They send back some money, as well as relieve the population pressure.

"I believe skilled people would eventually want to begin to work for their own countries to improve things there, out of loyalty."

He stopped short of advocating totally open borders around the world, saying any government arguing such a thing would simply be unelectable.

But, he said, the realities of immigration were there, and they had to be managed, not fought.

"Some problems even God probably can't solve, but, as a sort of 'mild' expert on immigration, even I can think of a variety of ways in which we can have support mechanisms to reduce the social disruption of immigration and to maximise the economic gain."

Courting controversy

Jagdish Bhagwati is no stranger to controversy.

He opposes the enforcement of intellectual property rights, such as software copyrights, in countries like India and Brazil, which, he says, protect monopoly rights rather than encourage competition.

He has also spoken out against attaching labour rights and environmental concerns to World Trade Organisation policies.

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24 Jun 02 | Business
25 Jun 02 | UK Politics
23 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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