Last week, the United Kingdom — now free from the norms set by the European Union — announced its new immigration policy. Loosely based on the points system that is in vogue in Australia, it is aimed at ensuring that individuals with skills and those who will not burden the welfare system are accorded priority.
One of the features of the new policy is the importance attached to a potential immigrant being familiar with the English language. Inevitably, this insistence on a knowledge of English has drawn criticism from those who feel it is culturally biased. However, it is a policy that has been formulated by a democratically elected government that had a new immigration policy in its election manifesto.
The right of a sovereign nation to determine who to allow to settle and work has never been seriously contested. Last week, for example, Israel facilitated the entry of a packed plane load of Ethiopian Jews as part of its ‘right of return’ policy for all Jews throughout the world. The ‘right of return’ is a foundational doctrine of Israel. UK, Ireland and Germany too have conceded the rights of individuals who can demonstrate national ancestry to settle in these countries. Indeed, after Brexit there has been a rush of people of Irish origin living in the UK to acquire Irish passports.
Conversely, the right to select immigrants has also extended to determining who not to allow into the country. Hungary has consistently defied all EU directives and refused to settle any refugees from Iraq, Syria and North Africa on the grounds that such people wouldn’t fit in. Other East European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also made their displeasure at having to accommodate these refugees quite apparent.
Although in 2015, Germany — out of an exaggerated sense of historical guilt — quite indiscriminately accepted some 8,00,000 alleged victims of war from countries that it doesn’t even share borders with, most countries have insisted on the principle of selectivity. This includes the United States which has an impressive track record of telling other countries how to conduct their affairs of state. In 1990, the US Senate passed an amendment moved by Frank Lautenberg that fast-tracked the immigration of Jews and certain Christian denominations from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Individuals from these communities were not required to individually demonstrate that they were victims of religious persecution. Subsequently, in 2004, this law was extended to include members of the Bahai community in Iran.
What prompted senator Lautenberg to press for special rights for some communities, to the exclusion of others, was the bitter experience of Jews in Germany under Hitler. In the 1930s, this exceptionally targeted community, millions of whom were subsequently to perish in the gas chambers, had to wait in a normal queue to be given the right to emigrate to the US. Their desperation to get away from Nazi-held Europe wasn’t factored in. The story may have well been different if the US had accommodated the special requirements of European Jewry, just as it subsequently did for the persecuted religious communities of the former Soviet Union and Iran.
It is in this context that the pronouncements of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on India’s Citizenship Amendment Act appears disingenuous. Given its own precedents, it cannot with a straight face censure India for extending fast-track citizenship to minority communities from three neighbouring countries who have already fled to India. Neither can it realistically contend that religious minorities never suffered to their well-being for professing their faith. The religious persecution of Christians in Pakistan, for example, has attracted enormous attention in the West and many of them charged with blasphemy have been given refuge in Europe, Canada and the US. Instead, it has fallen back on individual pronouncements by political activists to suggest that the CAA could — not that it does — become a template to deprive Muslims of Indian citizenship. Its fears are based on hypothetical developments.
Nevertheless, the USCIRF has encouraged four distinct trends that underpin the anti-CAA protests: the assertion that there was no real religious persecution in the Islamic states, that Hindu refugees from Bangladesh be treated on a par with the illegal Muslim migrants who came in search of better opportunities, that Muslim Rohingyas from Myanmar be allowed to settle and acquire Indian citizenship and, finally, that India should maintain either a soft or an open border with its neighbours. These are highly politically contentious demands that go against the tenets of India’s nationhood and sovereignty.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.