Open borders means admitting immigrants who are rich and poor, persecuted and privileged, educated and uneducated, skilled and unskilled, from all countries. It means the opportunity for all people (with very few exceptions) to live in the country of their choice.
Nevertheless, I often write about how open borders would help groups that are extraordinarily impoverished, oppressed, and/or endangered, such as the people of Haiti, Syrian refugees, Central American migrants, and women from many countries. I do this both to emphasize the enormous benefits these groups would gain from open borders and to illustrate the negative consequences of the status quo.
However, co-blogger John Lee, in a post partially titled “I don’t care about immigration sob stories,” suggests that highlighting cases where the status quo adversely affects certain groups does not provide a foundation for open borders. Instead, he writes, open borders rests on having laws that are fundamentally just.
I agree that open borders is based on a number of ideas that demonstrate that open borders is the only just approach to immigration, but hopefully noting the tangible ways that such a policy would relieve the suffering of certain groups will help galvanize more support for our cause.
The hundreds of thousands of U.S. DACA recipients certainly constitute a sympathetic group that would benefit from open borders. Protecting them from deportation recently has been a primary focus of those concerned about the welfare of immigrants. I have argued that deporting DACA recipients, as well as other immigrants with deep roots in the U.S., would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”
At the same time, there is an even more vulnerable group, about the same size as the DACA population, which could benefit from moral immigration policies: the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Many Rohingya have fled Myanmar over the past six months. Despite having resided in Myanmar for generations, for years they have been denied citizenship, deprived of medical services, and confined to certain areas of the country. More recently, they have been subjected to horrifying attacks by the Myanmar military and others. Civilians have been murdered and raped, and Rohingya villages have been destroyed. (See here, here, and here.)
While fleeing to Bangladesh has put the Rohingya out of the reach of the Myanmar military, their existence in that impoverished nation is extremely precarious. They are not allowed to work in Bangladesh, and they are concentrated on land that will be ravaged by monsoons next month. As reported by National Public Radio:
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have built makeshift shelters on steep, sandy hills in Bangladesh… The monsoon season is expected to start in April. When the monsoon comes, bringing 20 to 30 inches of rain a month at their heaviest, aid officials worry that many of the hillsides where the Rohingya are living could collapse. There’s also concern that hastily-constructed latrines could be flooded, contaminating the refugees’ drinking water and sparking a major disease outbreak.
Already, many refugees are suffering from illness and malnutrition. The heavy rains will exacerbate the misery. Returning to Myanmar is not a safe option; returnees face more violence or imprisonment in concentration camps. (See here.)
With Bangladesh unwilling and probably unable to permanently accept the Rohingya, other countries must step forward and offer a permanent home for this persecuted group. One option could be for the wealthy Persian Gulf countries to admit the Rohingya. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have the resources to help the Rohingya resettle, they share the Muslim faith with the Rohingya, and they are accustomed to hosting huge numbers of migrants.
Unfortunately, this scenario is unlikely. The Gulf countries have been unwilling even to accept fellow Arabs who have fled war ravaged Syria. They also are attempting to create more employment for their native populations at the expense of resident migrants.
Therefore, Western countries should offer refuge for the Rohingya. They should do so because it is morally warranted, they have the resources to absorb the relatively small Rohingya population, and, as I noted when arguing for the U.S. and Canada to accept the millions of Syrian refugees stranded in various countries, resettling refugees helps prevent the rise of extremism.
Of course, the political winds are blowing strongly against immigrants, especially those who are Muslims, throughout most of the West. It is impossible to imagine the Trump administration even considering allowing the Rohingya to immigrate into the U.S. Australia is very resistant to accepting refugees, and many Europeans are anxious about having admitted many migrants in recent years.
Apparently Canada seems like the most viable location to which the Rohingya could migrate. It is a wealthy, multicultural country which has already been relatively welcoming to refugees from Syria and whose government is controlled by a non-nativist party. Reportedly it was the first country to resettle Rohingya refugees over a decade ago, and Canada’s immigration minister has indicated the country is open to accepting more Rohingya in the future. The minister also has stated that Bangladesh won’t permit Rohingya refugees to leave the country, but it seems that with financial incentives the Bangladeshis would be happy to have the Rohingya resettled elsewhere.
Absent the Canadian option, there is another possibility, albeit much less desirable and much more complicated. Co-blogger Nathan Smith has suggested, if necessary, “creating an archipelago of passport-free charter cities around the globe, supported by enough aid to make sure they’re economically viable,” where the Rohingya could find refuge. A historical example of this would be Shanghai in the 1930s, which did not require entrance visas until 1939 and to which thousands of German and Austrian Jews fled from the Nazis.
Robert Rotberg of Harvard, in an opinion piece titled “Nothing is more urgent than saving the Rohingya,” has urged Canada and other countries to intervene militarily in Myanmar to protect the Rohingya. However, there is an easier solution than military intervention or creating charter cities. Canada should shame the Gulf countries, the Americans, the Europeans, and the Australians by being the sole country to offer the Rohingya a chance to start over.