Among many factors that have affected post-cold war world order migration, extremism and terrorism stand out prominently.But, it is the linkage between various strands of these factors that have raised concerns in various quarters. Almost every country of the world has passed through ordeals related to these. Whether it is migration issues in Eurasia and its linkage with menace of extremism and terrorism, or discovery of same linkage in Western Europe or South Asia or North America or other parts of the world, the increasing realization that these issues cannot be treated separately rather they have to be seen in a comprehensive framework has gained currency in recent months. Whether it is the 9/11 that brought out the menace of terrorism to the world stage, ensuing the contested ‘global war against terrorism,’ or rise of far right in parts of world and its extreme manifestation as reflected in the recent Norwegian shoot out case, these are some of the crucial issues which will likely be further precarious and threatening in coming months and years. Some of the recent developments such as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s call for making law regulating migration and extremism or the pronouncements at 20th anniversary of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Dushanbe early this month in context of extremism and terrorism indicate that these are some the raging issues which cannot be tackled by ad hoc mechanisms, rather there needs to be evolution an international agenda to tackle these issues and challenges thrown by them.
Migration is something which has commenced since the onset of human civilization. Hundreds theories circulate as to when and how migration started. Without going further deep into these theories, it can be safely argued that migration is a legitimate human vocation, and perhaps this is a process which fostered flourishing of human civilization in all continents including continents of Americas and Australia. This process still continues in some parts of the world, particularly to countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand in a massive scale, though it happens in other countries as well. Migration is a legal process recognized by international as well as national laws. Prominent factors that foster migration include poverty, unemployment, search for better life, higher aspirations, and usually this process is unilinear as it takes place from developing to developed countries. Many countries have also encouraged migration as it facilitates in compensating depleting population or skilled and unskilled laborers or both.
Migration per se is not the problem. The problem lies with illegal migration, that contravenes national as well as international laws. There are hundreds of rackets in the world which facilitate illegal migration. In fact, this has emerged as a booming market. Coming across newspaper reports, one can find numerous cases illegal migration such as how boats were seized on Australia coast, or New Zealand coast, or people living in other countries with lapsed documents or forged documents, etc. Last week, New Zealand government had intercepted and seized a boat carrying about 85 people as illegal migrants. As illegal migrants lack valid documents such as passports, visas, or work permits, it becomes difficult to trace out their details in terms of place of origin, their original names, etc. And this is one of the most critical parts of the story of illegal migration as they are often pushed willingly or unwillingly towards illegal activities such as drug trafficking, arms trafficking, extremism and terrorism. Many countries have raised the issue of illegal migration and its debilitating impacts on local politics and society. Indiaclaims that there are about 20 million illegal migrants in its territory. Similarly, one can find data in this context in many countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, countries of Western Europe, and in many other countries as well.
President Nazarbayev raised this issue in the first of week of this month in parliament and strongly argued for enacting a law regulating migration and religion as he could find a link between illegal immigration and Islamic extremism in his country…To quote him, “The parliament has to consider adopting a law on religious activity … It is about protecting the state from religious extremism.”’ He further observed, “Whoever wants may come here, whoever wants may open a mosque and name it after his father. No one knows what these mosques are really doing, no one has approved (their opening) … But, as a state, we should put our home in order.” Perhaps it does not come as a surprise from the leader of the biggest country in Central Asia, with having 70 per cent of Muslim population. The Central Asian leaders are concerned at the rate of illegal immigration to their countries and its linkage to extremism and terrorism. One can juxtapose the concerns of Nazarbayev to the concerns expressed by a former Central Asian leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2009 at Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In the context of illegal migration from Afghanistan towards Central Asia, Bakiyev observed that “If the conflict against the Taliban deepens further in Afghanistan, which direction will people head in? God help us, they will move toward Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and beyond.” The meeting of CIS leaders at Dushanbe this month struck the right chord in emphasizing that there must be cooperation between the countries of the region to tackle the menace of extremism and terrorism. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov while participating in the meeting observed, “Cooperation within the Commonwealth of Independent States brings positive results in the economy, labour migration and the struggle against organized crime, drug trade, extremism and terrorism.” Perhaps that is the right approach. Because in the era of globalization and interconnectedness with the proliferation and penetration of information technologies, it is difficult to fight the menaces of illegal migration, extremism and terrorism by wherewithal of a single country, howsoever powerful it may be.
The extreme advocates of multiculturalism may be skeptical at a policy which aims at strictly regulating migration. There is an element of sense in this argument, but the argument in its extreme form cannot be implemented in its full import. Migration can be welcome, and any persecution of minorities whether on the basis of religion, ethnic stock, or other values and practices must be checked. Any discrimination on the basis of majoritarianism vs. and minoritarianism must also be stopped. No sensible person will welcome the Norwegian shootout July this year killing 72 people, mostly belonging to minority groups. There needs to be an evolution of a framework in which diverse cultures and multiethnic ethos of a society can be reconciled with national security and integrity. In contrast to 1980s and early 1990s, the recent years have shown the rising friction between migratory communities and the settled communities in various parts of the world. The rise of far right and their sympathizers in some of these countries has further complicated the problem. Switzerland banning building of new mosques and France banning burqa (veil) are some of the issues which have been seriously debated in recent years, bringing into focus the contested nature of migration policies. These developments have also brought into focus the churning process currently undergoing in policy making in many countries towards confronting these emerging issues.
These issues become further complicated when this complicated symbiosis between migration, extremism and terrorism is overlooked in an overarching framework of enforcing a particular policy or policies. In this context, Libya provides one of stark examples. Reports suggest one of tribal communities called Berber spanning borders of Libya and Algeria, with having close links with extremist groups were earlier persecuted by Gaddafi regime. The Al Qaeda members had illegally migrated to these areas and opened their cells with the support of this group. One of Berber leaders named Mokhtar Belmokhtar had joined Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb. While the rebels were fighting Gaddafi forces under the leadership of National Transitional Council, the community fought along with the rebels against Gaddafi. While no one can exonerate Gaddafi from his excesses, such collusion between forces of extremism and terrorism and the transitional forces may achieve desired results in short run, but in long run it may make future prospects of peace and stability in the region murkier.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India.