Right to reside
The world is pretty crowded. 7 billion of us wash our hands on average seven times a day. Having done so we shake off the excess water onto the ground or reach for a tissue or towel to dry them. This deprives the world’s water system of large amounts of water. Shaking a few times back into the system before drying could help solve the water problem.
Water does not yet generally dictate where you live or why. As water-rich New Zealand is find out right now, it may do so in the future. What are your rights to reside? And what are the rights of a country of which you are not a citizen to determine whether and when you may live there? Does time spent in a country count towards your right of abode?
These are questions being tested in the European courts as just under two million British Nationals living on Continental Europe fight to retain their right of abode in EU. We know the British don’t want Europeans in their country – they voted Brexit to prove that. We know that up to 50,000 settlers from the Caribbean who had lived in Britain for many years – the Windrush Generation – were sent back ‘home’ by insensitive civil servants. We know the view of the President of the United States – “America first, last and all the way”. He doesn’t like foreigners much either. We don’t yet know so clearly what everyone else thinks.
It is particularly strange that America should be the first major country to try to close its doors to émigrés. The country was built by them. Where you are born matters. Life has a funny way of turning our best laid plans upside down. Your country of birth may be right for you as a child but when you are more mature and able to choose, what rights should you have to select where you live? The treatment of Hong Kong citizens’ rights over residing in UK when Britain handed back the territory is only one example of serious unfairness. A disintegrating empire will always have more. It can’t handle all the people who want to live there.
On the other side of the equation, a major influx of foreigners changes the culture of a country quicker than any other disruption. Britain did accommodate large numbers from its former colonies and, later, from Europe. It was only when there was a big influx of Eastern European émigrés that the country called ‘halt’ by voting Brexit. Now Europe may not be able to expel Britons living on the continent just because UK voters decided to quit.
The social assurances of a country supporting a welfare state will always appeal to those who live in poverty and without their government’s support. A free National Health Service, creaking as it is, is not to be sneezed at if you have to pay high prices elsewhere. Unemployment and other social benefits are a treasure to those who live in societies less blessed. We cannot but admire the entrepreneurs who move to wealthier countries to give their families a better future. Their initiative implies that they will be an asset.
None of us likes disruption. The even tenor of life is something we do not want disturbed. It is going to be upset whatever our rights of abode. America took an unconscionably retrograde step in putting up barriers but the world is a crowded place. However, we can’t all live in one temperate climate with welfare benefits.
The UN should devote some of its time to making clear what are the model Rights to Reside to satisfy aspiring émigrés. At present the guidelines are complex and vague. We need a Universal Declaration of Right to Reside.
Then, hopefully, we can all know where we are, as countries sign up to the Declaration.
And some aspiring émigrés could sleep better at night.