Forced Displacement Refugees and my Utopia: Global Citizenship
June 23, 2020
Introduction: The keynote speaker of this webinar held by TYISA, Taihe Institute is H.E. Mustafa Osman Turan, the Ambassador of Turkey to Bangladesh. The speech mainly comprises two parts: climate change and forced migration; and a utopia that would potentially provide a platform to galvanize creative thinking and collective action to address some of these wicked problems that we face.
The following is the transcribed version of Ambassador Mustafa’s keynote speech.
(H.E. Mustafa Osman Turan)
Today I will share with you some of the ideas that I have prepared regarding how climate change affects migration flows, especially the forced migration and the fact that a lot of people are displaced becomes a growing global challenge for many countries including Turkey.
I am speaking to you as as a global citizen rather than a Turkish diplomat. So, the views I will express do not represent the institution I am associated with. You know, today, I think we've a multitude of complex and interconnected global challenges facing humanity. At the same time, we have come to an inflection point in human history. If we continue the way we live, produce and consume, the world will soon face with existential threat due to climate change, environmental degradation, and depletion of natural resources. The good news is that, we have enough experience and tools to reverse the consequences of our irresponsible actions as human species, but the clock is ticking and as we all know the time is the most precious commodity. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us an important lesson when it comes to global challenges that we have to take science seriously and get prepared. A lot of people, scientists and people who are familiar with pandemics have warned us to get prepared. But we were not well-prepared in many parts of the world and not prepared at all in terms of the global system to deal with a crisis of this magnitude today.
So, first a few words on climate change, if I may. Environmental issues such as pollution, extreme weather events, land degradation, desertification, and water scarcity in particular are issues that affect every country. According to the World Meteorological Organization, for example, the month of July in 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on earth. We have seen the wildfires in Australia which was one of the indications of climate and weather conditions getting warmer and dryer. Some regions of the world are hit harder and face larger risks.
Environmental challenges and disasters are expected to intensify despite the global and national efforts in the years to come in the next decades in particular. So climate change has become a threat that can’t be ignored anymore. Like most global problems, climate change is an existential threat, especially for the most vulnerable and the least developed countries, therefore, sharing technology and best practices with these countries in need are significant for strengthening their resilience to the adverse effects of climate change. Measures taken to protect our planet and combat all climate related challenges should be carried out by ensuring that no one is left behind. That's why it's so important to support the most vulnerable countries.
At present over 70 million people are displaced worldwide because of war, poverty and climate change. Predictions vary, but indicate the continued increase in the numbers of displaced people, including, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and other forced migrants and the estimates range from several hundred million to a billion within a generation. Such numbers would be unprecedented in human history and pose fundamental challenges to our understanding and practice of governance and economy.
Filmmaker Ronald Emory in 2004 dramatized the fear of becoming an environmental refugee in a scene from the film “The day after tomorrow”. In this film, American citizens were fleeing on mass from lightning and terrible climatic disturbance from the north and here's the irony of the situation: running up against the fences of the American-Mexican frontier. So forcibly displaced people can neither go back to their country of origin, nor can they become citizens of their host country. Then they literally become landless nation on earth. The political and institutional failure has led to very entrenched challenges where people cannot access water, sanitation, healthcare, education, financial services, etc. The way refugees and displaced people are treated today poses one of the worst global justice problems and addressing this challenge remains a humanitarian must. The global compacts on refugees and migrants reflect an international commitment to this approach.
However these efforts also reflect a worrying shortfall in current approaches. More migrants and displaced people are spending longer than ever time in ambiguous legal, economic and security conditions, whether in refugee camps or in host communities or in transit. Furthermore, attitudes towards displaced people are increasingly toxic in many countries. It creates exactly these spillover effects that make progressive policies more and more difficult. So, some economic incentives and unintended consequences of migration policies also reinforce these problems. Displaced people are generally excluded from self-sustaining livelihood opportunities and in many places they're legally unable to take on paid work or start a business. So displaced people are being perceived as a burden on host communities and they are also seen in that way by the international community.
In many instances, of course, this kind of perception reinforces anger, distrust, condemnation, and exclusion. So that also creates a vicious cycle that does little to stimulate constructive approaches to engaging in a future that would include the global population of displaced people. So despite the commitment reflected in the global compacts, the world remains ill prepared in practice to cope with today's challenges. So this shortfall becomes more significant when we see it in situations where the consequences of climate change would be more obvious and undeniable. Therefore, there is a need to increase our efforts in delivering new approaches. There's also a possibility of creating solutions to advance innovative ways to deal with these growing problems. So, in enhancing the access to the services and economic opportunities, two interesting trends are emerging. The first one is digitalization. And digitalization has opened the way to new identification mechanisms, financing opportunities, and ways to access labor markets support for business development and pathways to education and health services.
There's also another trend which is the super national and sub national levels becoming more and more important. And many of the services and opportunities are increasingly available across national boundaries and at sub national levels because of the nature of the digitalization itself and also because of the contemporary patterns of leadership at both the international and the city levels. in a nutshell, displaced people are expected to grow significantly in numbers and duration of these displacement. So their circumstances need to be understood through a long-term development lens. Secondly, accessing economy, livelihood opportunities. This is the key for displaced people to be more secure and productive. If these opportunities would be granted, they could be fully able to participate in their host communities. Third, digitally enabled services and economic opportunities are becoming increasingly important in securing empowered livelihoods. And finally I think a greater participation of displaced people in shaping their own circumstances would be a core element of any successful approach to secure the benefits from enhanced economy, livelihood and opportunities.
So now I would like to move to the second half of my presentation and talk about my utopia, that is global citizenship. Before I start describing it, I would like to refer to what my good friend Kaddour Chelabi (a member of TYISA) said about utopias. He told me that Utopia is a space where we feel free, where there are no constraints and it's a door to step into the future. So in fact our imagination is one of the most powerful skills we have as human race.
So why global citizenship? Why do I have this utopia? The global citizenship is both a new legal status and a physical space. It's a ship inspired by the Noah’s Ark. It's a safe place for the physically, emotionally and intellectually displaced who seek a sense of belonging to a community of like-hearted humans. It is to reset and regenerate the human potential in harmony with the Mother Nature.
So what's the opportunity here? One of the most definitive features of the world today is interconnectedness and the ever increasing digitalization, as I said before, digital economy, digital factory, digital business, digital society, digital nomad. So, digitalization is equal to a key that opens up a fertile ground for emerging possibilities on an endless number of arenas.
COVID-19 is now accelerating the digitalization of our societies. In an age of digitalization, global citizenship, as a legal status can provide all parties with an added value: For displaced people, it would provide a dignified status and access to services. For the states, it would provide a status for displaced people, short of national citizenship and the refugee status, and then opportunity to sustain the livelihoods of the displaced people without that responsibility becoming a heavy burden to the larger society. For citizens and private sector corporations, it would provide the possibility to contributeto addressing the global challenges. So the new global citizenship status will create a new paradigm and new narrative to mobilize everyone who is or feels displaced. The global citizenship as a physical space, on the other hand is a platform where the new paradigm would be prototyped.
So ultimately, we are envisaging a global citizenship as an interdisciplinary initiative, involving fields including political science, economy, and sociology with the potential to reshape policy, media and technology. As a counter force to xenophobia, we envision a truly connected society based on shared values with the introduction of a global citizenship. The initial goal would be to get a critical mass of people signed up as global citizens - without the requirement of giving up national citizenship - in order to eradicate statelessness and encouragerethinking of what it means to be a citizen in an era where the most pressing issues are global.
So this new concept of citizenship could also tap into the notion of oceanic citizenship since the oceans are international territories. It could be achieved in stages by convincing open-minded countries to open oceanic embassies and to appoint ambassadors to international waters. This would not be equal to seasteading which is another concept generally accepted as a libertarian maneuver to evade governmental regulation. The idea of oceanic citizenship or global citizenship is not to escape from responsibility, but to give everyone passports legally premised on international territory. So a global citizen could possess a global citizenship passport, which could be assigned a unique address. This address might take the form of GPS coordinates or the natural area code for a point on the sea floor. This will not only provide a means of receiving mail, which is necessary for many bureaucratic processes and unavailable to most stateless / homeless people, but also may provide a means of global legal and political enfranchisement. Related to this idea could be that each passport holder might potentially be granted the right to vote on global issues at the UN.
So the core premise of global citizenship is that it can offer displaced people specific economic and financial rights in return for adopted responsibilities, building on the work on digital identity. The initiative of global citizenship would place this status with associated rights and responsibilities and would welcome the displaced people as the citizens of the world rather than landless nation.
Obviously this is my own utopia to stretch our imagination on what could be the emerging alternative futures. The next 10 years will be a decade of survival for human species. I believe it is not evident that we will succeed. It will be an era of competing ideas as it has always been between those who are guided by fear and those who are inspired by hope. It is still possible to bridge the growing rift between us and the Mother Nature.
But we have to mobilize our talent and resources more constructively. I'd like to refer to what the American philosopher Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality to change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete”.
So let me end by sharing with you a poem that I wrote during the COVID-19 lockdown and its title is “Like Never Before”
This is a retreat,
not just a quarantine or a lockdown.
This is a retreat to reflect,
forced upon us by the Mother Nature,
Like a mother, she saw us drifting apart
from her and from each other
And did what was necessary to save us
from our own self-destruction
Do not despair, hear her now
and get prepared to act
when this is all over
For what really matters,
to see, listen, live and love
like never before.
The following are the transcribed contents in the Q&A section of this webinar.
Question 1: What do you think would be the biggest issue we would face in the future and how do we fix it, or the solution to this problem, in terms of global citizenship?
Ambassador Mustafa: The biggest issue I would argue, would be the reluctance of some of the stakeholders in the society. And therefore these Utopian ideas would face with probably some fear propagated by those who do not want to change the systems in which we live. So it’s basically the vested interests that would insist on keeping the current realities as they are would be the main, the biggest issue that the global citizenship idea would face.
Question 2: If there is no global government, then that means you are actually making a new one. And wouldn’t it be just another state among all other states?
Ambassador Mustafa: Global citizenship is not a country. It doesn’t create a country, it doesn’t create a state. It creates another layer of identity in every person in the world on top of what they already have as a national citizen in any given country. So it kind of raises the awareness of being a part of a larger human race rather than being just a Turkish, or a Chinese, or an American , whatever. I think the requirements of today’s world necessitate us to have that layer of thinking and feeling the responsibility about the global problems we cannot solve on our own. So global citizenship is basically a mental tool to really empower the individuals to think more seriously about their responsibility for global problems.
Questioin 3: Is there any country that already tries to provide such a shared platform to support refugees and displaced people?
Ambassador Mustafa: No, not at this moment. But, UN has identified forced displacement has become one of the top 3 development challenges in the next ten years.
Question 4: How to deal with the perception of belongingness? If the refugees are global citizens which means they are not belonging to any nation. So, they might still be refugees from a social perspective.
Ambassador Mustafa: I do not propose this to replace national belonging. If a refugee is physically displaced, he or she would not necessarily have to give up on his or her national citizenship. But if a refugee wants to give up the status of his or her citizenship, this new global citizenship would give them an alternative. So, a person who voluntarily gives up his or her national citizenship, and adopts global citizenship would not feel like a social refugee. They would feel a strong sense of belonging to a community of global citizens. So I don’t think it would create any issue as long as they could sustain their lives and have the possibility of being a part of the society.
Question 5: Is there any difference between the refugees who hold global citizenship and the normal nation-state citizen who hold it? Do any people who have this global citizenship share the equivalent status?
Ambassador Mustafa: No, there will be no difference. That’s the whole point. It would be a level-playing field. They would be participating on an equal footing. Because at the moment in the world there’s a hierarchy: the hierarchy between the normal citizens and the displaced people or refugees. They are seen as inferior because of xenophobia and many other reasons. So the global citizenship aims to remove that stigma, and aims to bring them to the same level. We cannot force a racist or xenophobic person to acquire global citizenship. It will be a voluntary acquisition of global citizenship status. There could be an equal status not just for individuals but also corporations to be a part of this global citizenship network, voluntarily,accepting this status and providing some resources in exchange. It will be good for their corporate brandsin the eyes of many millennials or young generations whoare the consumers of their products and services.
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