Saturday, 22 June 2002

Only good players, please

WO R L D CUP. By the time this piece sees print, England will already have played Brazil in the quarter-finals of the 2002 Football World Cup, in what is billed as the match of the tournament. The last time the two teams met in a World Cup game in Guadalajara, Mexico back in 1970, the talent-laden Brazilians—who had the legendary Pele playing in their team—beat the English 1-0. Since then, succeeding English teams had always dreamed of being the squad that would avenge this unforgettable loss to the Brazilians.

David Beckham’s boys look like they have the best chances of finally breaking the 30-year old Brazilian jinx, if any England side is ever going to do it. Beckham, the larger-than-life footballing husband of former Spice Girl Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams, and his team have played incredibly well in this tournament, defying predictions that as with England teams of the recent past, they too will fade away well before the championship game begins.

Beckham’s team bears many similarities to the 1970 squad of the two Bobbies—Moore and Charlton—that played creditably against the formidable team led by the great Pele. Like their esteemed elders, they have shown in their previous games that they are tenacious at defense, allowing one of the lowest opposing team goal totals in this tournament so far—one. More importantly, they can score.

After a lackluster 1-1 draw with Sweden in their opening match, and an even slower 0-0 draw with African runners-up Nigeria, they finally let the scoring salvo loose in their 3-0 drubbing of Denmark, the side that bid au revoir to the “repeat” dreams of defending champions France.

But technically comparable they may be, the similarities end there. England v. Brazil in 1970 was a black and white game literally, with the dark-skinned Brazilians playing against the pale-faced Englishmen. Today, if Beckham’s men did not wear the red and white colors to distinguish them from the yellow and green jerseys of Brazil, he would not know where to direct his lethal passes from mid-field.

In terms of racial mix, this team has come a long way. Five of the top players in Sven Goran Eriksson’s lineup are either black or mixed race in origin. Not so in 1970. Come to think of it, the new heavyweight champion of the world is British. And by the way, he is black too!

England is not alone in recognizing the wisdom of opening its team to “non-conventional” players. Sweden’s lethal striker that almost took them to the quarterfinals is Henrik Larsson, whose complexion is a number of shades darker than Bjorn Borg’s. Even Denmark, the team of blonde and blue-eyed Viking descendants, had a few dark- skinned players donning its jersey.

But the best example of all is the ousted defending champions France, whose multi-ethnic team led by Algerian-French midfielder Zinedine Zidane was vigorously disowned by the French rightist politician Jean Marie Le Pen as being “foreign.”

The World Cup is a good venue to watch multi-racial integration in action, with only the Asian teams of China, Japan and South Korea, and the Africans all looking ethnically similar. Gone were the days when most European teams would have made Hitler proud. Today, in their pursuit of excellence and the elusive cup, they have learned to recognize talent that is not merely skin-deep.

European fans, greatly appreciating the contribution of their not-so-similar looking “countrymen” in their quest for glory, do not seem to mind at all. As long as they do their share for the team, they are more than welcome.

IMMIGRATION. This is the message that many European countries are trying to get across to the multitudes of would-be immigrants to their countries. As long as they are good team players (integrate and disseminate, learn the language), score their fair share of goals (obtain gainful employment) and refrain from dysfunctional behavior (stay away from crime, drug abuse), the welcome mat will be rolled out to them.

Far from being inhumane and cruel, this expectation is clearly a justifiable one. Immigration is essentially an economic transaction—people move across borders to fill the employment needs in places that require their skill. As long as this logic is observed, there should be no problems.

It is when the cunning and the sly end up upsetting this equilibrium that problems start to happen.

Imagine if the England team did not have access to the best players for its line-up because certain pretenders had already forced their way into the squad, without possessing the requisite talent for the game? The team’s morale would be upset, would it not? It would likely be full of resentment, and its players might even refuse to do their best for the country.

The tide of human migration is unstoppable, but its logic should not be perverted and abused.

Legitimate asylum seekers aside, only those with valuable contributions to their new teams (destination countries) should be welcomed. Otherwise, like the England teams of the past, their new hosts would always be left wondering what it would have been like, had they been allowed to choose only the best players for their sides.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 22, 2002 (

Saturday, 8 June 2002


AGAINST TIDE. Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at an emerging pan-European backlash against the tide of illegal immigration to Western Europe.

The surge to power of extreme right parties—Jorg Haider’s in Austria a few years back, and recently Jean Marie Le Pen’s in France, and the late Pim Fortuyn’s in the Netherlands—has come on the back of these parties’ avowed opposition to what is perceived to be an extremely tolerant attitude toward immigrants—be they legitimate asylum seekers or plain economic refugees.

Recently, even fairly open countries like Britain have seen the rise of political opposition to the tide of immigration. And mainstream, even left-of-center politicians like Britain’s Home Secretary David Blunkett, have joined in the outcry.

It is not difficult to see why.

Uncontrolled immigration to any country is costly. Take the case of people coming over to the U.K. Some of them come from the Balkans and further east, seeking to escape the horrors of war in their homelands. Most, however, are simply looking for better economic opportunities—arriving from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, the Philippines and the rest of the Far East in their thousands. A few come with employable skills, but others end up in welfare rolls, costing taxpayers billions of pounds each year.

Europe is especially vulnerable to overgenerosity with immigration. As past colonial masters, there seems to be a prevalent feeling of responsibility in many countries on the continent, over what is happening in their former colonies. Thus, France is full of Algerians, Moroccans and Senegalese migrants, and the U.K. is home to many from Hong Kong, the Caribbean and the sub-continent. Somehow, their politicians, and their people, feel that accepting former colonials into their countries is a way of atoning for their sins of the past.

HIGH COSTS. But is it really helping either the past colonial masters or the erstwhile colonized? On balance, one would have to say that it benefits neither, with very high economic and social costs on both sides.

The receiving countries end up shelling out billions of pounds of welfare funds, to sponsor language training and social integration programs, job placement, housing assistance, and similar schemes to help the new arrivals. This preferential treatment alienates their own citizens—especially those lower in the economic ladder—who feel that they are being neglected for the sake of the foreign newcomers. Social tensions are inevitable, tensions that on many occasions often turn violent and confrontational.

The new arrivals also introduce severe and significant distortionary effects in the host country’s employment markets, especially when they are willing to work for far less than the host country’s own residents are prepared to accept.

The countries of origin suffer too. Countries like the Philippines, that have been the source of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to Western countries, have had the travel and mobility privileges of their residents severely curtailed. Any Filipino that wishes to visit a foreign land becomes a suspect, a potential illegal immigrant in the making. While many countries are granted automatic entry privileges for their nationals, the people of those that are the source of illegal immigration are subjected to endless, sometimes humiliating scrutiny before being granted travel documentation.

This difficulty of access to foreign travel and employment has made the playing field even more uneven than it already is. The few opportunities available are not necessarily accessible by the most qualified, but by the cunning and adventurous few—their skills or lack of them notwithstanding—who are prepared to take their chances, whatever the outcome.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 08, 2002 (

Saturday, 1 June 2002

Blunkett Denies Asylum Seekers The Blanket

STEPPING ON TOES. David Blunkett, the British Home Office Secretary, is no ordinary bureaucrat. In seemingly blatant disregard for convention, he takes his dog with him to his office in Whitehall. He does not hesitate to step on his critics’ toes, and he looks straight through his political opponents without batting an eyelash.

But it is neither of these that make him unique.

Mr. Blunkett has been blind since birth, hence he is allowed to do what other politicians cannot normally get away with. But physical disability aside, he is one tenacious fighter, who minces no words, and respects no custom, when it comes to public policy. His latest controversial involvement came when he unveiled the contents of his new asylum plan for the United Kingdom.

For years now, Britain has been the destination of choice for refugees fleeing from conflicts outside Europe’s nearby frontiers, and beyond. Serbs fearing for their lives against Albanians in Kosovo, Albanians before them fleeing Milosevic’s Serbian paramilitaries’ reign of terror, Kurds trying to avoid persecution in Eastern Turkey and Iraq, Africans fearing for their lives in the chaotic continent’s various civil wars—you name the conflagration, the victims in its aftermath have fled across the seas to the UK’s tolerant shores—tolerant that is, until recently.

The situation could never have been sustainable in the long run. Every night, hundreds of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants slip through the port of Dover, hidden inside container vans, tucked under trains plying the Eurotunnel, or clinging precariously to cargo trucks from the continent.

Many more enter through the various international airports as tourists, never to return whence they came.

REFUGEES. Many come to escape war and injustice in their countries. Their homes have been burned to the ground, their friends and relations killed or scattered across the world. Starting life all over again in their former homes is untenable. For these people, Britain cannot in conscience refuse their entry.

However, countless more—the majority in fact—come across simply in search of better economic opportunities. Where they come from, jobs may not be as plentiful or as monetarily rewarding.

They are economic refugees, fleeing not from the horrors of war, famine and pestilence, but from the fallout of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. They argue that their difficulties are just as great, their suffering comparably as insufferable to those dodging bullets and sidestepping landmines in their bid to escape from home.

David Blunkett does not buy this argument. “We’re not taking people who simply turn up out of countries that are not persecuting them,” is how he rationalized his latest proposal on stemming the tide of immigration to the U.K. To get his point across, his latest policy proposal on asylum and immigration contains new guidelines that many civil libertarians and human rights advocates consider inhumane and unjust.

David Blunkett is unfazed. He continues to stare through his fiercest critics, and if necessary, once again step on their toes if they get in his way. And his dog might just take a snip at them as he walks by.

But he will not be at fault. He is blind, you see.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 01, 2002 (