|Is there something on my back?|
Imagine going back in time ten years and telling someone at UNHCR, or Refugees International, or the International Rescue Committee, or a professor in the global studies department of a major university that one day, a non-binding UN migration pact would bring down the government of Belgium thanks to a concerted, organized online troll campaign by an international network of far-right neo-Nazis, possibly funded by Russia. Yet this is now the world we live in. Politico has a great article about how the toothless, bureaucratic document became so controversial online that it actually managed to accomplish something (an unseemly parliament reshuffle in Belgium,) albeit something very different from its intention.
Who has actually read through the entire Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration? In the past, the UN would be lucky to get 10 regular people who are not migration law wonks or UN staff to read something like this. Today...well, today only 10 people have actually read it, the rest of the people talking about the Pact are simply using it as a punching bag to express their rage at everything they hate most: 1) migrants and 2) world government.
The real lesson of this debacle is not simply that many parts of the world are having serious problems performing simple government functions because large portions of their populations now live inside an alternate reality where the UN actually has the capacity to accomplish anything, let alone overthrowing the global world order of nation-states to become an evil, globalist world government. (Note to the anti-UN crowd - you do much better when you point out the very real incompetence, waste and corruption at the UN - no need to make stuff up!) In fact, the far-right is doing a much better job at becoming a globalist, world government then the UN ever possibly could.
No, the real lesson, the very chilling lesson, is that anti-immigrant propaganda works. In the giant social science experiment we are now living within, it turns out that anti-immigrant propaganda ranks somewhere just below anti-semitism and just above misogyny on the scale of "effective internet propaganda campaigns." For some reason, climate change and the singularity don't seem to scare people, but anti-refugee propaganda is winning it for the far-right all over the world. And what these propaganda campaigns have shown is that anything, and anyone, can be turned into a global celebrity overnight. If you work on immigration or refugee issues, that means that you, yes little you!, could be next.
Human rights advocates and journalists are used to being targets. Everyone who speaks truth to power is aware, on some level, that one day they could enter their embassy in Turkey in search of a routine document needed for their wedding and end up being murdered and dismembered. But those of us who work with refugee and migrants aren't use to this type of threat. Sure, humanitarian work engenders risks: you could be killed by a bomb, or kidnapped.
But the threats we face today are different, both less serious but also more insidious. Resolutely a-political organizations are being framed as deeply political institutions. Basic rights that most people used to agree on, even welcome, like the right to asylum, are now being framed as threats. Even wearing an "I stand with refugees" teeshirt carries with it the faint whiff of subversion, like wearing a teeshirt saying "the Catholic Church protects pedophiles." In fact, the second teeshirt is probably less controversial these days.
Migrant and refugee advocates need to learn from our journalist friends - be aware that you are now working in a sensitive and politicized environment and that you might be targeted personally. Consider deleting your personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. And if you have accounts, be careful who you "friend" or "follow." Build a community of colleagues who can support you if you are attacked online. And remember that the work is always worth it.