Compulsory happiness (2008)

I go into a shop, an obnoxious demented happy-holiday-merry-christmas tune is playing on an infinite loop and truly gets on my nerves. How can they bear it?
As I am about to run from the shop I notice a happy shopper tapping his foot to the tune, and another one nodding her head on tempo, and then one humming the tune, and then one making little dance steps on it… I look around and notice the blissful expression on customers’ faces and the obvious connection with the song.
Have they discovered the secret of happiness?
I hop and skip my way home happily humming the tune to see if it works. Sadly it doesn’t, there must be something seriously wrong with me!

A semiotic analysis of the feature film “Holly” revealing latent Orientalism in XXIst century representations on the background of human trafficking in a globalised, post-colonial world (2011)


Abstract – page 3

Holly, film’s synopsis

1) Introduction and context – page 4

Globalisation and human trafficking

2) Literature review and theoretical framework – page 8



3) Methodology and methods – page 11

Semiology and semiotics

Time span and nature of sources

Why and how looking at a feature film

4) Findings, arguments, results – page 15

Starting points

Holly, the reality and its representation

Othering: us and the others

Symbolism: stereotypes and archetypes

Latent Orientalism: returning through the back door

5) Conclusions – page 31

6) References – page 33


Papers and reports


7) Appendixes – page 39

Thank you notes

Holly,  official film credits


This dissertation is part of a wider research on the impact that globalisation has had on human trafficking and analyses the way the issue has been portrayed in Holly, a feature film by Guy Moshe made in 2006. The intent is to reveal how Orientalist and post-colonial discourses resurface in present day representations, shaping and conditioning their language.

Holly draws its content from the stark reality of human trafficking in the 21st century. The film, based on factual evidence, attempts to construct a narrative that, through the use of a language accessible to the general public, can be a vehicle for information and a tool to raise awareness on the issue.

However, in conducting a semiotic analysis of the film, I intend to highlight a series of misunderstandings and pitfalls that seem to have plagued this like many of the feature films on the subject of human trafficking produced over the last decade, coinciding with an increased presence of the issue in the news. I trace the origin of these misunderstandings to a persisting influence, to a large extent unconscious, of post-colonialist and Orientalist discourse among westerners, irrespective of their intentions, involved in combating human trafficking. I intend to use Holly as an example of this attitude which also affects and distorts many other areas of international development.

Film is relevant as it reaches a wide international audience, contributing to shape public opinion, which in turn reflects on reactions to other issues such as illegal immigration.

International Organisations, NGOs and Government agencies have published a vast literature on HT, but these materials rarely reach the general public, both in the countries of origin and destination of victims of trafficking; film can reach where official information doesn’t, but in order to be effective it must avoid to perpetuate cultural stereotypes.

Holly, film’s synopsis

Cambodia, 2005. Patrick is an american dealer of stolen archeological artifacts living at the margins of society. He accidentally finds himself in K11, a village near the capital Phnom Penh consisting mainly of brothels offering children and young girls, mostly Vietnamese. Patrick tries to keep a distance from the world that surrounds him but ends up feeling the urge to rescue Holly, a 12 year old Vietnamese girl who was sold to one of the brothels. The film tells the story of the ambiguous relationship that develops between the two, Holly’s attempts to regain freedom, Patrick’s messy attempts to help her, the encounters with traffickers, corrupt police officers and politicians, and a sad end in a stark reality.

On the background is the realistic portrayal of contemporary South East Asia, with its extreme poverty, corruption, lack of infrastructure and education next to fast development, tourism and foreign influence.

1) Introduction and context

Globalisation and human trafficking

A foreword on human trafficking, and how it fits within the wider process of globalisation, is needed in order to understand the background against which the film is set.

One of the side effects of globalisation has been the increase in disparity within societies.

The trickle-down effect expected by the proponents of fast market liberalisation hasn’t materialised and while the overall GDP of countries has in most cases increased the benefits have been reaped by a small minority and large numbers of citizens in fast developing countries are effectively worse off now than they were before globalisation.

The combination of higher prices, urbanisation and cross border migration, larger numbers of poor and the fragmentation of communities are all factors that create a set of market conditions that are favourable to the exploitation of people, and consequently a cause in the increase of human trafficking.

While globalisation favoured and regulated the movement of goods and services between countries it hasn’t done the same for people. This inevitably causes an increase in illegal migration. (Stiglitz, 2006 – ILO 2006)

Inequality and poverty drive migration and unregulated migration offers plenty of opportunities to exploiters. Irregular migrants are among the most vulnerable people, lacking protection, legal status, family and community connections, money and in most cases knowledge and literacy. (Marshall 2001). The 1997 financial crisis that badly hit South East Asia was a direct consequence of globalisation’s mismanagement and IMF’s mistakes and unethical stance, the consequences of that crisis are still felt in the region and have caused an increase in instability, forced millions of people to move in search of better living conditions, created a fertile ground for the exploitation of vulnerable displaced individuals and consequently contributed to worsen the problem of human trafficking.

One of the problems faced by those who try to combat HT, whether it is policy maker, NGOs, law enforcement agencies or voluntary organisations, is the lack of a clear and universally accepted definition.

The United Nations define ‘trafficking in persons’ as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation’” (UN 2000).

This lack of universally accepted definitions is also one of the reasons why large multinational criminal organisations stepped so heavily in the business of human trafficking, and makes it more difficult to enforce laws even when these exist. The potential punishments are negligible compared to those related to other illegal international activities such as the drug and weapons trades, while the financial gain is comparable; moreover, drugs and weapons must be produced, bought and can be sold once only, while trafficking in human beings involves a very low initial investment, the supply is endless, the demand is high and the goods can be sold repeatedly.

I am using the terms “goods” for people which someone may find distasteful, but it is precisely because I believe effective action can be achieved if we accept that the mechanisms that define human trafficking are identical to those that define any other international trade in a globalised world and should be faced with the same pragmatic criteria. The mechanism of global supply and demand is a key cause of the problem and  globalisation’s opening up of markets, the ease of travel and communication, are determining factor.

Human Trafficking has been a constant component of our history, globalisation has simply given a new and more dramatic dimension to it, one that is far more complex than in the past.
One of the features that differentiates modern human trafficking from previous forms of slavery is that race, nationality and gender of the people being trafficked are not determining factors, while the economic reasons, which were always present, are magnified and completely defined by the globalisation of markets, thus equating the victims of trafficking to any other commodity traded internationally.

The rules governing this trade, and the methods applied by criminal organisations and individuals involved in it, are based on the same principles that govern the decisions of businesses choosing to trade in one kind of goods or services instead of another and where. The channels through which trafficking develops are also the same, and changes in international trade laws, ease of transport and communications that are peculiar of globalisation all contributed to the development of human trafficking on a global scale.

International law has changed considerably in the last 20 years to face the large-scale problems of international criminality, with particular reference to drugs and weapons, while the international law regarding human trafficking is still far from consolidated. This has had the unwanted effect of giving criminal organisations one more reason to shift their highly profitable activities from drugs and weapons to humans. (O’Connell Davidson, 2005 – Skinner, 2001 – Seabrook 2001 – Leitner, 2008)
Moreover, the increased demand for cheap labour and exotic sexual entertainment, which are also to a large extent a consequence of globalisation, have created a larger than ever market for a new kind of slaves.

Cheap disposable workforce, from industrial and agricultural production to the sex industry, from mining to war, the fast development of certain areas of the world, the shift of some production activities from the developed to the developing world, all played a dramatic role in creating the circumstances that caused an increase in human trafficking.

While there are distinctions between local small-scale trafficking, such as that described in Holly, the film used as example in this dissertation, and the work of international criminal organisations, globalisation has had an effect on both.

It is now clear that one of the negative aspects of globalisation is an increase in disparities both between countries and between individuals in those countries. The growing inequalities coupled with increasing consumerism drive migration. In South East Asia, where Holly is set, this is particularly noticeable as neighbouring countries with very porous borders have developed at a strikingly different pace in the last 20 years.  The creation of wealth and opportunities concentrated in few locations inevitably enhanced migratory movements, but, in the absence of appropriate immigration laws and intra-national agreements, a large portion of these have been illegal (Brown 2007 – Robertson 2006). Diffused poverty and low wages of public officers favour corruption (Reichel, 2005). The increase in demand for labour in the fast developing areas was also shaped by the ever growing globalisation’s need to reduce production costs; understandably this not only resulted in more people migrating to those areas but created more opportunities for exploitation. (UNICEF 2007 – RWG-CL 2002 – Keane 2006)
More people gathering in one place, mostly poor and from different countries, inevitably also increases the demand for collateral services and the problems related to them, and these always include smuggling, illegal and dangerous working conditions, debt bondage, and prostitution (ILO 2006, IOM 2007, British Embassy 2007). This also applies to areas where multinational corporations and enterprises from richer neighbouring countries have set up plants as well as areas close to military bases (Hughes 2002).

These mechanisms have been constant features of human history, the interconnectedness of the modern world simply makes them more visible and pervasive.

Just as globalisation created conditions that are favourable to exploitation and human trafficking it also offers unprecedented opportunities to devise ways to tackle these problems at their root. It has been proven that multinational corporations can be “encouraged” to take responsibility and the Business Social Responsibility that was forced on companies such as Nike is becoming more widely accepted by businesses, both wishing to avoid legal costs and to improve their public image, which then results in positive advertising (Stiglitz 2006). It is in the interest of corporations to push for better international agreements, clearer and more uniform regulation of intra-regional migration and reduction of local officials corruption. All of these would contribute to a reduction in human trafficking for work and sexual exploitation.

Holly’s story develops on the background of these enormous societal changes in the Mekong area, one of the worst affected by human trafficking.

The film is accurate in its portrayal of the situation, the places and manners in which it develops, however, the symbolic language utilised, the metaphorical references and the narration’s approach bear the mark of Orientalism and Post-colonialism. It is this symbolic language, its origins and resilient survival in modern day culture and activities that I will concentrate on, with the intention to call for the urgent need for greater alertness to what I consider to be a diminishing factor in any intervention by developed countries in developing ones.

2) Literature review and theoretical  framework


The initial part of my research referred to human trafficking and globalisation in general, in that phase I made use of books on both subjects, in an effort to detect the links between the two. I then went on to research and consult a number of reports, documents, papers by various International Organisations, Governments and NGOs dealing with all aspects of Human Trafficking in various parts of the world in the last decade.

Next I watched several TV and on-line documentaries and  feature films on HT, looking for correspondences between fiction and reality as well as observing the language used in the fictional representation of facts.

Finally I choose Holly as an ideal subject for a critique of a persisting Orientalist and Post-colonial discourse both in the representation of HT and in international development work more generally.

In order to analyse Holly’s representation of Human Trafficking I have reviewed a variety of reports and documents by various International Organisations, Governments and NGOs which referred specifically to the issue of HT in South East Asia, where the film is set.

To analyse the language and symbology employed in the film I referred to literature on Orientalism, Semiology, Psychology and Philosophy as well as made reference to literary and visual art works.

The literature referred to throughout this research belongs to three main distinct bodies:

  • A series of papers, reports and documents based on empirical data, written by activists and researches working in the field, together with a number of factual books on the subject, including a few specific reports on the actual reality and location the film depicts.
  • Books on globalisation and on human trafficking, referred to as a means to set the contextual background of the research.
  • Academic and established works on language, semiotics, Orientalism and ethnography to form the landscape of cultural reference.


The literature on both globalisation and human trafficking is vast, but too little attention has been paid so far to the relationship between the two subjects.
Because the impact of globalisation on human trafficking is a recent phenomenon this research refers to works mostly published between 1999 and 2009.
Few texts exist that mention globalisation as a determining factor in human trafficking, (Amir, 2006 – Austin, 2007 – Bales, 2004 – Bandana and Kamala, 2011 – Friman, 2007 – Moises, 2007 – Van Den Anker, 2003) and these were consulted to gain an understanding of the wider context; also, I referred to research currently under way, particularly by the International Labour Organisation which, among the international organisations, is the one that has produced the largest amount of research on the global dimension of human trafficking in its various aspects; the ILO papers deal with all geographic areas and examine the relationship between changing patterns of economic development, labour demand, population movements and more, offering informed and well documented research with a wealth of data collected over the years across all areas of the developing world, relating these to the changes occurring in the developed world.

ILO’s “Globalisation and the illicit market for human trafficking: an empirical analysis of supply and demand” (2006) is a comprehensive and objective overview of the factors that link the two issues and one of the papers used as a guideline in this research.
As with the books, many more reports and papers are being consulted but, for their local and circumscribed nature, these form part of the background research only.

Several web sites by NGOs and voluntary organisations as well as local government and international law enforcement agencies were monitored in the course of this research as they provide a constantly updated source of information, used to validate the theory being expressed in this paper.

A number of feature films are also mentioned, as they highlight the way the issue is presented to worldwide audiences, contributing to form a perception of the problem in the eyes of the general public, both informing and misleading it.

The sources for this research fall under different subject areas, and were chosen in an attempt to pinpoint the missing links and paint a picture that highlights the relationship between elements that too often are considered separately.
These subject areas include international law (Reichel, 2005), international trade agreements (Leitner, 2008), corruption at government and law enforcement level, (King, 2005) communications including internet and mobile phones, tourism and travel,  (O’Connell Davidson, 2005 – Skinner, 2001 – Seabrook 2001) changes in migration patterns, (ILO, 2006 – UN OPRS, 2001) immigration policies (IOM, 2003 – European Commission, 2004 – McGill 2003), organised crime, international corporations policies (RWG-CL, 2002 – ILO, 2006 – Van Den Anker, 2003 – Cameron 2007).
A number or reports and papers directly related to the issue and geographic area that constitute the core of Holly’s subject were used as a reference and as a way to cross-examine the film’s factual accuracy.

The historical background and context inevitably make specific reference to the seminal “Orientalism” by E. Said but also 19th century literature, especially P. Loti’s work and his portrayal of the exotic and the Orient.

Loti is one among many authors who contributed to the creation of a collective imaginary Orient in the unconscious of the west, but he is peculiar and doubly representative as he was a novelist and travel writer but also an officer in the French navy, as such he was deployed to most of the French colonies; this first hand experience as both cultural and military coloniser resulted in several successful books that were based on the author’s voyages. This placed him in a privileged position of active contributor to the actual implementation of colonialism and to the depiction of exotic places through a narrative language. Reading Loti’s novels and travel books today, in the light of Orientalist discourse and with the knowledge of colonialism’s history, is a useful retrospective experience, one that allows tracing the origin of many preconceived ideas that are still in wide circulation, often unquestioned.

J. Stiglitz’s books are referred to for an overview on the mechanisms of globalisation and the impact that these had on developing countries, socially, economically and politically. Stiglitz’s books are extremely useful as they are comprehensive, contextualised and clear. Despite being profoundly opinionated, Stiglitz’s work is also remarkably objective, attempting to contextualise and connect all elements needed for a comprehension of very complex mechanisms.

Barthes, Eco, Foucault, Hall, Jung and Kristeva inform the observations on language and symbolic representation, essential to give meaning to the narrative expedients used in the film. Finally Levi-Strauss’ thoughts of ethnography were also taken into account.

Several other texts, dealing with specific or local issues and case studies, were used to gain a better insight, but not necessarily quoted.

3) Methodology and methods

Semiology and semiotics

When Saussure first defined semiology at the beginning of the 20th century cinema was in its infancy, but semiology seems designed for film analysis and it became a powerful analytical tool, especially with the structuralist semiotic approach developed later, primarily by Barthes (1964, 1970) in the 60‘s. Semiotic methods make analysing the multilayered language of film a fruitful way to reveal the complex interrelation of the audio, visual and literary signs and symbols that combine to make a film.

Eco (1967, 1975) puts it simply, saying that semiotics is concerned with everything that can be identified as a sign, while Kristeva (1980), following in the steps of Lacan, digs deeper in the hidden meaning of signs and the unconscious representations that give them power and make them meaningful to the audiences. It is this less than obvious meaning that I am looking for in my  deconstruction of Holly, what its signs stand for and how their hidden meaning may be more powerful than the intended literal one, unwittingly becoming ideologically encoded, as Hall (1997) would have said, thus perpetuating the status quo of cultural hegemony.

A semiotic analysis of Holly is particularly useful as the film offers a catalogue of stereotypes that are recurrently used in all forms of narration, visual and literary, and a set of attitudes that are representative of much of developed countries’ intervention in the solution of problems in developing countries.

In these interventions I read the traces of Orientalist and Post-Colonial discourses that survive like a lasting trail and aren’t debated enough.

Holly is peculiar in as much as it combines two almost opposite approaches, one which I assume was purposeful and the other unconscious. Holly, in the words of its authors, was intended as an attempt to contribute to the solution of a real problem and it does so translating in a narrative form facts that are correct and competently illustrated, as confirmed by the comparison I made with the various research works on the issue in that geographic area. At the same time it uses metaphors and symbols that are unwittingly patronising and informed by a set of preconceived ideas. Analysing the structure and meaning of the film, identifying the signs and symbols that were used by its authors, will facilitate highlighting these elements.

By placing side by side the film’s quasi-documentary illustration of the facts and the narrative expedients employed to tell the story I aim to highlight the pitfalls of the film as representative of a more general bias in western intervention, motivated and shaped by the inheritance of centuries of representation of the Orient. I also want to underline that a revision of our attitude in analysing issues and deciding the best course of action is long overdue if we truly intend to contribute to positive change.

Time span and nature of sources

I have limited the choice of my references to research that has taken place within a defined timespan (1999-2009) and then further narrowed the selection to works that illustrate similar cases and situations in the part of the world where the film is set and roughly coincide with the time when the film in question was researched and produced, so to make the reference data coincide as much as possible with its fictional representation.
The empirical data is used as a reference in analysing the feature film and measuring its value as conveyor of realistic information and its potential use as tool for raising the public’s awareness.
To achieve this result the fictional narration was run in parallel to the empirical findings, looking for correspondence between fact and fiction.
For the background research I made an effort in finding a balanced number of comparable sources of information regarding all areas of the world as I believe that despite the obvious local variations the key elements defining HT are truly global.
Research from well established International Organisations, official governments’ agencies and NGOs has been corroborated with findings from smaller charities and local organisations, all of which contribute to strengthen the hypothesis of a direct link between globalisation and human trafficking.

Given the variety of sources and the need to compare fiction with factual information the research was developed in distinct stages:

  • background readings to paint the overall landscape
  • watching a series of TV documentaries and reading papers and reports on specific components of the wider issue
  • watching a series of feature films and choosing Holly as representative of aspects of the western perception of human trafficking in a global context
  • analysing the readings and finding further relevant and more detailed reports, statistical data and papers
  • watching the selected film again evaluating its factual credibility, effectiveness in portraying the subject and identifying the key elements that I intend to relate to the Orientalist/post-colonial bias
  • relating these key elements to the readings and documentaries

Why and how looking at a feature film

Holly was chosen as a striking example of a widespread cultural bias, in the knowledge that the authors were committed to positive action, which is demonstrated by their parallel activities such as the production of two documentaries on the subject, made with great difficulties and at considerable personal risk. They also launched the K11 initiative, a project intended to raise awareness on the issue of HT in South East Asia, named after the infamous red light district at Svay Pak, 11 Km north of  Phnom Penh, Cambodia where the film is set. This integrity of intentions underlines how even the most sincere efforts in this area can be biased by a substrata of preconceptions that are ingrained in our unconscious as a result of centuries of cultural Eurocentrism.

A recurrent character in the narrative of feature films on human trafficking is the saviour as white, usually troubled or with a murky past, whose conscience is awakened to the other’s suffering. This is the case in Holly, where Patrick, a young American living off illicit activities at the margins of Cambodian society, gets sucked in a situation beyond his control trying to “rescue” one of the girls in a brothel. The examples of this kind of established icon abound in recent years’ movies, and it’s worth mentioning a few: in Blood Diamond it is the remorseless smuggler who rescues the child soldiers and slave miners sacrificing his own life in a final act of redemption. In Three Seasons it is the Vietnam veteran who goes back looking for his forgotten daughter who works as a prostitute. In Human Trafficking is the white police officer, herself victim of abuse in the past, who fights against corruption and a failing system to rescue the sex slaves traded in the US, aided in her effort by other good willing white anti-heroes in other parts of the world. In Sex Trafficking is the young white NGO worker who defies criminals and a corrupt system of international security agencies to rescue the sex slaves traded into the UK. In Trade it is the disillusioned police officer who finds it in his heart to help a poor Mexican thief who illegally entered the US trying to rescue his abducted sister.

Several cultural symbols surface between the lines of these representations and appear to have shaped them. These can be retraced to a whole array of post-colonial and Orientalist concepts that have become embedded in the western world’s psyche. This acknowledgement doesn’t question the honest intentions of the makers, nor it is to say that it renders the informative role of the films void, however, I wish to draw attention to these factors that I believe often taint even the best intentioned efforts of those involved in combating issues of this nature, including the work of volunteers and many organisations.

There is an undeniable voyeuristic element which permeates this like most feature films, especially where sexual exploitation forms the narration’s background; it is an element that causes an uneasy feeling in the viewer and yet it’s proven to work from the point of view of audience appeal. Most authors are aware of this and consciously use it as a justified means to achieve the goal of spreading information and making it reach audiences that aren’t likely to watch documentaries or read official reports. Holly’s authors have been more careful and discreet than average in avoiding any graphic depiction of sex in the film and resisting the temptation to exploit its commercial value in terms of audience appeal, yet the enormous seductive power of the Oriental woman in the psyche of the western man is always just around the corner.

The established system of symbols (as Barthes would call it) informs decisions and actions, rendering us blind to realities that do not conform to our projected images. Analysing these elements of the discourse highlights some weaknesses that diminish the value of otherwise valuable efforts. This applies to Holly too, where the symbolic language used is very well established and conforming to an acquired vocabulary.

Foucault (1966) calls for the need of a “perpetual principle of dissatisfaction” in human science, and specifically referring to ethnology warns of the danger of analysing findings in a mirror-like fashion, expecting to find confirmation of one’s own culture in the diversity of the other, ignoring the cause and effect interrelation between cultures. In Holly effectively these mirrors are blind and the cultures facing each other don’t find a way of relating, at times clashing, at others sliding side by side.

Under the contingent pressure of urgent action, there is insufficient debate among the international development community about the overarching influence of Orientalist and post-colonial perceptions informing both the actions of activists and the formatting of public information, including films. This often subtly shapes attitudes as well as policies, resulting in less than optimal response to the real needs. This is particularly evident in the policies regarding illegal immigration, and too often results in the victims of trafficking being prosecuted as illegal immigrants rather than helped as victims of heinous crime. The perpetual principle of dissatisfaction would thus be useful in keeping the level of critical alertness high.

It is this insufficient debate that I want to draw attention to, in the belief that long lasting positive intervention requires a deeper and less biased understanding of the social and cultural causes behind human trafficking and its relationship with the process of globalisation. It is a kind of understanding that would allow for a more focussed and effective action, on this issue as well as many other in the realm of international development and cooperation.

Filmmakers, like all other narrators, factual or fictional, would gain from applying this principle of “perpetual dissatisfaction” to their work, aiming to achieve a higher degree of self-awareness and critical ability. Because of their privileged position as influencers of public opinion, and because they talk directly to the emotions and unconscious of the audience, filmmakers are doubly important and influential, hence they carry a great responsibility.

In many of the official policies as well as in the attitude of the general public we can detect a mix of hypocritical Christian charitable spirit and white superiority ideology that borders on racism, and these elements are present in Holly too.

An early example of this attitude is the 1870 ordinance by the Sate of California: An Act to prevent the kidnapping and importation of Mongolian, Chinese and Japanese females, for criminal or demoralizing purposes. (State of California, 1870)
From the days of this ordinance the language used in policy, public information and fiction hasn’t changed enough.

4) Findings, arguments, results

I am looking at Holly and how it translates into filmic fiction a series of facts, some of which are real some are a representation of factual data, and how the fiction succeeds in portraying reality in a way that is understandable by the general  public; in doing so I analyse the symbolic representations and metaphorical language used in the film and relate them to the Orientalist bias.

Starting points

Demand and supply: without demand for cheap goods and services there wouldn’t be a reason for trafficking. Film can make people in the west more aware of the fact that trafficking exists in great measure because of our way of life and demand for cheap goods and services; equally, film can alert people in source countries of the risks and realities of illegal migration.

The amount of good quality information on HT that has been produced and made available in the last decade is vast, however, hardly any of it reaches the general public and when it does it is too often presented in a language that is not adequate. It is essential to improve the level and kind of information reaching the public in the countries of destination as much as in the countries of origin of victims of trafficking and feature films can be useful in this respect.

At the same time relating globalisation and human trafficking is equally crucial in developed and developing countries for a better understanding of the issues and, consequently, a more effective action to initiate improvement.

People in developed countries have grown accustomed to the availability of cheap goods, from electronics to garments, to food and goods from around the globe, to easy and affordable world wide travel, exotic entertainment and a series of privileges that, under the current circumstances, can only exist at the price of various forms of exploitation of millions of people in developing countries. Migration, often illegal, between countries is also a direct consequence of these needs. All of these factors contribute to human trafficking, creating a large demand for cheap or free labour.

A better information of the public could result in pressure being put on governments to implement more effective policies regarding labour and immigration laws, as it was the case when consumers forced some multinational corporations to improve the working conditions of their employees in developing countries.
In these countries people are easy prey to exploiters of various kinds, from middlemen to traffickers who can convince families to let their children go abroad in search of a better future, working in the factories producing goods for the developed countries, or tricking families into debts that can only be repaid by selling or “lending” some of their children. Many fall prey to fake job offers or smugglers who help them migrate illegally. The variations are infinite, and a better understanding of the realities of work, migration and exploitation would reduce the risks of people becoming victims of trafficking because of their ignorance. Many NGOs and voluntary organisations as well as some government agencies, do a great job at trying to distribute information among people, and here is where feature films could be effectively used as information tools.

The emotional impact Holly has on the audiences does achieve its intended goal of making people think about the issue of human trafficking, however, the film doesn’t make direct reference to causes and socio-economic factors, as it concentrates on Holly and Patrick’s personal stories leaving the reasons behind the depicted reality unaddressed; also, it tells the story employing a language that contributes to perpetuate a series of counterproductive stereotypes.
Save the Children (UK) acknowledges that after years of projects run in South East Asia “there remains an overall lack of understanding regarding their (migrant children) realities, needs and the possibilities for action towards improving their lives.” and “Migrant children and youth come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, speak a variety of languages and dialects and live in tentative and often insecure environments. Their voices and perspectives are easily lost in traditional research models often developed in a framework, culture and language that are foreign to them.” (Save the Children 2001 – 2007). This aptly describe Holly’s context.

Holly, the reality and its representation

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, it is sandwiched between fast-developing and much wealthier Thailand and Vietnam, and not yet recovered from the horrors of the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge genocide of the 70s.

The country presents a catalogue of the worse consequences of colonisation first and globalisation later. After the end of the French colonial period Cambodia was embroiled in the Vietnam war, subjected to external pressures by the US, Russia and China, suffered one of the worst internal genocides of modern history, was caught in the process of globalisation while still in a state of civil war and without having neither the resources nor the infrastructure or intellectual manpower to take advantage of it (it is important to remember that Pol Pot systematically exterminated educated and skilled Cambodians).

On this devastated backdrop the film tells the story of Holly, a 12 year old Vietnamese girl sold to traffickers by her impoverished family. She ends up as a sex slave, particularly valuable as still a virgin, in one of the many brothels in K11, and when she manages to escape she is found by a police officer sells her on to another brothel.

K 11 is an infamous small ramshackle settlement 11 km north of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. K11 is mainly inhabited by Vietnamese, mostly surviving on brothels used both by Cambodian and westerners, often going there specifically because the location is known for the availability of children forced into prostitution.

Holly’s story is that of thousands of children in that part of the world, where intra-regional trafficking is rife. According to most official agencies around a third of human trafficking, for labour and prostitution, takes place within or from South East Asia (Child Wise, 2007 – UNICEF, 2007 – Marshall, 2001 – Robertson, 2006). The film’s references are correct, to the point of having been filmed in the actual locations, to great risk for the people involved. It also correctly suggests that the trafficking in that geographical area isn’t to the exclusive benefit of western customers, as it is often believed, but a local market exists and preconceptions and forms of racism between local ethnicities and nationalities are at play too (Brown, 2001).
It is in this realistic and factually correct context that the stereotypes employed in the narration become more obvious and striking, thus worthy of notice.

Patrick is American and makes a living in Cambodia with small time smuggling of stolen archeological artifacts, effectively being accomplice in the stealing of local history and culture. The rest of the time Patrick plays cards, being regularly stripped by the locals.

His illegal activity is very marginal in the story, it’s almost an irrelevance, while the cheating at cards by the local players is immediately perceived as the inevitable attitude of taking advantage of the foreigner, and potentially threatening.

There is a symbolic analogy between this remorseless stripping the country of its art, culture, history and identity and the exploitation of the children and women in the brothels, the same violation and thievery that has continued for centuries. Yet there is a distinct difference in the way the local “bad ones” from the smugglers of archaeological items to the traffickers and brothel owners, and the westerners, such as those who purchase the items or the girls’ services, are portrayed. It’s a subtle difference, but we can’t help feeling that there is no possibility of redemption for the locals, we perceive them as inherently evil, while the white ones have either a chance of redemption or a range of potential motivations, if not excuses.

Patrick’s character is shouldered and counter-balanced by three other white figures:

Freddie, the dodgy dealer of stolen art and antiques, doted of a good heart but cynically aware of reality and trying to negotiate a compromise with it, always ready to come to the rescue of Patrick the dreamer as his guardian angel.

Marie, the international organisation activist dealing with the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking, she is realist and eager to make a difference, however, Marie personifies the activists who diligently go to the rescue and unwittingly end up behaving in a patronising, almost zealously missionary way.

Klaus, who is a European attorney and has a 14 years old daughter, yet doesn’t find visiting the brothels and sleeping with young girls neither contradictory nor reproachable, in the knowledge that these “others” aren’t like “us”.

This quadrumvirate well represents a real range of western presences in the Orient, all in their own ways read the Orient and its people trough the dictionary of Orientalist thought. (Said, 1978).

On the “black side” the film gives us:

Holly, the 12 years old Vietnamese girl who, while being the focus of the film, has no voice, we are not given means to understand who she is, what she wants. Swept away by the tide of events she keeps trying to be seen and heard, she shows greater resilience than anyone else in the film, yet at every step she seems doomed to failure unless she receives help from the white saviours (who eventually fail her in different ways).

The other characters are all locals, all carry negative connotations and are practically voiceless. They are presented as a cohort of mindless, sleazy, shrewd and indifferent individuals. They are to be fought, tamed, avoided, taught, protected.. never engaged with as individuals. These include the traffickers, brothel owners and the girls.

The policeman who finds the fugitive Holly pretends to help her, but sells her instead to another brothel, thus confirming yet again the innate deviousness of the Orientals and their endemic inclination to corruption.

Othering: us and the others

Claude Levi-Strauss in Tristes Tropiques (1955) and La Pensée sauvage (1962) questions his own interpretation of the “others” after realising how even scientific analysis can’t achieve total objectiveness, he was ringing an alarm bell calling for a more critical analysis, for an awareness of the fact that we are the result of a cultural construct, and that informs our reading of the reality that we observe.

It is this questioning that is lacking in Holly and in general in western interaction with the developing world’s problems, a large portion of which are after all the developed world’s responsibility.

Patrick somehow exemplifies a need to make amends for the wrongs of the past, but he does so in a way that is blind to the contemporary reality and its extended roots as well as being unaware of the bias driving his actions.

Throughout the film we can observe, seeping through the seams of the narration, elements that are disturbingly paternalistic and patronising. Despite her being the focus of the film, we rarely hear Holly’s voice and opinion, she is a victim and unable to express herself coherently, and when she tries she isn’t given a chance. No attempt is made to even involve Holly in the process of redirecting her destiny. The fragments of opinion that Holly is allowed to utter are at the same time hopeless and resigned, yet despite her age and condition her actions are more real and adequate than Patrick’s, as if hardship would confer a more pragmatic and adult tone to this child than to that of the grown Westerners.

This Oriental child forced into adulthood next to this childish western adults may be revealing of one of the many “inferiority complexes” that likely triggered the creation of an Orientalist body of thought, translating the realistic non romanticised attitude into a symptom of infantilism and primitivism.

There is a part of the film that presents us, in the space of a few minutes, with a catalogue of striking and revealing stereotypes.

Patrick has managed to find Holly who has escaped by her own means, they are hiding away while he tries to figure out what the best course of action is. The traffickers are on their heels and they can’t go to the police as these are in league with the criminals. They can’t seek help from embassies or other official agencies as Holly is, in legal terms, an illicit Vietnamese immigrant in Cambodia. Patrick fumbles with ill conceived and unrealistic plans while taking paternal care of the girl.
Holly’s best idea, and potentially the only workable, if unpalatable, solution is for Patrick to buy her.

Instead Patrick takes Holly to the rescue centre where Marie works.
Here Holly is excluded from the conversation the two have about her future, she is actually sent out of the room while the two talk about what to do for her.
Marie opens Patrick’s eyes to the harsh reality and convinces him that the only solution is for him to disappear, thus avoiding all responsibility and the retaliation of the traffickers, and leave Holly in the care of the rescue centre where she will be protected and re-habilitated.

Patrick goes and Marie takes care of Holly, she gives her a room and takes her to meet the other resident girls, who are learning traditional Cambodian dance wearing traditional costumes as part of their rehabilitation process and, presumably as much as paradoxically, as a way to learn useful skills for their reintegration in society. This ad-hoc reconstruction of a local, Oriental identity which is possibly more real for the westerners than it is for the local girls, looks like a strikingly visible signal of a projected image of the Orient.

At all stages there is no engagement with Holly as a sentient human being, care is bestowed upon her, choices are made on her behalf, her opinion is never sought; in the best tradition of western thought the local isn’t deemed capable of self-determination. This re-enacts the colonialist assumption whereby peoples from different geographic areas, with distinctly diverse cultures, were all redefined in a homogeneous exotic “other” resulting in a systematic erasure of individual identity.

There is also no engagement with the local reality, no attempt to understand the causes behind the issue. Freddie tries to explain Patrick that “saving” one girl isn’t going to make the least difference, she will simply be replaced by another one, and Holly herself tells Patrick that she doesn’t want to be rescued, at least not that way, as she fears the traffickers will simply go back to her village and take her younger sister as a compensation for their business loss. Again, we are made to believe that the only salvation can come as a gift from the unquestionably superior westerners.

We should also question what is the substantial difference between the positions exemplified by Klaus and Patrick.

Klaus represents the stereotypical white westerner travelling to the Orient in search for exotic sexual satisfaction; he sleeps with brothel’s girls the age of his daughter while Patrick is outraged by what he sees and feels the urge to rescue Holly. Both act from their privileged position of ‘superior’ beings who have the power to decide and control the life of the ‘inferior’ others. Neither question where their beliefs come from, both fail to consider the will of the people they interact with.

In some respect we can see more coherence in Klaus’ actions, as he does not hide behind morals nor finds excuses for himself, he is not looking for redemption, for himself nor for the girls whose company he buys, his position is amoral rather than immoral.

Patrick, with his indecision and bewilderment, personifies the sense of loss that characterises those who are caught in between, unaware of either the reality that surrounds them and the cultural construct that has shaped their actions. It also represents the failure of the western attempt to appropriate the East, to frame and cage a world that is as desirable as (or because) it is distant. While Klaus and Patrick are free to act and decide, the Orientals are mere instruments, victims, each playing a part they haven’t chosen, deserving to be rescued or punished, controlled or used, in any case denied independence of thought and choice.

In the course of my research I have also come across a large number of blogs and on-line travel references where people who have visited K11 exchange information.

The language used in these websites is all the more upsetting as generally the tone is totally matter of fact; the authors of the various entries review the best brothels and the availability of children the same way they talk abut the best bars, clubs and restaurants, what hotels to avoid and other conventional travel tips. This uniformly relaxed attitude reveals that the children are perceived by these western men just like any of the local commodities to be perused. This is symptomatic of the de-humanisation of the “other” that is almost taken for granted by many westerners, it is an attitude that does not differ from what enabled “good christians” to trade slaves for centuries without feeling guilt, as these weren’t considered quite human. One of the disturbing elements is that there is no malice, contempt, no apparent sense of guilt or the least sign of awareness of the situation being in any way wrong. These people praise the services of child prostitutes using the same language they use to commend the eagerness of waiters or efficiency of hotel personnel.
These blogs and sites would be worthy of a study on its own, as they vividly illustrate a very diffused attitude and deeply rooted conceptions; a semiotic analysis of their language would be most appropriate and revealing.

Symbolism: stereotypes and archetypes

Jung examines in detail the relevance of ancient myths and symbology in modern man, a relevance that western culture doesn’t allow and consequently resurfaces in all manners of distorted and psychotic behaviour. He talks about the “civilised consciousness” having grown progressively apart from human instincts, thus exerting an even more powerful drive on our psyche, making us at the same time despise and envy those “less civilised” people who can afford a greater proximity to our amoral and instinctive nature. (Jung 1964)

All along the development of Holly’s story there are not-too-subtle hints to the stereotype of the good white christian who can’t resist the temptation to help, such as when Patrick repeatedly offers food to the girl, altruistically, without expecting anything in return; when he lifts her up to help her reach for cherries on the tree, a symbolic elevating act; or when, in the midst of a dramatic situation, he finds the time to teach her to ride a scooter, a symbolic gift of knowledge and skills. All of these may appear as totally legitimate and minor elements, but they seem to reveal the indelible mark of western attitude. It is also interesting to note that these attentions aren’t requested, Holly doesn’t ask for help, Patrick feels he has to help, as if despite his outcast status he still is the one who is in a superior position.
The film’s narration constantly recurs to recognisable iconic representations and structural expedients, a familiar range traceable to literary tradition, including fairy tales, such as the scooter in place of the knight’s horse, the hut instead of the tower’s dungeon, the bar replacing the harem, the travelling through the night streets of the dangerous city instead of the quest through dark forests and valleys.
Scattered throughout the film are little but significant and revealing moments; at one point Holly insists in wanting to wash Patrick’s shirt.

We are given to understand that he is genuinely not trying to take advantage of the girl in any sense, at the same time, while he struggles to think of solutions she does wash his shirt, in an act that we can’t but read as a mix of submission, gratitude, servitude and dependency.

The collateral characters too belong to an established cast we are all familiar with, almost like in a modern Robin Hood story the villains are the powerful politician, the head of the police, the police officers, while the commoners look on without intervening, too coward to take sides.

Patrick is the white knight, fundamentally the same character glorified in countless movies and demystified in animated guise by Shrek, the famous good ogre. He goes on a quest, he is an anti-hero, he has to face his own ghosts and finds strength and courage in rescuing Holly, the innocent victim of harsh circumstances in a black and white world where the roles of good and evil are clearly defined and allocated.

Apart from the three “positive” white characters, everyone around Holly seems either devoid of any morals and conscience (according to western models of morals and conscience that is) or downright shrewd and cruel, and in their characterisation again we can read stereotypes of figures from the European literary tradition.

From the traffickers (the fiery dragons) to the madams running the brothels (the sly witches), from the policemen (the remorseless sheriff and his dumb janissaries) to the politician (the cruel prince), there doesn’t seem to be a hint of potential good, while the roles are unquestionably predictable.

Even the other girls, victims themselves of Holly’s same fate, have hardened and seem to play the game, almost accomplices in it. One is subtly given the impression that it is the nature of these “others” that makes them so indifferent to suffering, so incapable of seeing what to the western eye appears as blatantly unjust and unacceptable. The girls are acknowledged as victims, yet they appear as sexual seductresses (the mermaids), one of the most powerful stereotypes in the psyche of the western man and the subject of countless western paintings and photographs.

The one among them who shows some concern for Holly’s fate and some understanding is nevertheless ready to give herself to Patrick, seeing him as a potential saviour and worthy of trust, in a world where no one can be trusted.

This all fits with what Mohanty refers to as a long tradition of “white men saving brown women from brown men” (Mohanty, 1991)

The film is set in the Orient and populated by Orientals, yet the place and the people nearly cease to exist, they become barely visible extras in the background of a stage where the action, the initiative, the protagonists are always defined by the westerners and their interpretation of the Orient. This absence, this lack of the Orientals’ own voice is most notable in what is after all the main character, Holly. She is the voiceless and powerless object in a world she hasn’t created nor chosen and over which she has no say. She is the screen upon which a whole psycho-social construct is projected.

We watch these real people and their real lives the same way we would watch fish at the aquarium.

When Marie visits one of the brothels she is ignored by the victims she wants to help, insulted by the madam, harassed by the corrupt policeman and she takes it out on Patrick, mistaking him for one of the brothel’s clients. Here it looks as if the ingratitude and incomprehension of the Orientals is total, the good will of the westerner, harbinger of salvation, is ignored and despised.

The film seems to take too many things for granted, the core of Orientalist concepts goes unchallenged and this attitude can be detected in a reality where often actions are devised on the assumption of this validity. We still behave as if our mission was to save these fictional Orientals from themselves. The level and depth of our questioning is far from adequate to contemporary reality. This unfortunately isn’t limited to the filmic representation but can be observed in a whole range on interactions between West and East, between developed and developing world. What makes it more insidious is the fact that this bias still goes largely unnoticed and unquestioned, for which there is no excuse.

Latent Orientalism: returning through the back door

I can’t help but thinking of Loti’s descriptions of the Orient in his early 20th century books, his fascination with a world that is charged with exotic and alluring meaning, mixed with a sense of danger and mystery, desire and revulsion, a world to be tamed, conquered but also saved from itself and civilised, and one that always defies our understanding thus maintaining its mysterious attraction.

The western onlooker seeks a way in and is constantly defeated. He finds all the fuel he needs for his imagination to travel to places where pleasure isn’t associated with guilt, where all the Christian-Judaic tradition of guilt and responsibility loses its (arguable) meaning.

Said rightly quotes the brilliantly eloquent explanation that Nietzsche gives of concepts that humans create that have no real meaning but become so deeply entrenched in human’s imagination to become the reality.

(Nietzsche, 1873  1976) “A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins”.

In this sense the imagined Orient has become so real that even the scrupulous documentarist ends up “seeing” reality through the multilayered filter of this conceptual construct. Holly presents us with a catalogue of stereotypes directly descended from the Orientalist construct and seamlessly mixes them with observed facts. We are so used to these metaphors that we don’t even notice, let alone question them.

Rooted in our culture there is a romantic component related to the Orient that seems almost impossible to dislodge, and in the film Patrick personifies this well. Said’s definition of the “paternalistic or candidly condescending attitude” of westerners towards Orientals suits Patrick, whose actions are unwittingly shaped by these ingrained attitudes as are those of many like him. He is the westerner who went East looking for adventure, excitement, freedom, and found himself lost, caught in between two worlds, one he knows and dislikes, the other that fascinates him but he can’t understand. We are made to understand that he has lived in South East Asia for years, and yet he is as baffled by it as on the first day, he seems to have sleep-walked across places and time without ever finding a way in, an inner understanding.

Like many anti-heroes of the narrative tradition, literary as well as cinematographic, Patrick is drifting along the river of life (the Mekong in the film) and finally finds a reason to redeem himself in the attempt of “rescuing” an innocent victim of the cruel Oriental. He sees the reality that surrounds him through the filter of centuries of Orientalist and colonialist bias he is not aware of carrying and the film presents us with a thorough catalogue of these stereotypes.
An underlying, albeit denied, envy for the Orient seems to be rooted in the western mind, one may also suspect a subtle sense of inferiority that seeks revenge in picturing the Orient as debased, cruel and heartless, something to make us feel good by comparison. A desire to acquire “by proxy” something that is denied to us.

The tales Marco Polo and the early travellers brought back from their journeys to the East depicted a mythical world of riches and exotic adventure, a freedom of spirit and costumes that were unknown or forbidden in the west. In the ensuing years the accounts, often highly romanticised if not outrageously incorrect, kept coming as more people were travelling, sponsored by the western kingdoms seeking precious resources from the near and far east. People’s imagination and greed were set alight and centuries later, when the needle of world’s political and economical power shifted to the West, the basis were set for people to go and see for themselves, to acquire a piece of the fabled Orient, to start the process that became centuries of colonialism.

Tens of thousands of books were written in the West about the East, especially in the 19th century, and these constitute a vast archive of references, a whole reality reinvented that we can’t shed too easily.  The large production by Orientalist painters depicts unabashed projections of the male desires; what would have been labelled as pornography in the West could be presented as reportage from the East – the prurient Victorian imagination and the guilt ridden christian soul could stare with no remorse and a pseudo-scientific eye to the Orientals enacting the Western erotic and morbid fantasies. In the behaviour of the ‘primitive’ the westerners could condescendingly recognise their original instincts the way they must have been before becoming civilised. The voyeurism that is unashamedly presented in early iconography reaches its apex when morbid depictions of torture and bodily punishment are portrayed. Photography came to replace paintings and the same iconography continued to develop, made even more credible by the presumed objectivity of photography. Film inherited the vocabulary of literature, painting and photography and went further in rendering the myth almost immortal.  (Alloula, 1986 – Jacobson, 2008 – Maurel, 1980 – Verrier, 1979)

The lack of inhibition (real or perceived) that was presumed as intimate essence of manners, philosophy and religions from the east exerted a fascination that survived in different guises over the centuries; from Burton’s translation of the Kama Sutra to Sir Woodroffe’s divulgation of Tantra a whole cosmogony was created, inherited, reinterpreted and mostly misunderstood; this deeply influenced the west in many ways until recent times, from the 60s pseudo-spiritual quest of the hippies and Reich’s psychology to the more prosaic organised sex tourism of recent years.

It is thus that some 50 years after the (official) end of the last colonies the Orientalist and colonialist mindset still marks western interaction with the East.

We can’t delete centuries of collective unchallenged imaginary and reset our references as we would do with a corrupted database file, but we must strive to be aware of its weight in conditioning us, and always question our choices and attitudes in light of our bias. (Barthes, 1964, 1970 – Foucault, 1966).

What Said calls “latent Orientalism” constantly seems to lurk just beneath the surface, as if the growing body of factual knowledge was never enough to dislodge the constructed myth shaping the thoughts of the western unquestioning missionarism, force-feeding our conception of truth and justice onto others.

Now that history has gone full circle again and the balance of power is shifting east again we may slowly see a reversal of attitudes, but it is one that will take a long time.

Holly’s story doesn’t have the traditional happy ending though.

Evil wins, Patrick is arrested for having attacked, in anger and frustration, the politician who first took advantage of Holly.

Holly is left to fend for herself again, and in the last frame of the film she stares at the audience with a mix of reproach and pity.

5) Conclusions

Can film make people in the west more aware that trafficking exists, and is to a large extent because of our way of life? Can film alert people in source countries of the risks and realities of unregulated migration? Can the fictionalisation be an effective way to reach both audiences and contribute to positive change? Can we tell the story without being conditioned by centuries of unquestioned portrayal of the Orient and the “others” who live there?

The answer is surely yes, but the effort needed is great and requires equally great humility and lucidity.

Feature films can succeed in portraying reality in a way that is understandable by the general  public, condensing in less than two hours the concepts and data of dozens of books and research papers, but cultural bias can easily taint their message. Holly gives us a clear example of this potential risk. While attempting to realistically illustrate a reality, with the intent of raising awareness on a specific issue and soliciting intervention, the film also unwittingly perpetuates myths and perceptions that, in some way, are part of the root causes of the problem.

People’s awareness of the problem is crucial and despite the availability of competent information (reports, documentaries, books etc) the general public has a limited understanding of the issue of human trafficking and how individual criminal cases tie into a much more complex reality, one of which citizens in the developed world are responsible for as consumers.

In this sense all efforts to increase and improve awareness are to be welcomed; telling the story with a language the audience is familiar with makes practical sense, but leaving the established attitudes that we can trace directly to the Orientalist and post-colonialist bias unchallenged does not help deeper understanding and long term improvement.

When communicating with audiences, especially in poor countries with a large illiterate population, film is effective and direct and a good film has the chance to reach and convince more people than a good book or documentary; meanwhile film gives activists access to a different vocabulary that is more effective in communicating with large audiences, translating complex concepts in a manner that touches people directly bypassing the subtleties of verbal language, using emotions to prepare people to accept facts, turning masses of data into a story that can be followed without requiring previous knowledge.
Opening up a sort of “availability to be interested” in the audience films also act at a more subtle level in somewhat influencing people’s reactions in other areas, think of the instinctive reaction most people have towards illegal immigrants, how different would it be if in their mind there was a seed of a doubt that these may be victims rather than undesirables coming to steal jobs?

However, it is the duty of all, and particularly of those able to influence the public’s imagination as filmmakers are, to self-examine motivations and interpretations, to reduce the risk of perpetuating the Orientalist and post colonial bias. We must question what are the implications and consequences of employing fossilised metaphors and stereotypes in these filmic representations. The unfaltering self-righteous conviction of the westerner as the beholder of positive truth remains largely unquestioned, it often results in a bulldozing of the true essence of other cultures; an effort must be made to gain awareness of this risk and act upon it to avoid it.

Just like literature and visual arts in the 19th century contributed to shape the public’s imagination and its perception of the exotic world outside of Europe, film can today play a part in redressing the balance and setting the record straight, reinventing the collective imaginary on basis that are closer to reality. In order to do so authors and researchers must make a serious effort to cleanse themselves of the influence of Orientalism and post-colonialism.
While accepting that true objectivity does not exist the least we can do is to gain awareness of our cultural bias and try our best to see the world from a fresh and non Eurocentric standpoint; we owe it to history, to ourselves and above all to those who have been at the receiving end of western domination for centuries. It takes intelligence, an open mind and humility, but it is possible, as it is demonstrated by the work of some, and I would like to mention as an example of this attitude journalist and writer Tiziano Terzani, who lived in and wrote about Asia and its people for 20 years as a European press reporter. Terzani was conscious of his European cultural background but able to look at the Orient with the eyes of a child who discovers something new every day, with no preconceptions; his books and articles are refreshing and eye opening. (Terzani 1995, 1998). In a 2002 television interview, shortly before his death, Terzani says: ”All my life I tried to understand the other, who are these others, why our being westerners separates us from the other – there is a distance that I have always felt I had to fill, and the only way to achieve this seemed to me a sort of chameleonism; like a chameleon who turns the colour of the earth, the sand if it’s walking on sand, green as a leaf if it’s on a leaf, in order to understand the other I have always attempted to become a bit more like him.”

Real progress can be achieved and globalisation gives us the necessary means, but our attitude and the way we read the world needs a radical revision.

Some 30 years ago a veteran of early international cooperation told me something I will always remember, he said: “if you continue working in this field you’ll come across many enthusiastic and eager people who wish to understand remote parts of the world and help those who live there and are less fortunate than we are; most of them do it because they are unable to understand their own world nor they can face solving their own problems”.

Something to think about.

6) References


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Van Den Anker, C. (2003) The Political Economy of New Slavery – Basingstoke, International Political Economy Series – Palgrave Macmillan

Papers and reports

Child Wise (2007) Speaking out- issue 83 – Child sex tourism

ECPAT Monthly Newsletter (1st April 2007) Actions and experiences in the fight against the commercial sexual exploitation of children in America

European Commission (2004) Report of the experts group on trafficking in human beings

Foxcroft, G. (Programme Director) (2007) Supporting Victims of Witchcraft Abuse and Street Children in Nigeria – Stepping Stones, Nigeria

Guillin, N. J. (2006)  Example of a good practice – specific to the rehabilitation of substance abusing street children (Cambodia) Goutte d’eau Rehabilitation project – Asia Foundation – US Aid

Hughes, D. M. – Chon, K.Y. – Ellerman, D. P.  (2002) Modern-Day Comfort Women: The U.S. Military, Transnational Crime, and the Trafficking of Women – University of Rhode Island, Women’s studies

International Labour Office (ILO)

  • International Labour Office – UNICEF (2000) Investigating child labour – guidelines for rapid assessment
  • Danaliova-Trainor, G. – Belser, P. – International Labour Office (2006) Globalization and the illicit market for human trafficking: an empirical analysis of supply and demand
  • International Labour Office (2006) The cost of coercion-summary (regional papers available)
  • International Labour Office – International Training Centre (2006) Training materials for a global alliance against forced labour

  • International Labour Office (2006) The end of child labour
  • International Labour Office (2006) Review of annual reports

  • Robertson, P. S. Jr. (Ed) (2006) The Mekong challenge – working day and night. The plight of child workers in Mae Sot, Thailand – International Labour Office (ILO) – International Training Centre – The Federation of Trade Unions – Burma (FTUB) Migrants Section

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

  • Kelly, L. (2002)  Journeys of Jeopardy: A Commentary on Current Research on Trafficking of Women and Children for Sexual Exploitation Within Europe – Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, University of North London for International Organization for Migration
  • Laczko, F. – Gramegna, M. A. (2003) Developing Better Indicators of Human Trafficking - International Organization for Migration – The Brown Journal of World Affairs
  • Brown, E. International Organization for Migration (2007) Child domestic workers and patterns of trafficking in Cambodia

Keane, K. – British Embassy, Phnom Penh (2006) Street-based child sexual exploitation in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville: a profile of victims

Marshall, P. (2001) Paper to the Globalization Workshop in Kuala Lumpur – UN Inter-Agency Project on Trafficking in Women and Children in the Mekong Sub-region – United Nations Office for Project Services

Full report downloadable from

McDonnell, M. (2007) Case Study of the Campaign to End “Modern-Day Slavery” – US Coalition for Child Survival

Regional Working Group on Child Labour in Asia (RWG-CL) (2002) Handbook for action-Oriented research on the worst forms of child labour including trafficking in children

Save the children

  • Save the Children, UK (2001) Breaking Through the Clouds: A Participatory Action Research (PAR) Project with Migrant Children and Youth Along the Borders of China, Myanmar and Thailand download full report PDF at:

  • Save the children UK (2007) The small hands of slavery

Shared Hope International (2006) Report from the US mid-term review on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in America – The protection project of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

State of California ordinance approved 18th March 1870


  • UNICEF – Innocenti Insight  (2002)  Child trafficking in West Africa – Policy responses
  • UNICEF – Innocenti Insight (2003) Trafficking in human beings, especially women and children in Africa

  • UNICEF (2006) Guidelines on the protection of child victims of trafficking
  • UNICEF – Innocenti Research Centre (2007) Researching child trafficking in South Asia

United Nations – Palermo protocols (2000)

  • Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children; Supplement to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime
  • Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air

For a detailed overview of various aspects of human trafficking in South East Asia and its connections to globalisation visit the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) site where several documents are available:

Feature films

Moshe, Guy (2006) Holly Priority Films

Duguay, Christian (2005) Human Trafficking

Frears, Stephen (2007) Dirty Pretty Things

Kreuzpaintner, Marco (2007) Trade

Zwick, Edward (2006) Blood Diamond

Yates, David (2006) Sex Traffic


Ruchira Gupta 1996 The Selling of Innocents – Apneaap Women Worldwide

Channel 4 Unreported world:

  • Episode 08/2008 Child Slavery
  • Episode 11/2008 South Africa: Body Parts for Sale
  • Episode 14/2009 Fighting Back
  • Episode 17/2009 Stolen Children
  • Episode 18/2009 Bought and Sold
  • Episode 19/2009 Malaysia: Refugees for Sale

On-line film databases

Child Trafficking|525b58

National Human Trafficking Resource Center – Polaris Project

7) Appendixes

Thank you to:

Friends and ex-colleagues at the International Labour Organization

Jenna Steckel, Public Outreach and Communications at Polaris Project

Nola Theiss, Executive Director at Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, Inc.

Rachel Davies at

The library team at Anti-Slavery International

Zoë at Team Apne Aap Women Worldwide


Film credits from the producers official website:

Title Holly

year 2006

duration 114 minutes

country USA, France, Israel, Cambodia

Language English, Central Khmer, Vietnamese





UDO KIER – Klaus

CHRIS PENN – Freddie


GUY MOSHE (Director/Producer/Writer)
GUY JACOBSON (StoryBy/Writer/Producer)
ADI EZRONI (Producer)
AMIT KORT (Executive Producer)

The producers initiated the K-11 Project, dedicated to raising awareness of the epidemic of child trafficking and the sex slavery trade through several film projects. They have also founded the Redlight Children Campaign – a worldwide grassroots human rights initiative promoting awareness and practical action for reducing the number of children who are sexually exploited each year.

Imperfections, antiques, photography, beautiful women, iPhone apps… (2011)

Now, what have all of these in common?
Well, let’s take it from a distance. Perfection is boring. If asked most would probably say they strive for perfection, they desire it, they want it. Yet, when face to face with something or someone close to perfect our reaction is generally of immediate but very superficial and short-lived attraction.

During the 80s I was working as a photographer, doing mainly portraits, fashion and glamour. One of the implications of the work was the constant contact with scantly (if at all) dressed women who fitted the commonly accepted concept of “perfectly beautiful”. Yet, despite my profound and absolute dedication to women, rarely I found any of these at all attractive; the few who were tended to be those distinguished by (apart form being doted with a working brain) some peculiar imperfection that marked them as recognisable and unique individuals.

This element of unique recognisable distinction is at the basis of many human likings.
Why is it that we instinctively feel attracted by antiques, wild landscapes, traditional crafts, old architecture, vintage objects?
There is of course a cultural element and, without being patronising, it is undeniable that people with a higher level of culture are more prone to appreciate antiques than uneducated ones. It is equally true, and obvious, that someone whose main preoccupation is to survive another day isn’t likely to appreciate art and antiques. But the same person, given a chance, would most likely feel the same and derive a certain level of comfort from anything traditional that could recall a personal history and origin.

It must have to do with our innate need for a sense of continuity, for a connection with where we come from.
Recently I have been observing the increasing popularity of photo and video iPhone apps that simulate vintage effects, from the scratches on B&W film to the jitters of super8, from the washed out colours of instant cameras to the peculiar palette of Polaroid. The same happened with the revival of other traditional image-making techniques. Digital photography has reached a level of quality that is close to perfect. So perfect that it looks almost unnatural, and people started trying all possible ways to simulate imperfections that were typical of old fashioned photography and film.

This may seem like nonsense, years of research and technological development to achieve perfection, and then all sorts of attempts to spoil it to effectively achieve a result that is further from reality and yet perceived as more credible. Undoubtedly it is a psychological trick, but one that is very powerful and must appeal to something deep in our mind.

Do we fall in love with someone perfect? No, we dream of doing so, that’s why so many idolise actors, models and other symbols of perfect beauty. That’s why so many turn themselves into rubber dummies at the hands of plastic surgeons only to discover that their acquired beauty is a shallow mirror of misguided vanity.
Instead we fall in love with imperfect but real human beings, and their imperfections are precisely what, without us being completely aware of it, make them attractive.
It is the scars and battering of time that mark an object and make it attractive, it is the peculiarity of subtle imperfections that make a person’s features memorable.

Perhaps we should re-evaluate the importance of imperfection in real life as well as in our mind’s perceptions.

The box and the mouse (2011)

In 1983 I was working at the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome, I needed a set of slides for a conference and I wanted them computer generated. After much complaining and claiming I wanted the impossible, the technicians at FAO took three days to produce a few colour slides working at a DEC VAX computer, the cutting edge of technology for those days.
A year later, while working at the International Labour Organisation in Turin, a colleague’s husband came back from SIGGRAPH in California with an odd small beige box and organised an informal demo for a few of us in the audio visual department.

The box was a computer, it had a 9″ B&W screen, a keyboard, a slot for a floppy disc of the 400K kind, and above all a little box with a button connected to the computer via a cable, called mouse.
It was a Macintosh 128K and moving the mouse around a pointer would move on the screen and one could DRAW!!! And type with a choice of fonts and lay-outs!

We were blown away, it was unbelievable, fantastic, a whole world of possibilities had suddenly stepped out of science fiction movies and landed in our hands!

The burning jeans (2007)

It was a day like any other, shortly after the July 2007 bombing in London. The underground was full and people looked as calm and self contained as they do in this country.
A few minutes into the journey a faint smell of smoke begins to be felt; people pretend nothing is wrong but glances and uneasy shifting reveal the growing tension.
The smell increases and people start looking “discreetely” worried, the tension is palpable.
Then an old lady gets up, walks towards a teenager who is standing next to the doors, nodding away at the music from his iPod and blissfully unaware of anything around him.
The lady waves in front of the boy’s eyes to attract his attention, he uncorks his ears and the lady, pointing at the boy’s feet, says: “young man, I believe you trousers are on fire”.
The boy stares for a minute uncomprehendingly, then looks down and notices the smoke rising from the back of his right shoe.
Fuck, shit, man, oh shit fuck fuck, says he stamping his foot while an uncontrollable contagious laughter spreads among the passengers who even look at each other, something usually not done.
The lady returns to her seat, grinning and very pleased with herself.
The boy had probably stepped on a cigarette butt and the frayed rim of his jeans had caught on, burning slowly as jeans do, and melting the shoe’s rubber.
The tension that had become almost visible vanes as suddenly as it had arisen.

Global multiculture: does globalisation imply cultural homogenisation? (2011)

What we are is often better defined by simple elements of daily life than deep philosophical ideas. It’s the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the way we organize our living spaces that really spell our identity, what Bourdieu (1986, 1993) calls “habitus” and “structuring structures” – how is globalisation influencing what we are?
Throughout this essay the terms “globalisation” “culture” and “identity” will be used in full knowledge of their debatable meaning, with no pretense to define them. Culture becomes a very fuzzy concept in a globalised world (Lull, 2001).


In 2005-06 I filmed the African tour of a UK band playing music based on West African tradition, only half the band members were African, the concerts took place in various locations, including remote areas of Senegal and Gambia. The music was often perceived as exotic, and many in the young audience dressed and spoke like American rappers. This image exemplifies the visible cultural changes, uniforming of looks and behaviour that are becoming almost universal. The link to globalisation, the ubiquity of satellite television and mobile phones with Internet access, seems evident.
In the ongoing academic debate some forecast the end of local identities and the flattening of the world while others an increase in free flow of information allowing people more independence of choice and the spread of democracy and knowledge, in this essay I aim to indicate how the truth lies somewhere in the middle, with both theories being part of a more complex reality in the making. 

In what became the anti-globalists’ manifesto Naomi Klein (2000) denounces international corporations’ world domination plan. Many of Klein’s points were correct and kick-started a debate resulting in visible improvements in corporations’ ethics, fortunately many of her direst predictions proved exaggerated.
In 1961, with considerable foresight, McLuhan imagined “the global village” assuming that electronic communication would have on human evolution an even greater impact than the invention of print: In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity, with a “tribal base.” The internet took off 10 years after McLuhan’s death, but he had imagined it with cunning accuracy; one of his interesting (and controversial) points was that the medium is more important than the message it carries, in as much as it creates situations that are conducive to variations in human behavior, and that seems very relevant to the current global reality.
The creation of myths from distant lands has always existed. In ancient times the accounts of traveling merchants shaped visions of foreign people and places that endured over centuries. 
When western societies adopted science as their source of wisdom people were presented with scientists’ findings through the press, which most could barely read, and thus constructed their perception of the world. More recently the 60s and 70s generations made radical socio-political choices based on misleading representations of historical realities, such as the Maoist regime in China or revolutionary movements in South America. Having had the full picture and the critical ability to analyze it, choices would have been different. 
Truth is that people’s opinions and perceptions are always conditioned by partial representations of reality, and only a few are equipped with the knowledge needed to make accurate critical evaluations. Not all of this is an intentional evil scheme, it is in the nature of communication, think of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations within a relationship or a family, and magnify these by millions.
What is making a real difference is the unprecedented scale and speed of the creation of myths.

Homogeneous world domination by the Euro-American model is temporary at best, although overwhelming control by corporations to a certain extent has become a reality. The parallel between the Roman empire and 20th century US has often been made, but the similitude is weak and possibly the British empire would be a better example; as British historian Niall Ferguson (2004) maintains: the social and political structure of the US is closer to the Roman model while its economical attitude is closer to the British. Economists such as Stiglitz (2002) may be better placed than philosophers to picture the outcomes of globalisation, if anything because their views, in their stark realism, are based on data and practical, observable models.
The creation of what Giddens (1991) calls a “self-identity to sustain a narrative about the self and choose what to do, how to act” is perilously skewed by a vast input of non-contextualized messages that individuals receive via the media. Giddens describes identity as a project, ever evolving and reshaped by learning and experience, while Hall (1992) goes a step further, looking at the postmodern self as a hybrid of several, often contradictory identities. Framed by Foucault’s concept of the individual as purely the result of an historical process and moment (1969) this suggests how fickle the idea of a permanent identity is and how the variety of new identities available to global citizens is a reality beyond good and bad, in a game of multisided cultural appropriation.
I will be looking at two fields where the effects of globalisation are very visible: the imaginary space of television and the reality space of architecture.

Television – the imaginary space

Chomsky vocally criticized world’s cultural flattening by western corporations, which he called “corporate takeover of democracy”. He accused American media of manufacturing public consent, raising the concern that from al Qaeda to Wal-Mart the reality is almost irrelevant when compared to the perception people have of a branded world.
Globalisation of the media sounds good, but looking at it with disenchanted eyes shows us a distinct provincialism, an irony that is lost on the majority of the public, telling us that global information is probably more a concept than a reality. 
Sociology and modern strands of Philosophy may give too much credit to the power of globalisation to change world cultural identities, but looking at the development (and ownership) of communication networks many (Sparks, 2007 Hafez, 2007 Barker, 1999 Chomsky, 1997) legitimately ask whether globalised communication and access to information isn’t perhaps even more controlled and limited than it was when local information networks were acting independently and ideas were slower to shape.
The empires built by the likes of Murdoch or Belusconi testify to the political and economical power that is associated with the control of television. The question that remains unanswered is how deeply television has really homogenised world culture and where it is going now that the Internet and mobile phones are increasingly offering other ways of accessing information, with added interaction.
“The globalisation of television has provided a proliferating resource for both the deconstruction and reconstruction of cultural identities. That is, television has become a leading resource for the construction of identity projects.” (Barker 1999). The mediated nature of television and the massive amount of information that is delivered simultaneously across the globe is a factor that can’t be underestimated in its power to shape identities, accepting that these are ever evolving and never fixed.
The “customized” versions of international news bear a considerable responsibility when it comes to shaping people’s opinions, but are CNN and Al-Jazeera really succeeding? MTV may have had more effect than news broadcast, but how meaningful and long lasting are these effects? Where is the evidence?
Both positive and negative views seem to over-emphasize elements that are in reality still on a fairly small scale.
Fluid identity is shaped by interaction but in the case of TV and Internet there is an element of remote interaction that is too new to be fully understood in its future consequences.
The world vision we are presented with is editorialized and domesticated, the news we have access to and the way these are contextualized is in itself a way to create an ad-hoc narrative, intending to form our opinions. This can be manipulated at different levels, from the complete manufacturing of reality operated by totalitarian regimes to the subtler, but possibly, precisely for that reason, more effective system of capitalist democracies.
Independent information is available, but on such a small and fragmented scale to be almost irrelevant. Moreover, it tends to preach to the converted, as only people actively involved and concerned with certain issues will go the length of seeking it out, and even the independent information is often biased by an agenda.

Messages are detached from their original context, assimilated by people elsewhere, and recycled to become embedded in something new. This form of re-appropriation is in itself an organic and active process, leading to a ‘patchwork reality’ that Hall had named “world-of-the-whole”. While the consumption of television’s messages is passive, the application to one’s reality of the impression generated by these messages isn’t, and people do reinterpret them through the filter of their individual background. This results in a new language of the imagination, perhaps one that may seem like a mongrel for a time, before turning into a recognizable new species. That is how many languages developed over centuries of cross-pollination, integrating greatly different sources, and yet ending up as fully formed idioms.

How do we evaluate the impact of media and communication on the life and decisions of actual people? What criteria do we use?
Cuba is a uniquely interesting place to make observations in this field. People’s level of literacy and education is higher than average and the isolation the island has been subjected to sheltered it somehow from an overwhelming influence of American culture. Despite decades of life under a regime people are considerably better equipped to be critical than most of their US and South American counterparts. Nevertheless, a very large proportion of the population follows with utmost dedication Mexican and Latin American telenovelas, families and friends gather around the TV set over long afternoons, yet the effects of these viewings seem very superficial. Those who maintain television has killed local identities seem to give an exaggerated importance to the effects it has had in developing countries, the theory makes sense but the evidence is scant.
On the other hand, those who say globalisation had no effect on people’s worldview underestimate the suggestive power of mythologies that can spread virally and become more real than reality.
Countries need to preserve local traditions, a process termed ‘glocalization’ by most social anthropology theorists, and in recent years many have started producing more and more of their television programmes. If it is true that the US still has a large share of the world market, it is also true that local productions exist independently and are growing fast, even though it is difficult to evaluate a reality that varies greatly from country to country.
The visible elements that may give us the impression of a newly flattened world are in fact rather superficial, they include the spread of certain fashions in clothing or the fame of sports and entertainment personalities, not enough to prove that cultural identities are being completely lost in a non-descript Americanisation of the world.
Lull (1997) observes how the attempt of the Chinese government to monopolise television production to manufacture a “Chinese identity” has backfired and people appropriated television with results that were quite opposite to the government’s plan. Surprises are to be had.
An over-quoted example is MTV, the television channel with one of the largest audiences (411.7 million households in 164 territories in 2004 – MTV data) that has, willingly or not, had an impact on the imaginary vocabulary that millions of people around the planet share. However, even MTV had to change over time to accommodate local taste and has become more localized, showing that there is a limit to how far corporate global take-over can go (Hafez, 2007).
At the same time if we observe the changes, mostly positive, that the availability of affordable mobile communication is having everywhere in the developing world we can’t but be optimist and hope for widespread improvements.

Much of this debate is not new. Back in the 70s the end of direct colonial domination left the stage open to a subtler network of interdependencies. Local puppet governments replaced foreign rulers and the media took a more important role in shaping people’s opinions, both in the ex-colonies and ex-colonizing countries. 
The failure of the imperialism paradigm (Sparks, 2007) became subject of debate, international organizations initiated new discourses, and the role of media in forming new identities was given greater attention. UNESCO became prominent among these organizations, promoting debate and research such as the commissioning of the MacBride report in the context of what was known as the New World Information and Communication Order.
The report dates to 1980, and was already considering the imbalance of the flow of information and its consequences. Most of the information was and still is produced in rich western countries, where more is made and stronger is the capacity of distribution. Also, the recipients of this flow of information are inevitably the richest members of societies in developing countries. The consequence is that the poorest around the world don’t have a voice of their own and in most cases are just receivers of representations of reality manufactured elsewhere. Despite technological progress the situation hasn’t yet changed as much as we are led to believe, nor in the most positive of directions.
It is interesting to note that many worthwhile initiatives devised by UNESCO to redress acknowledged imbalances in the world media were never implemented for the withdrawal of the US and UK in the late 80s as both countries profoundly (if not openly) disagreed with the principles of a more open media.

What Sontag named “chronic voyeuristic relation to the world” (1977) has since developed into something much deeper and more widespread thanks to television, whereby forming experiences are increasingly absorbed via mediated and manufactured media rather than personal direct experience. This not only makes the acquired knowledge more fragile but also more easily manipulated, however, globalisation may be a necessary myth (Hafez, 2007) that can help us maintain a healthy critical debate on the potential new forms of colonialism heralded by the media.
The technology that enabled true global communication via satellite is contemporary to the 1991 Gulf War; far from having resulted in more impartiality, over ten years later manipulated media was instrumental in contributing to divide the world and start a new major war based on fictional reporting. This fact alone should make us question what is the real meaning of global media and communication and call for greater scrutiny.

Architecture – the real space

With its visible stratifications and juxtapositions Architecture provides a concrete reminder of the flux of time and evolution. It does so in a subtle and practical way, which defines the way people live. More than most other human expressions architecture reflects humanity in its daily real essence (Speck, 2006).
Visiting places with a complex history, such as towns around the Mediterranean, one can read and feel history everywhere in the architecture and spaces. Sicily is such a place, where one can see buildings with Greek foundations topped by Roman columns, filled-in by Norman walls where Arabs inserted their intricately laced windows to which the Spaniards added baroque balconies. A 360° spin in a square of most towns is enough to “know” history and “see” the layering of cultures, with its consequent shaping of complex identities that organically integrated over time. Had these building been demolished, at any stage in history, and replaced by something totally new and stranger what would the consequences have been? Breaking the continuity and transplanting imported models undermines culture and identity.

The analysis of the way architecture was used in Nazi Germany to reshape culture and rewrite history (DeCoste and Schwartz, 2000) exemplifies the fundamental importance the inhabited space had throughout history in defining the identity of its inhabitants and vice versa. There is a profound psychological cause and effect relationship between humans and the space they occupy, as important as that of language in shaping what Lacan termed the “symbolic ego” (Hendrix, 2009, Lacan 1966).
Good architecture is flexible and evolves over time adjusting to human needs and reflecting them (Brand, 1994). Brand, referring both to architecture and communication technologies, was convinced that, given the necessary awareness, knowledge and tools, human beings might reshape the world they had made for themselves into something environmentally and socially sustainable. 
All around the world a kind of uniform “global architecture” is rapidly replacing an infinite range of styles, techniques, materials and shapes, and this may be a more permanent erasure of identity than that caused by television. 
This architecture owes its looks and structure to practical rather than cultural reasons. Availability of materials, compatibility of pre-made modular elements, standardization of appliances’ size and so on, all contribute to a uniformity that is crucially important in creating the future. Also, migrant workers learn skills and techniques while working abroad and then import these when they return home to build their own homes. All these contribute to the creation of a new kind of environment that is often lacking distinctive features and character. Poverty and lack of education contribute to the process too, people are legitimately eager to achieve a better standard of living and happy to swap their traditional homes for modern dwellings, convinced that new necessarily implies better. This has always happened and while the direct improvement of material quality of life usually benefits, the quality of “social” life often suffers. Structures that had developed over centuries were in tune with people’s way of life and symbiotic with it. Dismantling these complex structures and replacing them with modern rational buildings does not work long term, yet a practical alternative is hard to imagine.
Over the years most experiments of manufacturing living environments failed, even those based on very sound principles, testifying to the need for an evolutive process and the weakness of superimposed models.
In periods of rapid development, such as after wars and natural disasters, excessive zeal and enthusiasm for reconstruction and renovation can suddenly erase a whole set of essential markers and identifiers. Europe after WWII went through a deep and radical transformation. The reconstruction effort meant that sizeable urban areas were rebuilt completely while large numbers of people moved from the countryside to cities.
That radically changed culture and the social fabric of which the style of homes and structure of public spaces are important components.
What is happening now in some parts of the world is a faster and deeper change of that same kind. China is a prime example of systematic and sudden removal of the physical vestiges of history. Whole cities are being bulldozed, completely disappearing in a matter of weeks. The inhabitants displaced and dispersed, new large buildings made and populated with migrant workers or new affluent citizens.
Little attention is paid to social spaces, as these aren’t useful in a perspective of economic development. Massive structures are built that incorporate all services so that people hardly need to leave the building they live in. If we look at most traditional urban structures these all developed around some crucial social space of human interaction, the market square and the places of worship being the most universal ones. Is the shopping centre the modern day substitute? This concept, originally developed in the US, has become a defining model, and it is difficult to imagine how future historians and archaeologists will look back at shopping centres of the 21st century as social gathering places.

Stratification is essential, any sense of identity requires continuity over time, and the element that should probably concern us most in these cases of sudden and imported modernization is the removal of traces of the past. The model that many are adopting around the world is greatly influenced by what people see in films and TV serials. Fueled by the desire to imitate models that have come to signify progress and wealth people build their own interpretation of Dallas’ mansions and Dubai’s skyscrapers.
There are some very good reasons why this is happening, and with a realist approach one must recognize that in many cases the elimination of poor quality or decaying, if charming, buildings results in a definite improvement of the quality of life for many, a better infrastructure, improved hygiene, services and transport. These advantages are undeniable and welcome, but the total disregard for local cultures and identities should be of great concern to us all, because its long-term consequences will almost certainly be detrimental. There can be no healthy society without a psychologically balanced sense of belonging. At a time when already more than half the world population is living away from the place of origin and in large urban areas, the disappearance of reference points, physical and psychological, can create a void of unthinkable consequences. This also leaves an open and barren territory for black & white ideologies, fundamentalisms of all sorts, palliative pseudo-cultures, unexplained resentment, solitude and lack of meaning. A greater attention to the survival and continuity of distinct identities should be a priority.
Trying to impose on people in developing countries a kind of “conservationist” approach would be patronizing and difficult to justify, but more pressure should be put on governments to act responsibly. 
UNESCO’s initiatives such as the World Heritage Sites preservation, are positive and useful, but culture and identity can’t be preserved in a museum, they cease to exist when they aren’t lived and felt by people in their daily reality. It is also interesting to observe how these initiatives are looked upon with some puzzlement and bemused curiosity by many in the interested locations. In most cases “old” (which may be 100 or 1000 years, irrespective) is identified with poor and backward, hence to be removed. Attention to architecture will become more crucial in the global world, the University of Westminster now offers a MA course titled Architecture, Cultural Identity and Globalisation, which seems to acknowledge the need for specific analysis of this subject.

What can we learn?

What we can observe in places that underwent radical and fast changes is that once achieved some measure of comfort and integration people start feeling a void, and that’s when the search for roots begins. Cultures and identities can assimilate and integrate in an organic way when changes are gradual, taking the best of each other, but the speed of our globalised world prevents this natural process and, in case of systematic radical changes like those taking place in the sprawling new megalopolises of the developing world, piecing together traces of the past becomes almost impossible.
This often results in a trauma that can take different shapes, some affecting individuals, others wider social groups, and that can also cause hostile backlashes, leaving people feeling resentful for the loss of their individual essence, causing aggressive stances, such as the radicalization of some second and third generation immigrants to Europe and the US, particularly visible in the Islamic community but equally worrying in other less noticeable and advertised groups.
Many take life changing decisions like emigrating to another continent or joining a terrorist group, based on the myths their minds have created by mixing the partial realities absorbed through television and conditioned by alien environments they found themselves living in.
Humans need diversity, the tendency to “flatten” the world exists, mainly motivated by economic and practical factors, and, inevitably, important elements of cultures that are less dominant will be lost. Reviving these with a conservationist approach can preserve their memory, but can’t make them come back to life, and that is the real loss. Cultures that evolve slowly tend to be more consistent and real, the speed of change makes new identities and cultures more fragile and temporary, almost something one can choose to wear like a new fashion.
From an individual’s psychological point of view this is almost certainly negative, consequently it is also negative for society at large as a sum of its components. The idea of a multicultural society, its various descriptions of which the UK, US and France for instance have distinctly different versions, doesn’t seem to provide the answer to the need for a real, spontaneous offspring of the merging of different civilizations. 
The vast and fast movement of people between countries, made simpler and more necessary by the development needs of globalisation, doesn’t allow for the stratification and sedimentation of different life styles and cultures in a way that is sustainable.
It is difficult to imagine what kind of multicultural societies will be predominant and more significative once this first wave of fast development will be over, estimates vary as to how long it will take for the balance of dominance and influence to shift from Europe/US to China/India or some other combination.

Borrowing indicators of identity, such as local figures of speech, makes people feel more at ease, belonging, thus avoiding the all too real risk of feeling displaced and estranged that comes with migration, cultural assimilation, and fluid cultural identity. These indicators can equally be used, more or less voluntarily, to associate or dissociate oneself from the surrounding context. There is a generational contextualization too, often young generations use foreign, imported ways of expressing themselves to dissociate from the previous generation and the local traditions, perceived as backwards. In that situation young people are more likely to adopt models they see on TV from far counties as a means to symbolize their being modern. In this context the use of language and its various forms of slang is extremely important to define one’s belonging to one group or another (Chuang, 2004) “There are only strategies based on identity” (Bayart, 1996) and one or the other model is assumed as the dominating or “correct” one depending on political and economical convenience, leaving people only apparently free to choose where they belong or told they belong somewhere because of race, gender, social or historical constructs that are mostly borne out of convenience. “There are a few contemporary matters that do not involve the problem of the illusion of identity” (Bayart, 1996) and the process of globalisation, with its apparent openness and ability to encompass all cultural identities in a multicultural world, has failed to prevent conflicts based on differences in (perceived) cultural identity, from Rwanda to the Ex-Yugoslavia, from Kashmir to Sudan, from Shia and Sunni to Hindu and Muslims, the choice is sadly vast. While the superficial elements of human societies worldwide have assimilated models, products, ways of being, becoming increasingly similar and exchangeable, the cultural differences that matter have remained and often their frictions have been exacerbated by the need to survive and the fear of being overwhelmed.
We are being pulled in two opposite directions. One of unification and uniformity, needed by capitalism to survive and by the world to function in terms of economy, communication, transportation, travel and all matters practical, and one of diversification and retrenchment behind the sheltering screens of individual cultural identities, which are needed by humans to feel unique, independent, real and belonging. These tensions affect people’s lives and psyche, to a level most are unaware of.
The definition “clash of civilizations” has appeared in many and diverse public discourses after the 9/11 dramatic events, and it is a worrying indication of a reality that is far from the homogenising model promoted by globalisation. The fact that this “clash of civilizations” is more an artificial manipulative construct than a reality doesn’t make it less dangerous as it supports a whole range of political and cultural choices, not to mention forming the backbone of international policies leading to conflicts that would be technically avoidable.
The kind of justifications that this concept offers to political choices, that would otherwise appear for what they are, insane propositions supported by fickle reasons to the detriment of most for the profit of a few, can’t be underestimated, it is not too far from the “scientific truths” that supported, justified and allowed colonization, slavery and holocaust(s). 
The ability of the media and political propaganda to convince entire (assumedly well educated and critically minded) populations of the need and justice of going to war, supporting one or the other regime, help a country while strangling another with economic restrictions and so on is hard to believe if looked through a critical lens. However, the examples in the late 20th and early 21st century abound and we can’t dismiss them as freak accidents.
Goethe coined the world Urphenomånen to describe his concept of universal principles that unify humankind in the respect and admiration for diversity. This essential need for understanding was debated and described by many philosophers and intellectuals, from the Enlightenment days to contemporary thinkers such as Julia Kristeva, (1993) who explores in depth the need for a real understanding and acceptance of difference and cultural identities if we are to hope for a peaceful and progressive world, yet the special interests of small groups have often succeeded in shaping people’s beliefs and behaviours, resulting in countless conflicts. 
Our modern globalised world doesn’t seem better than its predecessors at coping with this dilemma between integration and difference, togetherness and individuality. Multicultural societies are still very much a project with no material and practical execution.
While we may look forward to the end of the state and national ideologies it is difficult to be sure if substituting that with a global order with international corporations at the helm is preferable (Hassner, 1995). While we can observe with concern a visible Americanisation of the world we can also see the strengthening and stiffening of local identities and the birth of new “modes of resistance”.
The oversimplification we have been asked to accept when it comes to define ourselves is unrealistic. Whether it be on the basis of religion, language, race, national identity or else, the herding of large numbers of human beings into corralled categories can only be detrimental to their individual development as well as to the peaceful and productive exchange between them.
We need to invent a form of connected diversity, where individuals remain distinct, traditions survive side by side and contribute to a fluid continuous evolution. Contact between different peoples always brought new knowledge, merging of ideas, habits and techniques. There is an inherently positive value in this exchange, it’s at the heart of evolution. But the graduality of it is essential, both because it allows for the new to be understood and absorbed and because it preserves what is good of the old. Looking at history we could say that identities are as much a manufactured concept as a naturally evolved mode of life, a sudden replacement of a model with a new one, even when it is not directly imposed, generally results in a schizophrenic culture.

The Orwellian view of a lobotomized world controlled by bureaucracy and the media never quite materialised, humans have proven remarkably resilient to systematic “flattening”, the various dictatorships that have regularly defined periods of human history all had ambitious homogenising projects, all appealed to human insecurity for a period of time, all caused immense damage and suffering, but all were eventually defeated. Human inherently anarchic spirit comes to the rescue of the equally human sheepish flock attitude. A spread of knowledge will help counterbalance the flattening attempts of even the most organized media and capitalist corporation, but the spread of knowledge is far slower than capitalist investment, thus presenting us with a range of possible outcomes and some real risks that could lead to a less varied world based on a reductive model of life.
Like with the environment, we are causing damage at a speed that is greater than that at which we can develop solutions, however, we cannot slow down the pace of development because too many depend on it to improve their life conditions.
We can’t underestimate the possibility that the uniforming effect of media myths and languages may result in a backlash against these standardized models, and an increased resistance against local nationalistic trends.
Anti-globalists are right in raising the alarm and calling for more responsible choices, but they should adopt a more realist approach, while globalists should be more critical and look beyond the surface of fast material progress.
A monoculture is by its own nature inbred, sterile and destined to extinction, and nature will hopefully devise some expedient to ensure that the variety of humanity will remain, globalisation does not necessarily imply homogenisation.


Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity at large: cultural dimensions of globalisation – Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Barker, C. (1999) Television, Globalisation and Cultural Identities – Maidenhead, Open University Press/McGraw Hill Education.

Barthes, R. (1970) L’empire des signes – Paris, Skira.

Barthes R. (1980) La Chambre claire, Notes sur la photographie – Paris, Gallimard/Seuil/Cahiers du cinema.

Bayart, J. F. (1996) The illusion of cultural identity – Paris, Libraire Arthème Fayard.

Brand, S. (1994) How Buildings Learn – New York, Viking Press

Burdieu, P. (1986) The habitus and the space of life-styles – London, Routledge.

Chomsky, N. (1997) Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda – New York, Seven Stories Press.

Chomsky, N. Herman, E. S. (1988) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media – New York, Pantheon Books.

DeCoste, F. C. Schwartz, B. (2000) The Holocaust’s ghost: writings on art, politics, law, and education – Edmonton, Alberta, University of Alberta Press.

Ferguson, N. (2004) Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire – London, Allen Lane/Penguin Press

Fong, M. Chuang, R. (2004) Communicating ethnic and cultural identity – Lanham MD, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.

Foucault, M. (1969, 2002) The Archaeology of Knowledge – London, Routledge.

Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age – Cambridge, Polity Press.

Hafez, K. (2007) The myth of media globalisation – Cambridge, Polity Press.

Hall, S. (1977) Culture, the media and the ideological effect, in J. Curran, M. Gurevich and J. Woolacott (eds) Mass Communication and Society – London, Edward Arnold/Open University Press.

Hall, S. (1992) The question of cultural identity, in S. Hall, D. Held and T. McGrew (eds) Modernity and its futures – Cambridge, Polity Press.

Hassner, P. (1995) Violence and peace: from the atomic bomb to ethnic cleansing – Budapest, Central European University Press.

Hendrix, J. S., (2009) Psychoanalysis and Identity in Architecture – School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation Roger Williams University Bristol, Rhode Island, Faculty Papers. Paper 10

Klein, N. (2000) No logo – New York, Picador.

Kristeva, J. (1993) Nations without Nationalism – New York, Columbia University Press.

Lacan, J. (1966) Ecrits – Paris, Les éditions du Seuil.

Lull, J. (2001) Culture in the communication age – London, Routledge.

Lull, J. (1991) China Turned On: Television, Reform and Resistance – London, Routledge.

MacBride S. (1980) Many Voices One World, Report by the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, UNESCO – London , Kogan Page / New York, Uniput / Paris, UNESCO.

McLuhan, M. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man – Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography – New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Sparks, C. (2007) Globalisation, Development and the Mass Media – London, Sage.

Speck, L. (2006) Architecture, Globalisation, and Local Cultural Identity Originally published in Technology, Sustainability, and Cultural Identity, New York, Edizioni Press.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalisation and its discontents – London, Penguin.

Additional readings, not quoted

Bauman, Z. (1998) Globalisation: the human consequences – Cambridge, Polity

Christopherson, A. Garretsenb, H. Martinc, R. (2008) The world is not flat: putting globalisation in its place
Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Cambridge Political Economy Society

De Block, L. Buckingham, D. (2010) Global Children, Global Media: Migration, Media and Childhood – Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

Nayak, A. (2003) Race, place and globalisation: youth cultures in a changing world – Oxford, Berg

Rantanen, T. (2004) The media and globalisation – London, Sage Publications

Siapera, E. (2010) Cultural Diversity and Global Media: The Mediation of Difference – Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell

Thussu, D. K. (1998) Electronic Empires: Global Media and Local Resistance – London, Bloomsbury Academic

Torre, S. Fox, G. (2007) Architecture and the construction of cultural identity or learning from Latin America – Multicultural Urban Design

Frozen – 10 minutes around midnight (2011)

In the flashing light of the slot machines, pinballs and games the few late night customers stare at their screens, tense, each leaning and pushing against his mechanical companion in the night, lonely.
Just outside the door the wind sweeps papers, polystyrene cups, cardboard boxes with fast food remains.
A drunk staggers off the bus, waves in search of balance, finds his guiding stream and lets himself be carried away.
Across the road a tall young man sings loudly, out of tune, exaggerating the lines played in his ears by the large headphones, he bends back to sing at the moon while walking blindly ahead, screaming.
A police car zooms past with sirens on.
In the dim light of the closed supermarket the shapes of cleaners slide along the aisles, a strip light buzzes sending intermittent blue sparks to bounce off the shiny packaging on the shelves.
An ambulance flies by on a call.
Further along a Salvation Army centre, the large windows like television screens framing still images: a hall, too brightly lit with fluorescent lights, circled by chairs, one in four is occupied by the statue of a man, each staring straight ahead, one is leaning dangerously, another is slouched and precariously perched on the edge of his chair. No one seems to be talking, no one seems to be sleeping, they all just sit frozen in that suspended space filled with loneliness.
A police car and van race past.
Lets move on, ahead of me a young fat teenager walks with assured gait, he wears a long black coat, the distinctive mark of the Matrix followers. One simple garment that tells a whole story, a whole philosophy, he is bent forward, lone ranger, rescuer of worlds, the long coat tails heroically swinging in the wind.
A sharp smell of beer and urine, two women and a man stride past, stumbling, one of the women is frantically swearing while fragments of a disconnected story pour out of her mouth mixed with spittle.
A young man, barefoot, sits at the bus stop, a dog on the leash, the dog sniffs at every passer by, and the young man politely informs them the dog is friendly.
Five very young girls walk past on their way to the club, two have already reached the stage of needing help to stand up and walk. They all wear more make up than clothes and haven’t practiced too well their high heels walking skills.
A police car followed by an ambulance zigzag to find a way between the cars waiting for the green light and avoiding the packs of drunk kids overflowing from the footpath onto the road near the tube station.
A group of young men, shaven heads, tattoos on their arms and chests, rings on their noses, lips and ears, walk past the girls, the two groups ignore each other, the men are intent in shouldering each other, crashing into the shop windows and jumping on litter bins, road signs and anything that can be kicked, one throws an empty bear bottle at a shop window, the bottle bounces and hits a passing car.
A young couple hugs at the bus stop, they are talking about going to the circus the next day, the mayhem around doesn’t touch them, exonerated by love.
A young woman sits on the pavement against a shop window, her nice light dress will be badly soiled, but right now she doesn’t care, she is crying, talking on her mobile, sobbing, someone hurt her, she can’t understand why, she argues and begs and retorts, but it’s not working.
A scruffy old man shuffles along in his slippers, he carries two shopping bags from the near cheap mini market, open 24-7, where two boys are stacking crates, cigarettes dangling from their lips.
A middle aged lady walks past energetically pushing a pram with a little baby, she talks to herself while the baby stares at the bright lights flowing past.
Hundreds, thousands of lonelynesses sliding past each other, on a thick network of collision paths that never seem to even brush against each other, each along its unique lost trajectory.

Immigration: reality and perception (2010)

The debate on immigration is as heated as ever, but is mainly based on false premises and mistakenly seen as separate from the wider socio-historical context of migration. The reality of data greatly differs from the way the issue is presented by politicians and the media, and perceived by the general public. This is due to a combination of social and political factors that I want to highlight.
Moreover, one of the key features of the 21st century is the fast population growth in developing countries, while that of the developed world is ageing. At the same time travel and communications are easier and cheaper, and trade is on a truly global scale. These elements combined will inevitably result in an increased movement of people around the world and the current legislation will become dramatically inadequate to face the new challenges.

I would argue that fantasies are being debated while real problems remain unaddressed.
Migration is far more complex than it’s commonly thought, I maintain that protectionist policies are misguided, and a shift in attitude, including global, long-term strategies, are essential and urgently required to guarantee that migration will be managed intelligently, turning problems into opportunities.


David Blunkett opened his 2002 White Paper on immigration [1] with wise words that contrast with the policies implemented during his term in office:

There is nothing more controversial, and yet more natural, than men and women from across the world seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Ease of communication and of transportation have transformed the time it takes to move across the globe. This ease of movement has broken down traditional boundaries. Yet the historic causes of homelessness, hunger or fear – conflict, war and persecution – have not disappeared. That is why economic migration and the seeking of asylum are as prevalent today as they have been at times of historic trauma.

Meanwhile the press has repeatedly used populist language to paint a detrimental picture of immigrants. Examples of journalistic finesse include the Daily Star reporting that donkeys were being stolen in Enfield by Somali communities who were eating them. The Sun reported that East Europeans were eating ducks from the ponds, and then followed on with “Now they are eating our fish.” and also “Family in shock after finding 12 Kosovan illegal immigrants living in attic”.

Hostility towards immigrants fuelled by the media isn’t new and has been widely documented (Hartmann and Husband, 1974 – Björgo and Witte 1993). The perception of immigration has traditionally been negative in the receiving countries; it is often early immigrants who are most fiercely opposed to new arrivals. Some reasons are easily understood, principally the fear of competition for work, housing and resources, however, there are more subtle psychological reasons too, and these are too often exploited by governments and politicians for reasons that are not justifiable in democratic societies.

Facchini and Mayda published in 2008 an interesting study on the “median pro-immigration public opinion” covering Europe and the US. The study highlighted how an overwhelming majority opposes immigration. The report also raises a legitimate doubt: is the public conditioning politics or are politicians and media shaping public opinion?
Polls always show immigration at the top of the list of causes for society’s problems. People, across social classes and countries, blame immigration for lack of work and housing, for violence, criminality and waste of taxpayers’ money, and this doesn’t seem to relate directly to periods of high or low immigration.
These perceptions are the result of education (or lack of), the way in which immigration is portrayed by the media, the language chosen by official government bodies and the use politicians make of the issue, given its high voting value.

Leaving aside moral and ethical reasons, these mis-perceptions have detrimental effects on society’s cohesion and effectively create the problem they claim to address, while exacerbating others; a pragmatic approach would suggest the need to redress this unbalance.

The fundamental truth is that migration is an essential component of societies’ evolution and its effects are overall positive. This does not mean that migration doesn’t present challenges, but the long term benefits deriving from the free movement of people are well worth the effort of finding sensible solutions.
Living in the UK one has the impression that the nation suffers from mass amnesia. Politicians, people and the media alike talk about Britain being invaded by hordes of immigrants and her culture vanishing under their heels. One wonders how the British could possibly have forgotten that their country has been the greatest invader history has known, the one whence whole sections of population migrated (or were deported) to colonize and conquer the four corners of the globe, always modifying and often destroying the cultures and people they invaded.
This loss of memory deeply taints all efforts to deal with immigration to the UK in any coherent fashion.

The homogeneity of any population is an unsubstantiated myth. The widespread popular perception of “original people”, once the preserve of right wing politicians and the least educated sections of society, currently resurfaces across the whole spectrum of media and politics. This constantly repeated myth becomes an accepted reality, and not many seem to question the actual facts. No nation is populated by one original kind of people. Due to their isolation Siberian and Alaskan Eskimo or the Pygmies of Papua New Guinea may claim a homogeneity that goes some way back in history, but the vast majority of the world’s population results from a continuous migratory and cross-breeding process, an essential component of human evolution.

The issues concerning migration need to be addressed on an international scale, and this is one of the areas where the best efforts have so far failed. The European Union has attempted EU-wide solutions over time, but the local interests of individual nations have always prevailed or contributed to dilute effective policies.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights defined the right to free and safe movement for all people.[2] The letter of the law is clear, however, it leaves much open to interpretation and doesn’t prescribe any obligation for countries to accept those who seek asylum or migrate in search of better living and working condition. Much of the legislation that has developed after the declaration of Human Rights has been intended to allow countries to limit these freedoms and make migration more difficult. (Hayter 2004)

Since the 1957 Treaty of Rome[3] the history of the EU is marked by a steady path towards the abolition of intra-national restrictions. The legislation concerning migration evolved continuously, with the treaties of Shengen and Maastricht being major steps towards establishing common principles and approaches on the subject.[4]

A vision of a borderless future is still difficult to conceive for most politicians and EU citizens, meanwhile the process of globalisation has removed barriers to movement between countries, to a level that would have seemed impossible only two decades ago; the barrier to the free movement of people is an exception and this should be remedied, avoiding the mistakes made in other areas, such as the IMF’s crippling economic conditions to bully weaker countries in accepting political impositions. (Stiglitz, 2002)

Artificial borders and nation states are an aberration, invented in Europe and exported with colonialism. The state system is artificial and can’t last. (Chomsky, 2000, 2004) But as long as it does we are stuck with its limitations, including those to the movement of people and enough conflicts and power/economy imbalances to force more and more to migrate.
With the reality of unrestricted movement pulling one way and the states’ protectionist restrictions pulling the other, the nation state model will become unsuitable sooner than a more open and flexible one can be conceived and implemented.
The resistance to changes within the EU testifies to the difficulty of adopting supranational change.
Sociologists, economists, demographers and academics must educate and pressurise politicians to develop new suitable models. It is also essential to adapt the subjects taught at school, to accommodate the changing reality and prepare the citizens of tomorrow.

The UK has had a particularly ambiguous attitude towards immigration. While its judiciary has proven often fairer and more flexible than many in Europe, its government has repeatedly adopted convenient expedients to partially accept EU law and opt out of any rule that could imply a lack of control over its borders.

The “third pillar” of the Maastricht Treaty (1992)[5] is concerned with justice and home affairs, including all aspect of migration. The harmonisation of visa procedures and protection of the external borders of the EU were highly controversial. The UK was among the most strenuous opponents of anything that could undermine national sovereignty and facilitate access to people from outside the EU. The position was neatly summarised in an article by the former Conservative Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, published by the Mail on Sunday at the beginning of 1995:

[…] the autonomy of a country in policing its borders is just as vital in preserving national sovereignty as currency or any other matter.
For the first right of any country is who should, and should not, have the privilege of living in that country. Britain is a sovereign nation, not a hotel…
Any Colombian, Russian or Nigerian who had legally entered the EU through Rome, Vienna or Paris would be free to waltz into Britain with no checks on them…

In the 60s French trade unions were already taking restrictive positions regarding immigration, (Castles and Kosack 1973) believing that massive entry of cheap unregulated labour would have given free rein to bosses to resist the demands of local working class. This is a common position in Europe and the US that places “native” working classes against new immigrants.
Similar positions were taken by American trade unions at the beginning of the 20th century. In the words of one of the founding fathers of the American labour movement: “[…] it is simply a case of self-preservations of the American working class” (Gompers, 1911). [6]

Globalisation has reduced the ability of governments to control immigration, (Watts, 2002) some labour movements are beginning believe that restricting immigration results in increase in illegal situations with negative consequences for immigrants and local labour.
Southern European organisations were the first to put pressure on their governments to change immigration policies, turning them into regulatory rather than restrictive systems, in the belief that migration is an inevitable and fundamental component of globalisation.

Among the conditions posed to Eastern European countries before being allowed into the EU was their agreement to form a ‘buffer zone’ – a filter, used to prevent migrants entering “fortress Europe”, thus gaining right to stay and work in any EU country. The EU invested heavily to equip these countries with the means of policing and managing immigration, thus pushing the problem away. (Hayter, 2004) These “preventive” policies have worked to a certain extent in Eastern Europe, while Greece, Italy and Spain remain weak doors into the EU, with thousands of miles of coastline nearly impossible to patrol.

The racist component of the opposition to immigration shouldn’t be underestimated. As early as 1984 Castles and Booth were analysing the changes societies were undergoing due to the growing presence of people from many different countries and cultures. They compare different approaches implemented by societies that were undergoing a similar process, principally the UK, Canada and Australia. The same theme is developed further by Castles and Miller in 1998 [7] They take into consideration the resurgence of racism in these societies as a direct consequence of economic crises that exacerbate the tension between groups fighting for survival “hanging on the lowest rungs of the social ladder”.

Reality and data: The Home Office UK Border Agency publishes constantly updated statistics; these show how the perception of immigration and its impact on local economy and employment is incorrect.
In the months running up to the 2004 EU expansion to the East the press kept forecasting the invasion of Polish workers and its potential negative impact, talked about with doomed foreboding.
The reality proved to be different. Indeed immigration increased in 2004, but the vast majority of those immigrants found work very quickly or set up their own businesses.
The number of those who made use of any public resource, from benefits to social housing, was negligible and far smaller than that of UK residents. These immigrants came, worked, contributed to society, paid tax and left as soon as they had saved some money and coinciding with the pound losing value, the latter being one of the elements the contributed most to the reduction in immigration. This has been acknowledged by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a pre-electoral interview with Jon Snow for Channel 4 (April 2010)
The November 2009 data show that immigration to the UK has been decreasing, -24% on 2008, asylum granting -12%, Eastern European applications to work -30%.
The Office for National Statistics 2009 figures also show that net migration fell to 163,000 in 2008, from 233,000 in 2007.
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: “Net migration is falling, showing that migrants come to the UK for short periods of time, work, contribute to the economy and then return home. […]”

However, the data regarding immigration is complex and any partial reading is likely to present an imperfect and potentially misleading image; too often incomplete data is presented to the public, resulting in a distorted perception. Migration increases over time, in line with world population growth, but is far from the catastrophic dimensions the public is inclined to believe.

The 2008 Copenhagen Consensus published a paper by Anderson and Winters presenting a thorough analysis of the potential economic benefits, on a global scale, resulting from carefully managed migration, a viewpoint shared by many economists, who seem to have on the matter a clearer vision than most politicians. The data models in the report are convincing and the authors conclude: “this evidence strongly supports the view that gradual reductions in wasteful subsidies and trade barriers, including barriers to migration, would yield huge benefits for little economic cost. At the same time, global inequality and poverty would be reduced”.

In 1996 London’s population counted 5.358.000 white people and 1.636.000 non-white from all ethnic minorities combined. (Sassen, 2006 [2001]) The 2006 figures are respectively 5.163.000 and 1.921.000, hardly the overwhelming and menacing invasion claimed by the BNP and some sections of society.
Sassen observes how a combination of people’s attitudes and local government policies converge to form different perceptions of community and how these translate in the practice of daily life.

Changes and attitudes are directly and starkly related to global economics determining the wealth and availability of work locally, but also are behind the migratory movements between various parts of the world. The magnet of global cities is ever stronger and governments must take these shifts in population and the cultural changes they imply very seriously if any form of cohesive society has to be achieved.

Definitions: There is confusion in the use of terms such as migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers. According to different periods, or the political flavour of the moment, migrants may end up labelled in any of a variety of ways, with dramatically different outcomes to their pledge.
The increased restrictions to the immigration of workers from developing countries into Europe resulted in an increase of the numbers of people who applied for permit as refugees. (Hayter, 2004)

This does not imply, as the UNHCR clarifies, that these are “bogus” (a term much loved by the British press) but rather that having other ways precluded people are forced to seek alternative means.
Many who are genuinely fleeing countries where their lives are at risk would normally apply for conventional work visas, and only recur to the more complex and painful refugee procedure because the immigration rules have been tightened.
To this blurring of definitions are now added new ones to distinguish people who are forced to migrate for reasons such as natural or man made disasters and climatic change.

The need for such distinctions is arguable, as in fact at different times in history one or the other kind of immigrants will be the most numerous or having a bigger impact on the receiving societies; nevertheless, the basic needs of an individual or family moving to a new country, in search of better living conditions or safety, are the same, and it would seem more practical to devise ways for the infrastructure of societies to welcome these new arrivals and favour the productive and peaceful sharing of space and resources, an approach that has proven quite effective in countries such as Sweden, especially considering the very high number of refugees per percentage of population that have been welcomed there.

This confusion of terminology and the way it is applied at different times also results in misleading statistics, where the numbers of migrant workers and refugees often change dramatically from one year to the next with no apparent direct relation to wars or unrest in one or the other countries of origin.

Another element that is often misunderstood is the real nature of the people who are applying for refugee status. It is a common belief that these are mostly uneducated poor people trying to come to enjoy the luxury and comfort of the UK. The reality is that very often asylum applicants are highly educated, leaving good jobs, wealth and property behind. Frequently they are the intellectual elites, forced to leave because of their opposition to a regime. These people leave behind a quality of life far superior to anything they can hope to find in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. They would not do it if they weren’t forced to.
Understanding these aspects would help a better assessment of cases, instead the media keep presenting portrayals of people who aspire to enter the UK because it’s comfortable and they can live without working, paid for by the taxpayers.

The attitude toward asylum seekers is also conditioned by the relationship between the country of origin and the receiving one. The UK finds it difficult to accept applications from people whose countries it sells weapons to, or buys commodities from. Accepting the applications would imply acknowledging that the regime in that country may be less than democratic, a conundrum with potentially damaging results for the UK from a business and political perspective.

The definition of refugee as stated in the 1951 UN refugee convention has been expanded over time to adjust to historical changes, notably in 1969 by the Organisation of African Unity and in 1984 with the Cartagena Convention in Central America. However, these amendments, intended to offer a more appropriate coverage to the endless reasons that may force people to seek refuge in a country, are not binding nor universally accepted.
That makes the work of policy makers extremely difficult and leaves too many options open to interpretation.

The comprehensive data published by the UNHCR reveal that Sweden, a country with a population less than one sixth that of the UK, has given refuge to a considerably higher number of refugees; likewise Denmark has given refuge to a number equal to 50% of that of the UK.
Of the 2.601.400 Afghani who lived abroad as refugees in 1999 only 3500 were in the UK. 1.325.700 were in Iran, 1.200.000 in Pakistan, 20.300 in the Netherlands. In fact, of the many receiving countries only Denmark and Kazakhstan had less Afghani refugees than the UK (2300 each).
These are only examples highlighting the hugely incorrect information provided to, and unquestioningly accepted by the UK citizens, gripped by the fear of half the developing world flooding the UK. (UNHCR, 2000, 2006)
The British public should revise and update the highly inflated image they have of themselves and their country.

Compared to most other European countries and many in the developing world the UK is one that accepts the least amount of refugees and refuses the most of asylum applications.

As of 1999 the UK didn’t even make it in the top 40 countries in terms of percentage of refugees vs local population, with Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Austria and the Netherlands (in that order) as the only European countries in the top 40. All other 33 were from the developing world, with the exception of Canada.

Looking at the number of refugees over time also reveals how the total figures, and their geographical distribution, visibly coincide with conflicts and dramatic changes around the world; noticeable upward spikes in the graphs are easily linked to episodes such as the genocide in Rwanda, the ex-Yugoslavia conflict or those in Sudan and Somalia. This simple observation should make the public realise that most people seeking refuge are genuinely escaping from situations of unimaginable horror. Looking for help in a “civilised” country and being treated as a criminals or scroungers only adds humiliation.

The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board has procedures that are superior to those of US and most of Europe in their assessment accuracy (Barsky 2001). Refugees arrive in receiving countries as a last resort, and they statistically make better than average citizens. As Barsky mentions in relation to Canada “[They are] less likely to go to prison, less likely to be unemployed, more likely to educate their children and to a higher degree, less inclined to use social services, more likely to employ Canadians etc”

These findings are fairly accurate in describing most refugees, who wish to recreate what they have lost.
Assessing the reasons that forced someone to seek refuge is extremely complex, as often a combination of reasons culminate in the inevitability of departure (Kane, 1995, Lucas, 2001). Differentiating between kinds of migrants and refugees is difficult and potentially meaningless, as only a small percentage of cases could be unequivocably linked to “acceptable” factors such as a direct life threat. And isn’t starvation also a direct life threat?

There are extremely difficult issues to be taken into consideration in the process of granting asylum, such as the identification of people guilty of war crimes; the UK government set up the War Crimes Unit for that specific purpose, and its task exemplifies the difficulties faced by any kind of immigration control. Documentation is often unavailable and sourcing it time-consuming, expensive and unsafe.
Often there is no cooperation from the authorities in the countries of origin, because of poor organization, corruption or, in the case of regime opponents, journalists and activists, there may be intentional non-cooperation to cause the return of the individual who will often end up in prison or tortured and killed. The number of known cases of this kind is only the tip of a dark iceberg.

A global vision: When immigration was necessary to the development of industry in capitalist societies, governments invested extensively in the ex-colonies to attract people to migrate; efforts intended to rationalise migration today should similarly start from the countries of origin as part of development aid, improving the management of resources to avoid aid being misused.
Increasing opportunities, security and infrastructure in the developing world will provide millions with the choice to stay or emigrate for short periods in order to gain education, experience or some capital, to then return to their country and contribute to its development.
It is essential that this global dimension of development is understood and prioritised if we want to give a more human and manageable dimension to migration. In doing so the “immigration problem” would almost automatically cease to be, and its dimensions and fluidity would become manageable, resulting in a reciprocal enrichment of receiving countries and those of origin.

The Philippines government offers an example of positive action, it helps its migrants by regulating overseas employment recruitment, (Ruiz, 2008) informing migrants of available resources abroad, providing protection, and developing recording mechanisms to understand migrants’ needs. Managing migration comes at a price and governments need to develop a coordinated strategy to sustain such endeavours.

Acting positively at the source, addressing economical and political causes, is a winning strategy. The economies of developed countries need illegal immigrants to be exploited in manufacturing for lower than minimum wages, politicians need the scarecrow of immigrants invasions as a voting leverage, a whole illegal economy thrives smuggling and exploiting migrants, corrupt officers around the world complement their meagre wages with their involvement in illegal migration.

The corruption quagmire of many of countries of origin is a major obstacle to any long-lasting development and those receiving countries that have some power should use it to bargain and put pressure on governments to improve conditions and abandon methods that force people to flee.
The risk is of increasing an already heavy interference of developed countries on the policies of developing ones, but if a cooperative approach on the lines of the World Bank’s rather than the imposition of IMF and WTO was applied, positive results could be achieved (Stiglitz, 2002)

International development must be part of the migration policy framework of receiving countries. Migrants could positively be seen as agents of development, in that context facilitating return/circular migration and strong migrant links with their original countries is essential. Remittances are currently as important for development as international aid (World Bank, 2006, 2008). The amount of resources spent in trying to prevent and control immigration would be much better spent in finding more practical ways of managing the movement of people.

Various countries have adopted different methods, and it is interesting to compare the Canadian and Australian models of PBS, sharing the same basic principles and yet being applied differently, leading to different outcomes, with the Australian system being accused of covert racism. [8]
These PBS have positive and negative effects, finding a balance won’t be easy. ippr has published a thorough analysis [9] taking into consideration a wide range of elements, such as the “brain drain” effects caused by developed countries trying to attract the most skilled immigrants, potentially depriving the developing world of its best people.
Considerations of this kind should be at the core of policy-making in Europe and the US, to guarantee that policies will suit the future reality.

The future: By 2003 the combined populations of Europe the United States and Canada accounted for just 17 percent of the global population. In 2050, this figure is expected to be just the 12 percent (Goldstone, 2010). Strategists worldwide need to consider that the world’s young are increasingly concentrated in countries not equipped to educate and employ them and where a (often justified) hostile view of Europe and the US is prevalent. It is essential to reach out to these young people. In Goldstone’s words: “the healthy immigration of workers to the developed world and the movement of capital to the developing world, among other things, could lead to better results”.

According to the data in the UN Population Division Projections [10] and UN World Population Prospects [11] the population changes we can expect in the first 50 years of the 21st century are going to dramatically alter the world balance. Migration of large numbers of people will be a prominent feature requiring accurate management. The reports are available to the public and make for an enlightening reading, one that unfortunately not many politicians seem to have taken the time to do.

In his cross cultural works the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu repeatedly (1995, 2005) referred to the need for a class of what he called “informed politicians” essential to the development of effective policies reflecting the reality of a changing world. He groups politicians, political journalists and high ranking civil servants defining them as components of the bureaucratic machine, one that conditions people’s lives and beliefs in a namely democratic but deeply arguable fashion. Bourdieu underlines how dramatically essential it is to have knowledgeable and ethically sound individuals in key position of politics, and how far we are from achieving that goal.

Few fundamental details suffice to indicate how much our perspective on immigration needs changing. Several studies published by the World Bank confirm the UN findings and estimate that by 2030 the number of middle class people in the developing world will be larger than the total population of Europe, Japan and the US combined.
The economic growth of the newly industrialised nations including not only China, India and South East Asian countries but also Brazil, Mexico and Turkey, will be the main driver of global economy, and migration to and within these countries, especially to the mega-cities, will be more significant than the traditional flow to Europe and the US, whose populations are meanwhile ageing, with an expected 30% of European and Americans to be over 60 by 2050. While the productive population of the old developed countries diminishes and the overall population of the world increases, migration is not only inevitable, it is essential to continued development.

More people will be required to fill the productive roles left vacant by the elderly and provide these with the required services. At the same time many developing countries are still ill equipped to support, educate and employ their growing population, adding to the necessity to migrate. This should be seen as a natural rebalancing and distribution of human resources that can benefit all.

As of 2009 approximately 9 out of 10 children below the age of 15 lived in developing countries, the significance of such a proportion should be easy to grasp.

It is possible to envisage a time when Europe and the US will have to offer incentives to attract immigrants needed to keep production at sustainable levels and services running, not least the increased medical and social services essential to care for the large number of elderly people.

Seen in this light the current protectionist policies appear misjudged and wasteful; the contribution of immigrants, both in cultural and economic terms, is often greater than the cost of keeping them out.
Clear analysis of the pattern of migration suggest how these are regulated by supra-national mechanisms that greatly diminish the power of control of national governments; these nevertheless must convince their citizens they have the power to regulate the influx and distribution of migrants, which is what most developed countries have tried to do so far.
This is futile and achieves the opposite of the desired effect because no matter what new restrictive measures governments may put in place, people will find new ways to circumvent the obstacles; these also result in more migrants being pushed in the hands of unscrupulous middlemen smuggling them into ‘protected’ countries, resulting in travelling ordeals and tragic deaths. (UNHCR, 2000, 2006) It is also immoral and contradicts basic human rights and the fundamental principles of the EU and democratic countries.

Criminalising people for wanting to better their lives and those of their families is morally unjustifiable and practically unsustainable.

Maximising the benefits of migration while minimising the costs seems a much better aim than trying to reduce immigration. Many other elements complete the population picture, such as the high number of British who retire or work abroad and the fact that the UK has the highest rate of teenage single parents. If the scope of reducing net immigration is of containing the population of the UK below 70 million, as most parties seem to suggest, then these and many other elements should be taken into consideration alongside immigration.
Evidence suggests that migration has had limited impacts on employment or wages in the UK, however, in January 2010, the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration called for net immigration to the UK to be reduced to less than 40.000 per year, an unrealistic figure, even considering that the UK experienced net emigration in the past.

Controlling immigration by PBS or a fixed cap is difficult to implement without an adverse effect on the UK. It would reduce the number of foreign students, a prime source of income for universities and a precious intellectual resource for the country, or medical personnel, essential to the NHS. The likelihood would be an increase in illegal immigration and a decrease in the kind of immigration that is most beneficial to the UK. Besides, migration from within the EU, the return of UK citizens who have spent time abroad and family reunions are beyond the government’s control anyway. (ippr, 2010)

All parties have employed the “stop immigration” mantra, it seems to resonate well with the public everywhere and proved particularly effective in the UK.
Interestingly, New Labour promised (in the words of Jack Straw, 1997 campaign) to be tougher but fairer on immigration. Looking back at a dozen years of New Labour the tougher is obvious, traces of the fairer are somewhat scarcer.
Rather than promising to be tough on immigration for electoral gain and then disappoint the voters, politicians would do better to show that they are capable of managing immigration, as expressed in the ippr report: predicting and managing migration flows to maximise benefits, minimise costs, and reassure the public, rather than struggling (probably unsuccessfully) to meet arbitrarily imposed limits.


Fuelling distrust and populist myths against immigration can only have long-term negative consequences for society, it’s irresponsible and should be stopped.
On the other hand, the progressive side of the political spectrum seems to be able to identify and critique problems but is rarely capable of proposing viable alternatives.

Long-term manageable solutions can only be found by bringing the debate to a much higher level, as the UNHCR and the World Bank try to do, and reckon with the reality of people’s migration on a global dimension.
The planet is big enough and if its resources were managed efficiently it could feed us all. One of these resources is people, and people’s migration could help manage all other resources.

Removing ideology and short-term gain from the equation would enable governments and international organisations to coordinate migration. The consequent reduction in tension and competition would rapidly remove some of the negative elements of the current situation, such as criminality connected to the smuggling of people and legal procedures that waste public money. It would also initiate a process of acceptance in people of receiving countries, dispelling the threatening dimension of immigration.

This is not as idealistic as it may seem. The consequences of not tackling the issue in a rational and pragmatic manner would be seriously damaging, migratory movements in the 21st century deserve the same attention as climate change, alternative energy sources, water management and infectious diseases control.

Just like killing terrorists doesn’t solve the problem of international terrorism, keeping immigrants and asylum seekers “out” doesn’t solve the problems related to migration, it makes them worse. Migration is the blood flow of healthy societies, blocking it is impossible and counterproductive.

A global world requires global solutions and delays are a luxury we can’t afford.



Anderson, K. and L.A. Winters (2008), “The Challenge of Reducing International Trade and Migration Barriers”, published by the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 project

Barsky, R. F. (2000) “Arguing and Justifying: Assessing the Convention Refugees’ Choice of Moment, Motive and Host Country” (Research in Migration and Ethnic Relations Series) – Farnham, Surrey – Ashgate

Björgo, T. and Witte, R. editors (1993) “Racist violence in Europe” – Basingstoke, Hants – Palgrave Macmillan

Bourdieu, P. ed. Löic Wacquant (2005) “Symbolic power and democratic practice” – Cambridge – Polity Press

Bourdieu, P. (1992) “Language and symbolic power” – Cambridge, Polity Press

Castles, S. and Miller M. J. (2008) “The Age of Migration International Population Movements in the Modern World” – New York – The Guilford Press

Castles, S and Kosack, G. (1973) “Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe (Institute of Race Relations)” – Oxford – Oxford University Press

Castles, S. and Booth, H. and Wallace, T. (1984) “Here for Good: Western Europe’s new ethnic minorities” – London – Pluto Press

Chappell, L. and Mulley, S. (2010) “Development: Do points mean prizes? How the UK’s migration policies could benefit the world’s poor” – Development on the Move Working Paper – London – ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research) and GDN (Global Development Network)

Chomsky, N. (2000) “Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs” – London – Pluto Press

Chomsky, N. (2004) “Language and Politics” – Oakland, CA – AK Press

Conaghan, J. Fischl, R. M. and Klare, K. editors (2004) “Labour Law in an Era of Globalization, Transformative Practices and Possibilities” – Oxford – Oxford University Press

Facchini, G. and Mayda, A.M. (2008) From attitudes towards immigration to immigration policy outcomes: Does public opinion rule?

Gilroy, P. (2004) “After Empire: Multiculture or Postcolonial Melancholia” – Abingdon, Oxford – Routledge

Goldstone, J. A. (2010) “The new population bomb” in Foreign Affairs Jan/Feb 2010 – New York, Washington D.C. – The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)

Hartmann, P. and Husband, C. (1974) “Racism and the Mass Media” London – Davis-Poynter Ltd

Hayter, T. (2004) “Open Borders – The case against immigration controls” – London – Pluto Press

Kane, H. (1995) “The Hour of Departure, forces that create refugees and migrant” – Washington, DC – Worldwatch Institute
Lucas, R. E. B. (2001) in “Migration and Refugee policies”. Ed Bernstein-Weiner – International trade, capital flows and migration: economic policies towards countries of origin as means of stemming immigration – London – Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

Mulley, S. (2010) The Limits to Limits: Is a cap on immigration a viable policy for the UK? London – ippr

Ruiz, N. G. and Migration and Remittances Team (2008) “Managing Migration: Lessons from the Philippines”, Development Prospects Group – Washington D. C. – The World Bank

Sassen, S. (2006 [2001]) “Global City, New York, London, Tokyo” 2nd Revised edition edition – Princeton – Princeton University Press

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “The State of the World’s Refugees 2006: Human Displacement in the New Millennium” – Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Also: The state of world’s refugees – Fifty years of humanitarian action – UNHCR 2000

Watts, J. R. (2002) “Immigration policy and the challenge of globalisation – Unions and employers in unlikely alliance” ILR Press books – Ithaca, NY – Cornell University Press

The World Bank (2006), Global Economic Prospects 2006: Economic Implications of Remittances and Migration – Washington DC: The World Bank. Full reports available at the following URLs as of April 2010:,,contentMDK:21121930~menuPK:3145470~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:476883,00.html

The data and statistics referred to throughout this paper are sourced from the most recent available reports published by:

UK Office for National Statistics (ONS)
Home Office UK Border Agency
Institute for Public Policy Research
UN Population Division
World Bank
Eurostat – Statistical Office of the European Commission
Europa, Gateway to the European Union – Documentation Centre
The “International Migration Report 2006: A Global Assessment” by the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, available at
Also interesting the 2009 Wall Chart on international migration available from the same source.

(Sites accessed in March and April 2010)


[1] Secure Borders, Safe Haven – Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain – Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP by Command of Her Majesty, February 2002, Published by The Stationery Office Limited

[2] Ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10/12/1948, see specifically art 13, 1 art 13, 2 art 14

[3] The treaty of Rome, 1957, establishing the European Economic Community



[6] Incidentally, Gompers was an English citizen from a Dutch Jewish family, hence twice immigrant.

[7] Chapters: The State and International Migration: The Quest for Control and Migrants and Minorities in the Labour Force

[8] A Comparison of Australian and Canadian Immigration Policies and Labour Market Outcomes

Report – Report to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs – The National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University – September 2004 – Professor Sue Richardson and Laurence Lester

[9] The Institute for Public Policy Research “Development: Do points mean prizes?” (March 2010)


[11] 2008 Revision:

Clockwork eggs (1989)

When men were laying eggs the race started. It never quite ended, for there is no end. One was saying he didn’t care to know; the moment was important, not history. So he sat on the train seat and spat with disdainful nonchalanche, by the suitcase on the floor. The landscape was changing beyond the greasy stained windows, and the rain falling down.
The suitcase broke open and a big old fashioned alarm clock escaped clumsily running along the corridor, throwing the passengers in panic and horror. The alarm clock’s bell rang loudly, immediately stopped by a lady’s hand. The clock jammed -7a.m.- and the rain was falling.
The train missed the next stop. waving hands saluted its going by, among umbrellas and flying hats.
When our children were drowned no one came but a letter of the neighbours complaining for the screams. The soap must go on. Excuse me the digression into private matters. It is easy to forget that private is not allowed.
The lady with the bold doll had sat still ’till then, staring out of the window, prying into the striped darkness of the rainy dawn; she slowly turned her gaze onto us. The gaze of a doll in its turn. “watch out for your language” she said in a whisper, with a tick of her stiff lips.
The stillness of her features betrayed her being of an emotional kind. While passing yet another station without even slowing down, the train emitted a suffering, long whistle.
- we’re goin’we’re goin’ – it seemed to say to the astonished crowd.
- we’re goin’we’re goin’ – we all said in melancholy tunes, one weeping, one dangling, one singing on the train, in the rain.
The clock was still there, sadly abandoned in a corner, its arms one up, one down, at 7 a.m.
It was laying at an angle, against a seat, when the train suddenly slowed down, the clock rolled along the corridor among the passengers’ feet who, by then, were dancing a passionate tango.
When the train stopped, with people falling about, grasping handles and seats and each other, the poor clock crushed against the compartment’s door, three eggs popped out of its broken body and rolled about in slow motion.
A moment of suspense, then the eggs burst obliterating the scene.

Mafia in London (1995)

The guy wouldn’t want to say anything on the telephone, so we arranged to meet at the Caffè Italia in Soho. We were sipping our expressos when a big bloke with a shrunken suit tapped on our shoulders and showed us out with a nod of his bald head. The barman nodded too, meaning that we didn’t need to bother with the bill. Well introduced friends mean a lot. The Merc was waiting outside and the traffic warden touched his hat side-glancing at the car, ignoring the double red line it was parked on. Our client seemed to be well known and respected, none of our business to ask more.

The client was a short, chubby, middle aged guy. His suit, no doubt from Saville Row, his watch and rings, all spoke of money and some, albeit dubious, taste. The tanned skin spoke of shores other than the Thames’s. Our brains were estimating the percentage we could have added to our normally modest quotes, whatever the job would have been.

Don Vincenzo, as he introduced himself, went straight to the point: “we are a big family and we like to treat our friends very well, add 30% to what you would ask any of your usual clients. What we need is a sophisticated interactive system to be used in laptops, it will have to be multilingual, connect to a secure server from any location in the world, be totally hacker-proof, access a constantly updated database, represent the elaborated data with a series of graphical metaphors which we will specify, it must be usable by people of different cultural backgrounds and levels of education …” and on and on he went with an Oxford accent that hardly betrayed the harshness of his original Sicilian idiom.

We were stuck to the leather seats and at a loss for words. This guy knew what he wanted, he knew how he wanted it and wouldn’t discuss the price, this just never happens with clients.

The car stopped in a small square in Belgravia, before getting off he handed us a disc: “You will find all the details here, my driver will take you back to your office, I’m expecting your answer and a detailed estimate by tomorrow morning at 11. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and I hope you will live up to your reputation”.

We had discovered a new and unexpected face of the modern mafia and got our biggest commission to-date!

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