It’s reported today that the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland will officially come to an end in 2009.
I say “officially” because the Irish government has been unilaterally ignoring the agreement for some time now. I’ve noted this as a semi-regular traveller to Britain: it’s been years since I’ve encountered any kind of passport check upon arrival at an airport in that country, but there are always checks when I come home. So it seems the Brits are just bringing their policy in line with ours. Which is ironic, given our frequent trotting out of the excuse that we can’t do this or that because it might affect the CTA – an excuse that is usually bullshit, as in this instance, for example. In the Dáil today, the Taoiseach also confirmed my long-held suspicion that the CTA excuse previously offered for us not joining the Schengen open border arrangement was only a pretense:
…should we join Schengen, the answer is "no"
It’s also been confirmed that the new arrangements will not apply to the land border between the two jurisdictions. No surprises there. I don’t believe either government would have had the stomach for that. So what will probably happen instead is that border security will be beefed up at Stranraer and Troon (I gave up that Parkhead season book just in time!). No doubt, there will be more instances of Irish nationals being subjected to racist requirements that they write their names in English, something that would never occur to the British authorities to demand of Polish or Spanish passengers. But it's interesting to contemplate the psychological effect of moving the de facto border back to where it belongs.
The other ironic thing about this is that its announcement takes place the same week that the Irish government finally introduces legislation to outlaw human trafficking. As everyone in the migration field knows, but politicians stubbornly refuse to acknowledge, tightening border controls actually facilitates rather than hindering traffickers. It means that there are more people unable to avail of legal means of migration and having to resort to illegal means; a larger and more lucrative black market in forged documents, which in turn provides a greater incentive to criminals to get involved in the business, and often a greater debt for the victim to have to repay to their trafficker, meaning a longer time they are held in debt bondage. Western countries in recent years have tightened their borders considerably and at the same time, the trafficking rate has increased. This isn’t a coincidence.
Finally, I have to wonder what the effect will be on the immigrant women in this country who find themselves with unwanted pregnancies and now face yet another barrier to obtaining a safe and legal abortion. A recent report in The Lancet (summary available at that link; free registration required for the full article) proved what some of us would call the bleedin’ obvious: laws against abortion don’t prevent them but merely make them more dangerous. In this country, we’ve largely been shielded from the latter effect because of the safety valve of travel to England – but many immigrant women don’t have that option. There is already some evidence of illegal abortions among this population and the only reason there haven’t been more is that the Irish government has quietly granted re-entry visas to women who wish to travel for this purpose (I don’t have a link for that, but it's accepted by activists on both sides of the debate). When Britain starts checking the passports of everyone who goes there from here, these women will need to ensure they also have a British entry visa and I’m not sure how willing the Home Office will be to accommodate them. Some increase in the number of illegal abortions here seems inevitable – and the consequences of that could be dire.
I realise I’ve said more in this post than I previously had for the whole month. Apologies for my quietness of late, and thanks to those of you who still check in regularly. I can’t promise to keep up as often as I’d like to, particularly given what looks to be an increasing workload for me, but I will always do what I can.