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Free Movement and the Asymmetry Between Exit and Entry

Rainer Baubock’s short essay entitled Free Movement and the Asymmetry Between Exit and Entry is posted at the website of the European University Institute in Florence. In it he writes:

Freedom of emigration is a universal human right. But there is no corresponding right of entry and settlement in other countries. Only the citizens of a state have an unconditional right to be admitted. For all other groups, their opportunities of legal immigration depend on international agreements (such as the EU Treaties that provide for free movement between member states), on obligations towards people with special needs to be admitted (refugee migration and family reunification), or on perceived mutual interests of migrants and the country concerned (skilled migrants and the return of national diasporas).

Surely there must be some inconsistency in claiming that every individual has a right to leave any country, but countries may select those whom they allow to enter according to these criteria. Imagine you live in a room that has several double doors leading to adjacent rooms. In each room of this building there is a guard who is in charge of maintaining it in proper conditions. If you want to leave, the guard has been instructed to give you the key that unlocks all doors leaving your room. Yet you will still be imprisoned if the entrance doors to all the other rooms are locked and your key does not fit any of them. So it seems obvious that universal freedom of emigration must entail real opportunities for immigration somewhere else, i.e. at least one other open room.

This conclusion is resisted by those who regard freedom of exit as a purely negative liberty. In their view, the duty of the guard does not extend beyond giving you his key. This is a very formalistic interpretation that does not take into account the material reasons why liberals regard the right of exit as a fundamental freedom.

Read the complete text (PDF) >>

Categories: Migration, Politics
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