Just when you thought that you were safe from links here to my articles over at DIPLOMAT, you get two in one day. My very latest one on Migration and Rights.


Hundreds of millions of people are now on the move around the world every year.

Refugees. Displaced persons. Asylum-seekers. Migrants. Business travellers. Tourists. Sports contestants. Pop stars and roadies. Ship crews. Politicians and celebrities flying in carboniferous private jets to global climate change conferences. Diplomats! And so on.

They move by car or truck, by plane or balloon, by boat or submarine, on bicycles, on foot, maybe on hands and knees through tunnels.

Where can they all go? What are the rules?

One place to start pondering this question is the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This landmark human rights document was agreed by the UN General Assembly in the dismal aftermath of World War II, when millions of people were still displaced, and borders were being reaffirmed. In many countries Soviet-style communism was clamping down on the simple human wish to travel within or beyond the state in question.

Hence UDHR Article 13:

1 Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State

2 Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country

Seems reasonable. The core idea is not to set arbitrary or unjust limits on the right of people to move.

But read that Article closely.

It says that you have the right to leave and return to your own country. It does not give you the right to enter any other country you choose to visit. Nor does it give you the right to stay in that country as long as you like, or to get citizenship of that country if you opt for that.

In other words, you do not have the right to migrate in general and to immigrate in particular.

Is this any different from the common-sense idea that of course you have the right to leave your current house and to look for a new house, but you don’t have any right to enter my house and then stay there indefinitely as if it were your own?

No. It’s not. But this displeases a motley alliance of radical Leftists and libertarians.

The arguments go something like this:

  • Human rights have to work in real life: it makes no sense to have a right on paper that’s meaningless in practice
  • Thus, when you have the UDHR right to leave your state, you (by implication) must have a right to enter another state
  • And once you have entered that state you have the right to equal treatment under the law. No discrimination! Why should you be denied the benefits and privileges of that state’s citizens?
  • This includes the right to apply for and be granted full citizenship in a reasonable time
  • The argument that local citizens might be ‘swamped’ by foreigners who get citizenship sounds pretty … racist? Why should existing citizens who live there by (let’s face it) accidents of history be privileged over future citizens?
  • That analogy of you entering my house is specious. A state is not a private house. Its borders do not ‘belong’ to any arbitrary category of people
  • We are all equal free citizens of a borderless world! Deal with it!

To all of which the principled answer is: Stop talking drivel.

Take, for example, Hungary.

Hungary like a good number of other countries in Europe and beyond faces a worrying demographic future. Its population of some ten million people is ageing and declining. Hungarians are not producing enough people. Why not import people?

What if Hungary boldly throws open its borders and citizenship to all-comers?

Within a few years five million Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, Middle Easterners and British Brexit refugees move there more or less permanently to look for better living conditions.

Even if Hungary does not give these people citizenship, the practical character of Hungary for local people whose cultural and linguistic roots go back centuries will be changed beyond recognition by such a population surge, within just a few hundred weeks.

If Hungary does give them all citizenship, and they start voting for the laws and benefits they want, those people who now proudly call themselves ‘Hungarians’ will soon be a political minority in their own country.

No policy even hinting at an outcome like this is likely to be popular with those Hungarians. They might take the view that even if they do not formally ‘own’ Hungary in the way someone owns a house, their ancestors have built modern Hungary over centuries and so they have their own rights over that space and what’s now in it.

Why should any foreigner’s supposed ‘right to immigrate’ trump (sic) their own patiently accumulated legitimate expectations? Isn’t there a human right to safeguard one’s own cultural and national identity?

Yes, if you’re a plucky favoured ‘ethnic minority’. No if you have a pale skin.

The case of the United Arab Emirates is instructive. The UAE authorities are relaxed about people visiting, and even staying for extended periods. Dubai booms away. There are more non-Emiratis in the UAE than Emiratis. Are Emiratis a minority in their own country?

In numbers terms, yes. In legal terms, no. Emiratis keep an iron grip on citizenship.  It’s next to impossible for a non-Emirati to get Emirati citizenship and so gain a formal say in who sets the UAE’s rules.

The UAE generously lets you enter and stay. But it sets tight rules about what you can or can’t do while you’re there and will briskly send you on your way if you don’t behave. You don’t agree with those rules? You think they breach human rights? Fine. Don’t come!


Every state needs to keep control of that state’s borders and its citizenship. A state needs a defined space and a robust mechanism for setting the rules within that space. Anything less than that, in a world where mobility is now so easy, directly challenges that state’s authority and very existence.

If you want more of the general wars that shattered the twentieth century, calling into question all international borders and dissolving all rules is the way to set things moving nicely.

See also Brexit.

Does anyone have a serious argument against this?