Invisible before the Law


Saskia Sassen

Climate change, mining or land theft: Increasingly, more and more people's living spaces are either massively under threat or have already disappeared. But there are no rights for them to appeal to, nor are there laws which protect them. Sociologist Saskia Sassen gives them a voice on Stage 1.

"It's taken us 20 years to dry out the Aral Sea" the Sociology Professor from Columbia University stated. "Many of the small worlds around the sea have now disappeared. That is a massive loss of living space." On Day 2 of the re:publica TEN, Sassen spoke about the people whose homes and homelands have been repeatedly destroyed through climate change, mining, land theft or growing cities.

These people are not recognized as refugees because they are not fleeing from a war. "But they are not typical migrants either, because they also do not have a home anymore, which they could possibly return to in the future" says Sassen. There is still no clear legal situation, no laws and no binding regulations to protect these people. "They are invisible in the eyes of the law and the authorities. We have to make them visible."

Be it unaccompanied children from Central America or the Rohingya in Malaysia: The causes of people fleeing and migration can never be reduced to one single reason. "The people in Central America are not just fleeing because of the drug dealers. And the Rohingya aren't just fleeing from the Buddhists" states Sassen. One has to go much deeper to understand the causes. The loss of living spaces plays an important role in both of these cases.

Everywhere in the world, big companies are expelling indigenous populations from lands that they have lived on for generations. Small farmers are being driven out by big agricultural enterprises that, above all, cultivate plants for biofuels. “When doing this, they face no restrictions in their use of pesticides. They kill off the ground and then move on." And states such as China that conduct large-scale mining projects in other countries, contribute to this development. According to Sassen, "Liveable spaces and lands are shrinking worldwide". And this is just the beginning.

Photo credit: re:publica/Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)