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<nettime> Michel Foucault on refugees, in 1979
nettime's avid reader on Thu, 1 Oct 2015 10:39:54 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Michel Foucault on refugees, in 1979

Michel Foucault on refugees â a previously untranslated interview from
Posted on September 29, 2015	by stuartelden


âThe refugee problem is a foreshadowing of the 21st centuryâs great

(âNanmin mondai ha 21 seiku minzoku daiidà no zenchà daâ, an
interview by H.Uno, originally published on 17 August 1979, in ShÃkan
posuto, pp. 34-35) republished under the title âLe problÃme des
rÃfugiÃs est un prÃsage de la grande migration du XXIe siÃcleâ
in Michel Foucault, Dits et Ãcrits, text 271, Volume 3. 1976-1979,
Gallimard, 1994, pp. 798-800.

(Partially republished by LibÃration on 18 September 2015 and
by LibÃration.fr on 17 September 2015 under the title âMichel
Foucault en 1979 : ÂLes hommes rÃprimÃs par la dictature choisiront
dâÃchapper à lâenferÂâ )

Translated from Japanese into French by RyÃji Nakamura, 1994 ;
translated from French into English by Felix de Montety, 2015. Thanks
to Stuart Elden, Steve Legg and Mike Heffernan for comments and

H. Uno: What according to you is the source of the problem of
Vietnamese refugees ?

M. Foucault: For more than a century, Vietnam has been continually
occupied by military powers such as France, Japan and the United
States. And now the former South Vietnam is occupied by the former
North Vietnam. Of course this occupation of the South by the North is
different from those which preceded it but it should not be forgotten
that the power in place in South Vietnam is exercised from the North.

During this series of occupations over the course of a century,
excessive conflicts have developed within the population. There have
been a considerable number of collaborators, and you can put in this
category merchants who traded with colonists, or regional civil
servants who worked under the occupation. Because of those historical
antagonisms, part of the population found themselves blamed and
abandone d.

Many sense a contradiction between the previous need to support the
unification of Vietnam and the current requirement to tackle the issue
of refugees, which is a consequence of it.

The state must not exercise an unconditional right of life and death,
over its own people or those of another country. To deny the state
this right of life and death meant opposing the bombings of Vietnam by
the United States and currently means helping refugees.

It seems like the problem of Cambodian refugees is not quite the same
as that of Vietnamese refugees. What do you think?

What happened in Cambodia is absolutely unprecedented in modern
history: the government massacred its people on a scale never before
witnessed. And the remaining population that survived was saved, of
course, but finds itself under the domination of an army which has
used a destructive and violent power. The situation is therefore
different from that of Vietnam.

On the other hand, it is important that, in solidarity movements which
are organised throughout the world for refugees from South East Asia,
the differences of historical and political situations are not taken
into account. This does not mean that we could remain indifferent to
historical and political analyses of the refugee issue, but in an
emergency what should be done is to save people in danger.

Because, at the moment, 40,000 Vietnamese are drifting off the coast
of Indochina or wash ashore on islands, on the brink of death.
40,000 Cambodians have been pushed back from Thailand, in mortal
danger. There are no less than 80,000 people for whom death is a
daily presence. No discussion on the general balance of power between
countries of the world, and no argument about the political and
economic difficulties that come with aid to refugees can justify
states abandoning those human beings at the gates of death.

In 1938 and 1939, Jews fled Germany and Central Europe, but because
nobody received them, many died. Forty years have passed since, and
can we again send 100,000 people to their deaths?

To find a global solution to the problem, states that create refugees,
notably Vietnam, should change their policy. But how, according to
you, can this general solution be achieved?

In the case of Cambodia, the situation is much more tragic than in
Vietnam, but there is hope of a solution in the near future. We
could imagine that the formation of an acceptable government by the
Cambodian people would lead to a solution. But as for Vietnam, the
problem is more complex. Political power has already been established:
but this power excludes part of the population, which does not want
it anyway. The state has created a situation in which those people
have to seek the uncertain chance of survival through an exodus by
sea rather than by staying in Vietnam. Therefore it is clear that it
is necessary to put pressure on Vietnam to change this situation. But
what does âto put pressureâ mean?

In Geneva, at the UN conference on refugees, participating countries
have exerted pressure on Vietnam, in the form of recommendations and
advice. The Vietnamese government then made a few concessions. Rather
than abandoning those who want to leave in uncertain conditions, and
whatâs more, at risk of their lives, the Vietnamese government
proposes to build transit centres to collect potential migrants: they
would stay there weeks, months or even years until they could find a
host country. But this proposal sounds curiously like concentration
camp s.

The refugee issue has come up many times in the past, but if there is
a new historical aspect in the case of Vietnam, what might that be?

In the twentieth century, genocides and ethnic persecutions happened
frequently. I think that in the near future, these phenomena will
happen again in new forms. First, because over the past few years, the
number of dictatorial states has increased rather than diminished.
Since political expression is impossible in their country and because
they do not have the force necessary to resist, people repressed by
dictatorship will chose to escape from their hell.

Second, in former colonies, states were created retained colonial
borders as they were, so that ethnicities, languages and religions
were mixed. This phenomenon creates serious tensions. In those
countries, antagonisms within the population are likely to explode
and bring about massive displacement and the collapse of state

Third, developed economic powers that needed labour from the Third
World and developing countries have imported migrants from Portugal,
Algeria or Africa. But, now, countries which no longer need this
workforce because of technological evolution are attempting to send
those migrants back. All these problems lead to that of population
migration, involving hundreds of thousands and millions of people. And
population migrations necessarily become painful and tragic and are
inevitably accompanied by deaths and murders. I am afraid that what is
happening in Vietnam is not only an after-effect of the past, but also
a foreshadowing of the future.

SE: Many thanks to Felix de Montety for making this translation and
sharing with Progressive Geographies.

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