Thursday, January 28, 2016

A 'bunch of migrants'

Europe is on a dangerous, slippery slope of increasing xenophobia and racism. There has been some disgraceful treatment of refugees and a growing fear about refugees around Europe. Some of this anxiety relates to culture, some to crime, some to terrorism, but much is economic in nature. Whether officially or unofficially, Europe is becoming more and more racist, turning into a xenophobic fortress. Europe’s refugee “crisis” is turning into an irrational, xenophobic panic that is not justified by facts. It is misleading people into dangerous political territory of persecution and racist discrimination  that infringe on all our rights as citizens.

One prevalent idea is that Europe is bearing the brunt of the human fallout from the conflicts of the Middle East. There has certainly been a pronounced pick-up in asylum applications in the European Union: 995,000 in 2015 alone, double the previous year. Yet that still needs to be put in a global perspective. Of the 14 million cross-border refugees worldwide just one million are in Europe. There are two million Syrian refugees in Turkey alone. Jordan is also home to two million displaced people, equivalent to around a third of the native population. Europe’s intake of one million refugees last year amounts to 0.2 per cent of its total 500 million population. Denmark’s intake of 21,300 asylum-seekers last year constitutes less than 0.4 per cent of its national population.

Another perception is that refugees are all indigents who can’t work or contribute economically. But the experience of Nordic countries in recent decades suggests the labour market participation rates of refugees show the greatest increase over time of all migrant groups. While on arrival only around 15 per cent of refugees in Sweden worked that ratio ultimately rose to more than 60 per cent. It’s worth remembering that skills flee along with people. In Germany a fifth of Syrian refugees in 2013-14 had been through higher education, roughly the same ratio as native Germans. This may be because often only wealthier and more educated individuals can afford the passage to Europe. Another fear centres around how European countries with already painfully high jobless rates, such as Spain and Greece, can possibly cope if there is a new influx into the labour market. Yet most asylum-seekers have tended to choose to claim asylum in countries with high employment rates such as Germany and Sweden.

The International Monetary Fund recently estimated that there will actually be a modest short-term GDP boost due to the higher government spending on feeding and sheltering refugees. The IMF also suggests refugees can, in the longer term, help alleviate Europe’s demographic crisis, helping relieve the pressure on national pension systems. Many fear that a flow of refugees will have a negative impact on natives’ living standards. But evidence from Turkey suggests its sizeable influx of Syrian refugees into the informal local labour market has actually boosted the average wages of native workers in the formal economy. The net impact on the public finances of higher refugee flows could be offset by allowing asylum-seekers to work while awaiting their claims to be processed. The UK has considerably more onerous restrictions in this regard than Germany and Sweden.

In the end, the case for generosity to refugees should be based on humanitarian, rather than economic, arguments and there is a danger of over-claiming over the material benefits from an open door policy. There is a short-term boost to Europe’s GDP under the IMF’s latest forecasts, but GDP per capita is still seen as falling slightly. And much of long-term fiscal impact will depend on the extent of refugees’ participation in the labour market and the skills mix of refugees. Yet it is still useful to dowse the economic alarmism.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Europe’s response to ongoing refugee crisis gripping the continent, saying the European governments’ reaction to the problem has resulted in a crackdown on basic freedoms. HRW director, Kenneth Roth, made the remarks in his introductory essay to the rights group's annual report.

"Fears of terror attacks and of the potential impact of refugee influx led to a visible scaling back of rights in Europe and other regions," Roth said. "Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance.” The right response to the inflow of refugees is not more repressive border and immigration enforcement, but a better controlled program for the resettlement of asylum seekers, according to the report. "The effect of European policy so far has been to leave refugees with little choice but to risk their lives at sea for a chance at asylum," Roth said.  The official further warned that “a polarizing us-versus-them rhetoric” adopted by Europe and the United States has moved from 'the political fringe to the mainstream.' 

Cameron is not interested in the humanity of refugees – lumping them, their stories and their suffering into a “bunch of migrants” for mere fodder for his jokes at Prime Minister's Question Time which can be added to his expression  “swarm of people” in his other earlier attempt to dehumanise desperate men, women and children. We see the results of all this, a rise in hate crimes on British railways – up 37% in five years. This confirms a trend seen last year, when there was a 43% increase in religious hate crime, and a 15% rise in race hate over the previous 12 months.

We should be addressing the root cause of the problem, not reacting to the symptoms. We should be shaming the villains, not blaming the victims, and the culprit is capitalism with its armed conflicts and its trade wars.


Mike Ballard said...

We'll never solve the problems capitalism generates with appeals for open borders. Most workers are aware that flooding the labour market with more workers will only depress the price of labour power and may even lead to greater unemployment due to the fact that when supply of a commodity exceeds demand, often that commodity cannot be sold. I don't think the moral approach of shaming the working class into some Christian like charity will make social ownership of the collective product of labour arrive any sooner. Explaining the commodity status of labour power will at least contribute to removing the scales from the producers' political eyes.

ajohnstone said...

In Germany the problem appears not to be so much economic. There is a labour shortage in that nation. It seems it is a cultural problem that the central government mishandled by dumping hundreds and even thousands of migrants on to small communities, who understandably are not equipped to cope with all the problems of integration and assimilation. This appears to be also the fear even in the Eastern European nations..the Czech prime minister pleading it is a "christian" country, for instance.

We are also facing the media highlighting of crime such as the sexual assaults and robberies in Cologne and the stabbing in Sweden. A similar press campaign took place in the UK a while back with stories of Polish drunken violence and organised crime etc.

These complaints are not about jobs, since most countries regulations forbid refugees from working. Some are trying feverishly to change the rules since many professionals are amongst the refugee numbers..doctors, architects, engineers, all highly skilled and in demand but forbidden to practice their trade.

Sweden and Finland are now beginning the process of sifting through the eligibility of those who arrived and starting to deport "economic migrants" which will be a long drawn out affair and will lead to other countries following suit.

The situation as you infer is not a simple one to explain and is confused by many deliberately inflaming the situation. You may find this letter, Marxist Borders,in Weekly Worker reflective of some on the Left attitude.

Hopefully, my reply will be published next week but i have previously exchanged correspondence with this writer in WW and expect it to also be drawn out.