Monday, July 02, 2018

Why scare-mongering migrants is working

 Politicians talk constantly of Europe being “under siege”, of millions streaming over the borders. In 2015, 1.3 million asylum seekers came to Europe. But that was an exceptional year, driven by the Syrian war. The figures were much lower in the years before and after. So far this year, just 42,000 undocumented migrants have arrived on Europe’s shores. Hardly a continent under siege. The migration crisis is more the product of perception and politics than of numbers. There is a crisis despite the fall in migration numbers, not because of a rise in them. 

Sociologists Vera Messing and Bence Ságvári have used data from 20 European nations to explore the relationship between attitudes to immigration and other social factors. There is, they observe, “a strong correlation” between migrant levels in a country and attitudes towards them: “Countries with a negligible share of migrants are the most hostile, while countries, where migrants’ presence in the society is large, are the most tolerant.” What shapes hostility is not the presence of migrants, but perceptions. The authors note, “People are fearful in countries where people don’t trust each other or the state’s institutions, and where social cohesion and solidarity are weak.” They conclude: “Anti-migrant attitudes have little to do with migrants.”

As social democratic parties have abandoned their working-class constituencies, and embraced policies, from austerity to privatisation, that have hurt the poorest sections of society, the disdain many have for mainstream institutions has been reinforced. Into the space vacated by the left have marched far-right and populist groups, linking anti-immigration rhetoric to economic and social policies that once were the staple of social democracy: defence of jobs, support for the welfare state, opposition to austerity. This shift has inevitably fortified the perception of immigration as responsible for the social problems facing working-class communities. The dominant political consensus is that the crisis can only be solved by even tighter controls on immigration.

A handful of voices argue for liberalising immigration controls but many more for still further brutal restrictions. Neither approach, however, will resolve the migrant crisis, because the crisis is rooted in factors unrelated to migration.

From here

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