Experts note that using terrorism as the justification for increased migration controls has the effect of increasing feelings of alienation within immigrant communities and stoking xenophobia towards them, a vicious cycle likely to create more extremists of the homegrown variety.
The Syrian refugees as Trojan horse argument made by Donald Trump has even less factual basis in the US context in which the only way for most refugees to enter the country is via formal refugee resettlement programmes. Contrary to Trump’s suggestion that vetting of such refugees is inadequate, it is extremely rigorous and involves security checks by various agencies that can take up to two years. An October 2015 analysis by Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute found that of 784,000 refugees resettled to the US since 2001, just three had been arrested for plotting extremist activities (two were not planning an attack in the US and the plans of the third were “barely credible”). “The refugee resettlement programme is the least likely avenue for a terrorist to choose,” concluded Newland.
Talk of a refugee or migration crisis became synonymous with images of Syrian families on Greek beaches and columns refugees in the Balkans. Countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon that had been absorbing large numbers of refugees for years certainly didn’t view Europe’s predicament as a crisis. Nor did African countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, and Chad that have been hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees for years. The European crisis narrative helped populist, right-wing political parties push their anti-immigration agenda.
The EU response has been to announce large amounts of development aid to major countries of origin with the goal of stemming migration. The logic goes that such aid spurs economic development, creating new jobs and reducing the need for people to migrate in search of better opportunities. Migration experts and economists have been making the point for years that this approach goes against all the evidence that development tends to spur rather than reduce migration as more people have the resources (and aspirations) needed to fund the journey to Europe or elsewhere. Packages of development aid and trade deals are offered only in return for countries’ cooperation in implementing more stringent migration controls.
The UK’s right-wing claims that migrants are coming to the country primarily to take advantage of its social services (otherwise known as “benefit tourism”) have little basis in reality. In many countries, migrants – particularly irregular migrants – have no access to social services. Where they can access the welfare system, they are much less likely to do so than locals, partly because a larger proportion of them are young adults with fewer health and educational needs. A study by University College London found that migrants in the UK contributed significantly more in taxes than they received in social benefits.
In developed countries, especially during periods of economic growth, migrant workers often hold low-skilled, low-paid jobs that natives are unwilling to do. Although competition for such jobs may become fiercer during an economic downturn, immigration can also create jobs by stimulating economic growth, and because migrant-run businesses often employ locals. There is a strong correlation between immigration rates and economic growth rates. When growth and job opportunities slow, so does immigration. The impact refugees and asylum seekers have on labour markets and public spending depends to a large degree on the policies of the host country – how long they must wait before they can legally work, what language and training programmes are available to facilitate integration and employability, and how much support they receive in the form of allowances and housing. An OECD study found that up-front investments in helping refugees integrate are likely to have a long-term pay off as refugees eventually enter the labour market and start making positive contributions to the economy.
The UN and all the NGOs keep calling for a global response as a solution. The only thing stopping it is the political will. It is a perfectly manageable crisis. It is not some insurmountable challenge, not an impossible task. It has been done before.
A million Pied-Noir from Algeria arriving in France, for example. Within days/weeks of Hungarians fleeing the Russian tanks in 1956 and in the 70s the Vietnamese Boat People were farmed out to scores of countries by the receiving nations. With German unification, the “Ossies” migrating to what was West Germany was coped with, an insignificant and barely noticeable small tax was created to help pay for it.
Much of the refugee backlash concentrates on the religion of the refugees. The UK have had Pakistanis and Bangladesh Muslims for decades and now generations. They were never perceived as a threat or a problem until the Middle East wars sparked off militant Islam that fostered islamophobia.
The Socialist Party is heartened by the solidarity shown by many workers across Europe, in welcoming the refugees to their countries. We can only look forward to the day when we do away with all divisions and the conflicts which give rise to the harrowing tragedies we see all around us. Let the concept of one world, one people, become a reality.