The presidential campaign in France has predictably focused, once again, on the issue of migration. Migrants represent approximately 11% of the French population. Many, if not most, have come from countries with a long and strong political and economic link with France. Most have probably seen France in a quasi-motherland manner. They, like migrants everywhere, are contributing to the social and economic development of France. Some are highly skilled physicians, nurses, engineers, lawyers, schoolteachers and others who quickly move in to stable and relatively well paying job situations. Others are less skilled and are taking jobs that nationals are increasingly reluctant to take on. As such, a large proportion of migrants in France, just as in other European countries, have today become the anonymous, easily forgotten workers who keep economies functioning and do so from behind the scenes.
The perennial concern in France about migrants is not unique to France alone but it is nevertheless visceral and prominent in political discussions. Every presidential candidate has felt it expedient to take up this theme and, with a few variations, essentially attempts to appeal to the masses by stating that France neither wants nor needs nor can further accommodate more migrants. The reality, of course, is that almost every European country has now come to terms with the fact that in a continent of dramatically falling fertility rates, migrants represent a lifeline for the economy. Without this substantial segment of the workforce many industries will become less efficient, but more importantly, in the absence of tax paying migrants, the social security systems of Europe will have a short shelf-life. It is speculated that the day will soon come when contributions to pension scheme by nationals are so restricted that future generations will simply not be able to draw on them.
In Germany where the proportion of migrants is higher than that of France, there has been little evidence of a politicization of the phenomenon. While this is not to say that foreign-born people in Germany are by any means more integrated or accepted; politicians have seen it fit not to focus political debates on or around them. There are many good reasons for following the German model.
Migration is a complex phenomenon and people who move; be it for economic or political security reasons are pressured in many psychological ways. There are many reasons that contribute to the constant outflux and influx of people from one place to another. These reasons are usually beyond their scope of control, rendering them to leave behind family, friends and cultures.
Politicization of migration and migrants does little more than force this essential population further on the margin of mainstream society. It increases their stress and anxiety and we know it makes them all the more vulnerable to a wide range of physical and mental health problems. If Europe is to avoid creating a marginalized and frustrated ghetto population who feel they are not wanted but know they’re needed, it must stand back and decide where it is heading with this phenomenon. Is Europe prepared to deal with a massive and detrimental fall in the size of its population? Is it willing to move forward and create a cohesive, productive and socially constructive Europe? If the latter choice is the aim then politicization of a process that has characterized every period in history and will have to come to an end and politicians will have no choice but to engage in more responsible and constructive political debates.
By: Manuel Carballo
Posted in Asylum seekers, forced migration, International Centre for Migration Health and Development, Migrants, Migration, Politics
Tagged European Union, France, Germany, Immigration, Lampedusa, List of sovereign states and dependent territories in Europe, Politics, United States
Asylum seeking is not new, and is in principle governed by well established and ratified international laws and principles. People have been fleeing persecutions of one kind or another for centuries and the world has seen fit to codify how to respond to this. Legislation apparently has not made it any easier. In a recent article from Canada, Anabelle Nicoud (La Presse, February 6th 2012
) has highlighted some of the problems asylum seekers arriving in Canada are encountering, and what in turn, the cost of these problems are to the state. She refers specifically to the arrival in August 2011 of 492 Sri Lankans who were handcuffed on arrival and then incarcerated for about 3 ½ months during which time their cases were estimated at a cost to the state of 22 million Canadian dollars.
In Switzerland, 2012 has started out with highly publicized concerns about the growing number of asylum seekers arriving in the country (a 45% increase since 2010) and the unwillingness and/or inability of some local authorities to accommodate them. Last week, 400 residents of Pully, a small relatively well-to-do town close to Lausanne, met to protest the idea of opening an underground civil protection shelter to hold 50 asylum seekers. Civil defense facilities have been increasingly dedicated to housing asylum seekers in Switzerland, and most recently a psychiatric institution has been partially given over to the task as well.
In 2011 the 27 EU countries, with a total population of over 500 million people, received some 66,000 asylum seekers applications. Insignificant as this number may seem, asylum seekers have nevertheless become a major political, social and economic challenge in the EU as elsewhere. Why this should be so is not clear. Most EU countries (as well as Canada) receiving asylum seekers are ageing quickly and in need of new human resources. Theoretically these countries would benefit from employing young able bodied people who clearly want to be socially and economically integrated. Doing so would also help to cut the cost of the prolonged administrative procedures that prevent asylum seekers from quickly inserting themselves, working, paying taxes and contributing socially.
Employing asylum seekers would also help to raise self-esteem. Fleeing from persecution is never easy and most asylum seekers suffer from trauma and a perceived sense of powerlessness and loss of control. Typically homesick, anxious and depressed because of what they have gone through and the people they have left behind, asylum seekers are fragile. Fear of not being able to meet the often complex and unclear legal/administrative requirements of the countries they arrive in is erosive of both their physical and psychological health, which is again a cost to the state. In the EU where of the 55,000 decisions taken on asylum seekers in the first quarter of 2011, only 1 in 4 were positive, and the administrative process can take years.
Much could be gained by if governments would recognize the potentially positive impact of quickly integrating asylum seekers in the community. The global number of asylum seekers is small and the world has already defined their rights. People fleeing persecution and threats to their lives deserve better, and we should never lose sight of the fact that although some people are clearly more at risk than others, we are ultimately all at risk if becoming asylum seekers.
by Manuel Carballo
Posted in Asylum seekers, forced migration, International Centre for Migration Health and Development, Migration, Politics
Tagged Canada, health, Human migration, illegal migration, International Centre for Migration Health and Development, La Presse, Migrants, Refugee, Switzerland