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