Shooting Europe in the Foot: Europe’s Migration Migraine (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago,we at ICMHD touched on the growing tendency for politicians to use the theme of migration in their campaigns and, more often than not, blaming migrants for many of the ills facing countries in this time of economic hardship. This diversion could easily cast a shadow on the numerous opportunities available for constructive national social and economic development and at the same time it could directly erode the health of the migrants populations.

In many ways Europe is at crossroads. Demographers and economists largely agree that falling fertility rates, a rapidly aging population, and the growing lack of interest of nationals in occupations they no longer see as financially or socially attractive is creating major challenges to development.  At a time when fewer young people are available to the economic market place and when a larger proportion of national budgets will inevitably be allocated to the care of the elderly, Europe is increasingly finding itself unable to maintain its social security systems and economic competitiveness.

If Europe pragmatically is to prosper socially and economically it must take up this challenge and proactively develop policies and programs designed to attract, absorb and integrate people in ways that will maintain the social capital base the continent needs to achieve these goals.

To date most European countries have done little to integrate migrants. Few have provided migrants with incentives to learn host languages and even fewer have developed outreach programs to incrementally transition migrants to link with the history and values of host societies.  Urban planning and housing schemes have rarely been designed to encourage physical integration and prevent the concentration of ethnic minorities in ghettos. Instead Europe has taken a laissez-faire approach to migration presumably assuming that with time newcomers are automatically absorbed into host societies.

Today many European countries are faced with ethnic minority communities characterized by poor socioeconomic profiles, limited educational and occupational mobility and poor health profiles and, increasinglysocio-political instability.

The response from many politicians has been to talk in sweeping ways about the negative impact of migrants and suggest that the answer is to radically cut the number of newcomers. Instead the time has come for European countries to step back and analyze what type of society they want and what they are willing to do to encourage and facilitate a true absorption and integration of the new people they so desperately need. Isolation is not a valid option in the world we live in today.

We would like to know your thoughts on the specific issue of how you view national European immigration policies and their effects on migrants’ health. Please feel free to share and comment!

Manuel Carballo

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2 responses to “Shooting Europe in the Foot: Europe’s Migration Migraine (Part 2)

  1. From the 80s trade became increasingly freer than migration while the western world embraced the neo liberal model. European emigration diminished and, especially from the 1980s and 1990s, the main migration flow switched to south-north flows (Latin America, Asia and Africa to Europe and the US). In this context labour capital faced a drop in freedom of movement as politicians, labour unions and policy makers’ attitudes towards immigration fluctuated between economic boom and crisis. Today migration is a worldwide common phenomenon, with approximately 215 millions migrants.

    Affected by economic recession, nationalism, and racism, national politicians are nowadays making immigration a cornerstone of public debate. The last financial crisis narrowed down the possibilities to immigrate in the developed world and several countries activated plans to encourage migrants to return to their countries of origin.
    From Australia to Denmark, Italy to Switzerland, US to the Nederland, electoral campaigns present a strong focus on migration. Between major parties and coalitions there is a trend towards blaming immigrants “for disrupting civil society, draining public coffers, and lowering wages, among other woes”. Since 2008 Spain and the Czech Republic are strongly encouraging migrants to return to their countries of origin; the latter offers free transportation and a repatriation bonus of 500 Euros per adult and 250 Euros per child to surrender Czech documents. Similarly since 2009 Japan offers US$ 3,000 toward airfare, plus US$ 2,000 for each dependent of Latin-American descent to return to their countries of origin (western Europe already tried these techniques in the 70s without any success). The UK government suspended the employment of non- EU workers for unskilled occupations, another example is the Korean government, who offered wage subsidies to those companies who replaced migrant workers with Koreans ones. In 2009 the Obama administration passed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that included a provision, in effect for two years, titled “Employ American Workers Act”, which conditionalized founds to companies assisted by the Troubled Assets Relief Programme (TARP) on hiring national workers before recruiting foreign workers with H-1B status.

    Migration in economic crisis contexts is therefore often seen as something to repulse in the western world. The risk that could rise is when anything related to migration is repulsed. Even when that ‘something’ related to migration is health.

    Policy-makers are often forgetting, for instance, that the relation between the time spent by an average immigrant in the job market and the time spent as a pensioner is around four time economically more sustainable than the time-¬relation of European citizens. Relatively, immigrants in retire age in the EU are approximately between seven and ten time less than locals, becoming net fiscal contributors.
    This leads me to think that healthy migrant means wealthy economy.

    The 2008 global financial crisis hit the developed world in a much greater measure than have hit oil wealthy countries and emerging societies. As migration redistribute itself where economic growth occurs, emerging countries are becoming new centres of gravity that draw in labour migrants. Even China, traditionally sending countries, started working on immigration policy after realising the surplus brought by migrants. Countries that understood this are going to take care of migrants’ health. And this leads me to my final consideration:
    Will emerging countries become the avant-garde of migration health and related policies?

  2. Europe is faced with a dilemma of values, it is easy to espouse human rights in a homogeneous society, true colors begin to show as societies lose their homogeneity and become diverse.

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