Thursday, 15 September 2016

Dealing with the migrant crisis

Refugees, immigrants and migrants. The nomenclature keeps changing, yet the reality of millions of people fleeing war and poor economic conditions continues, stoking anger. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The media seems to have settled on “migrants” as a politically neutral term for the individuals. Although a fraction qualify for refugee status, a large chunk are actually economic travellers looking for better jobs and who took advantage of the refugee influx to seek a financially better life. “Migrant” as a catch-all term for this isn’t so bad, even if it’s a bit disingenuous.

The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all resettled thousands of these people. But European politics are showing signs of stress from public frustration at what many consider an uncontrolled immigration policy. Even the UK is talking of building a wall near Calais to stem illegal migrant flow.

Nevertheless, the hundreds of thousands of people moving westwards from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia in the past year is slowing, both due to a clever EU/Turkey border deal (in which one unverified migrant is swapped for a vetted migrant) and the present tenuous ceasefire in Syria.

The ceasefire was achieved after months of negotiations and takes effect this week. It comes a week after an encirclement of the rebel-held northern city of Aleppo by regime forces. Now a ceasefire gives all sides time to rearm and consolidate their respective fighting positions for when fighting inevitably breaks out again.

Other countries in the region teeter towards fragmentation. The only forces fighting for the concept of “Iraq” or “Libya” are the US and international forces. Everyone else in those geographical representations are organising their future borders at the tip of an assault rifle.

All of which suggests the “migrant” “problem” will continue for some time yet. And aside from declaring martial law or building thousands of miles of unpopular walls, there is little Europe or other Western destinations, including New Zealand, can – or will – do about the pool of new people arriving in their countries.

Actually, the incentive is to open the borders wider. Considering their woeful demography, an injection of (mostly) healthy and able-bodied workers into advanced countries such as Germany is a political and economic no-brainer. German birth rate last year fell lower that of even the notorious demographic lightweight Japan to 1.4 births per woman. Replacement rate, remember, is 2.1.

A 20-year-old migrant enters an advanced country entirely skipping the heavy state expenses of birth and childhood, and enters in the middle of the person’s prime consumption and production years. From the state’s perspective, a couple million such people spread around demographically dying countries is the equivalent of printing money. And yet it isn’t all proving so smooth.

In the past year, the reaction from natives in the destination countries has been harsh. Claims of racism are thrown about, often without good reason, but sometimes accurately. Political parties campaigning on promises to put a tourniquet on immigration are gaining power in many countries, although again, at the expense of governments with open-border ideals.

So if neither ceasefires nor tighter immigration rulebooks can deter or remove the migrant crisis, and many leaders, including New Zealand’s, are likely to encourage more people to migrate to their countries, is this ballooning into a threat worth worrying about?

Perhaps. But the destination countries are “advanced” for a reason. Each has a robust framework of institutions and mechanisms to cope with the fundamental problem of government: what must be done with all these people? Western countries have been dealing with this problem for hundreds of years, and there’s no reason they can’t deal with it this time around.

The new people represent different cultures, sometimes radically different (in every sense of the word). They bring with them alien ideas, values and desires often antithetical to western ethics. But ideas, values and desires are all malleable. The transition period may be tumultuous but if there’s one task the west is excellent at, it is convincing other people that the west is best. The job is mostly done before they reach our shores: why else would they travel westwards in the first place?

Facing all these new folk, western leaders should be as warm and receptive as humanly possible. St Francis of Assisi would be a good role model. It is perfectly possible to connect the triangle of boosting economic output, embracing desperate people and securing western societies.

But the moment a leader finishes their welcoming speech they should immediately turn to their security agencies, media, universities and other social machinery to say, “Make sure nothing bad happens.”

No comments: