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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Fearful of.......a radical change, however economically justified

While I find the Economist to be very soft and 'wishy-washy' on many of the important economic topics of the times, there is one controvesial problem on which they have more or less consistently held up the flag of decency and economic common sense: immigration. It is also very interesting to note that the Greek government is proposing to challenge the current 'obsessions'. Actually this does not surprise me, since the Mediterranean countries (with the apparent exception of Italy) seem to be being extremely 'flexible' on the question of undocumented migration. Basically I feel that they are saying the thing they think will go down well in Brussels, and doing another. Undocumented immigration is pouring in like a river right now here in Barcelona, and no-one official seems particularly preoccupied. What concerns me are the inevitable human and social problems that are caused by 'organising' immigration in this way. It is also worth pointing out that undocumented labour cannot be unemployed, since it is: no work, no food, so putting down the problem to fears based on social security sponging seems a little off target. However the question of pushing everybody into becoming an asylum seeker is part of the problem, and typical of far too many Euro-admin solutions. Of course, it is also interesting to note that while so much ink is being spilled on the need to undermine our pensions, and to get us to make all kind of disagreeable sacrifices, an economically coherent policy of encouraged migration is considered simply too 'radical'.

A report published on Tuesday June 10th by the International Organisation for Migration shows that the numbers abandoning their home country in search of a better life elsewhere are soaring: since the mid-1960s the numbers of migrants worldwide has more than doubled to 175m, or almost 3% of the world population.

Across the world, rich countries are struggling with the question of illegal migration, though the reasons why it worries governments differ from country to country. The United States of America was built on immigration and remains relatively open to skilled migrants. Moreover, the country turns a blind eye to huge swathes of illegal immigrants, especially Mexican migrant labourers, who have enough legal compatriots to affect electoral outcomes in key states like California and Texas. Moreover, since America has a more restricted welfare system than those in most European states, there is no feeling that taxpayers’ money is being lavished on asylum-seekers, and thus no widespread resentment that the country’s hospitality is being abused...........

However, it is in Western Europe that the issue of migration is most contentious. Europe needs migrant labour because of its ageing population. Britain’s National Health Service, which is one of the European Union’s largest employers, would collapse were it not for the large numbers of immigrant doctors, nurses and ancillary staff that keep it going. However, despite needing foreign workers, many Western European countries maintain such tough anti-immigration policies that many migrants from poorer countries resort to claiming asylum, seeing it as their best chance of being allowed to stay and work. Because many are not really fleeing persecution, the general perception that many asylum-seekers are “bogus”, in the words of one British politician, is an accurate one. Moreover, the asylum system is hugely expensive: Britain alone spends £3 billion ($5 billion) each year, more than four times the entire budget of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. And many immigrants, particularly Muslims, are seen as not sharing liberal Western values, such as those encouraging the education of women. This feeling of intolerance of others’ perceived intolerance was a main reason for the rise of the late Pim Fortuyn in the usually ultra-liberal Netherlands.

The European Union is trying to work out a coherent immigration policy to be applied across its 15 member states................Greece, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and which therefore largely influences the agenda, has said that it wants the block to abandon its obsession with keeping unwanted migrants out and concentrate on how to attract the workers that its ageing population needs. But many EU leaders will be fearful of the popular backlash that such a radical change, however economically justified, might cause.
Source: The Economist

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