ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE OF MIGRATION – People will still continue to die in the Mediterranean

– Marco Carvalho

Large-scale migration is one of the most topical issues of our time and it has also evolved to be one of strongest points of Pope Francis’ pontificate. The Holy Father weighed in on the question of migration by calling European leaders to show “concrete solidarity” towards those fleeing poverty and persecution. The Pope has made the immigration question a hallmark of his five-and-a half year pontificate, by urging nations to open their hearts and their lands to those seeking a better life, but two main issues remain. Millions of persons will try to enter Europe or the United Stated in the short and middle term in spite of the physical and political firewalls that have been built during the last few years. On the other hand, most of the integration policies that exist nowadays in most European countries are deficient and ineffective: strong social benefits for migrants, multicultural policies and fast naturalization, social scientists have discovered, do not further integration.

The issue of migration set the tone of the latest debate promoted by the Macau Ricci Institute, with Swiss economists Margit Osterloh and Bruno S Frey introducing a novel, pragmatic and potentially powerful vision of migration rights, one in which European states might respond to the current, enduring crisis by conditioning admission on the payment of an entry fee. O CLARIM spoke with Margit Osterloh. The Swiss-German economist says migrants will continue to die in the Mediterranean if nothing is done.

Your proposal is very pragmatic, in the sense that it makes the migrant an active part in the migration process. A migrant won’t have to risk his life crossing the Mediterranean in order to legally enter Europe. In your model, you suggest the migrants should pay first and then be offered the opportunity to improve their life condition. Could this model have real acceptance in today’s Europe?

At the moment, and talking about the European Union (EU), I see a lot of difficulties. To have a joint decision involving all the member countries would be very unlikely. It would be very difficult to reach such a consensus. In future times, if the European Union becomes a little bit less divided than it is today, maybe this model could have a real chance to be adopted. In countries that are not members of the EU, like Switzerland or Norway, the chances might be somehow better because they are more autonomous. The EU countries are not fully autonomous because there are a lot of treaties with the EU that have to be taken into account.

Nevertheless, the Swiss model has already succeeded fairly well. Most of the migrants that have entered Switzerland in recent years are active contributors to the Swiss economy and most of them are well integrated. Twenty years ago, Switzerland faced its very own “refugee crisis” when it received a lot of people coming from former Yugoslavia …

That was in 1996 and those people were integrated quite well. Today, Switzerland has a great geographical advantage. It is not surrounded by the sea. It is surrounded by other countries and accordingly to the Dublin Regulation, the Swiss authorities can push back the migrants to Italy, to France and to other countries. Therefore, Switzerland has much fewer problems than the countries which are at the border of the Mediterranean Sea. They don’t suffer so much as these other nations.

We are talking, nevertheless, about a continent  – Europe – which faces an eminent demographic crisis. If we look at your own nation, Germany … Germany is a country that is growing old. If it wants to keep itself as the powerhouse of Europe, it will have necessarily  to import workers …

As I mentioned, in Germany we are discussing at the moment whether asylum seekers should be given the opportunity to work in Germany, even those who would never be granted that status. Everybody knows that if asylum seekers are allowed to work they will not go back to their home countries. In Germany that’s the case because the unemployment rate is very, very low and they need new workers very urgently. The situation is completely different in Greece, in Italy, in France where unemployment rate is very, very high. In these countries, asylum seekers or, let’s say low-skilled workers, are not welcome in the same way as they are in Germany.

Religion and culture can be an issue? Even though some of these countries need workers and need a fresh labor force, we have seen a lot of xenophobic movements arising …

We are witnessing the same trend in Germany. In Germany there’s a right wing party, a party that I would call fascist – the AfD – Alternative fur Deutschland – and they are strongly against all kinds of migrants, be they Turk, be they African or be they Bosnian. This anti-migrant movement is rising in Germany: the party has gained in some of the states up to 25 percent of votes. This is a big problem in Germany as well. It’s not as urgent as in others countries because the unemployment rate is low. Of course, in contrast to the refugee movement from Yugoslavia, at the end of the Yugoslavian war, the cultural gap between the migrants that came to Germany at that time and the young men that are now coming over from Afghanistan or North Africa is much bigger now because they are not accustomed, for instance, to the role women play in our countries, they do not treat women in the same way we would like them to do. There’s another big problem: a high percentage of migrants, from northern Africa, from Afghanistan, are young men. The percentage of young male migrants is about 70 to 80 per cent. That’s a big problem, if we have in mind that their culture is very distinct from our culture.

What would you say are the big advantages of the model that you and professor Bruno S Frey propose? One of them is the fact that the migrant has a say in his own destiny, by paying directly to the receiving state instead of paying to smugglers or criminal networks …

The main advantage is that they don’t have to risk their lives in the Mediterranean Sea or somewhere else. On the other hand, they will be aware of the level of calculated risk they are facing: even if they take a loan to be able to pay the entrance fee, if they work hard, if they learn something in their home country that they can apply in the receiving country, they will have some perspectives. Today, they don’t have that many perspectives. They will stay two or three years in a asylum hom, they are not allowed to work and they don’t have the perspective of being allowed to stay. A very high percentage is not granted asylum status, but they don’t go back. They disappear in illegality, which is not a nice existence. They can’t work there and they are forced only to depend on themselves.

For the receiving state, it would be a less expensive model than the one prevailing nowadays …

I think so. First of all, because they would get some money that would allow them to provide the infrastructures the migrants need. On the other hand, if the migrants are allowed to work immediately, they are better integrated. They will have an incentive to learn the language, they will have an incentive to work hard. At the moment, these incentives don’t exist at all. They stay for two or three years in asylum seeking shelters, spaces which can be very comfortable in Germany and in Switzerland as well. There’s no pressure to work and to integrate: they don’t learn the language, they don’t learn any skills and, as I had the opportunity to mention, the empirical comparison between different European countries, with different social systems, makes it very, very clear that the better the social security system is for the migrants, the less integrated they are. Integration is the biggest problem. Xenophobia is nourished by migrants that don’t make a real effort to integrate.

A significant  proportion of the migrants that reach Europe, mainly those coming from Afghanistan and a few African countries,  don’t have any sort of qualification. You were mentioning the needs of the health sector in Germany, but those need require qualified workers. Can this be an issue?

This is definitely an issue. At the moment, Europe is receiving migrants from different countries and the qualifications that these migrants have differ from country to country. Iraqi migrants, in general, are better educated than those coming from Afghanistan, which are mostly illiterate. Of course, if the European countries could opt, they would welcome more and better the educated ones. But, as I told you, if a non-educated person, let me say from Northern Africa or from Senegal … Senegal is my favourite example: Senegal is nominally a democratic country and in Senegal you can educate yourself and you can get what we consider a good education, but they don’t because the perspective and the probability of someone from Senegal being accepted as an asylum seeker is very, very low. As it seems, they don’t have any interest in learning anything else other than drug dealing.

The model that you propose is a cooperative one and cooperation is a keyword in this sense. You were saying that the receiving country should be responsible by administering this sort of cooperative effort.  Couldn’t this create the same kind of bureaucracy that we are witnessing right now? Couldn’t this evolve to the model that we have already in Australia or in Canada? These countries are not entirely closed to migration, but they handpick the migrants they are willing to receive. Couldn’t this evolve in that direction?

There’s a big difference between a point system and our system. Canada and Australia apply a point system and there’s a huge bureaucracy that decides who will get this point or that point and that will create even a bigger bureaucracy. The market, in general, does not work without any bureaucracy, but it is quite clear that the market system needs less bureaucracy than a planned system. So …

As you were saying, you don’t see the European Union willing to adopt this kind of model in the next few years, but do you believe that countries like Switzerland or Norway, for instance, could look at the model that you propose with the purpose of making it work?

Probably, during my lifetime I will not experience it. The idea that the migrants should pay a price to be allowed to enter some countries is still too shocking for many people. I am not very optimistic. I believe it takes time for a good idea to breakthrough and you have to argue and argue. The problem is huge and the challenges will become even more problematic. As I mentioned, the only solution was if the GDP per capita in the countries of origin would grow to a level it could become sustainable. We all wish the GDP per capita of these countries can grow, but this will not decrease the migration pressures, unless it grows to more than 8,000 dollars a year. Until this point is reached, the migration pressure will keep increasing and we have to take that into account.

People will still continue to die in the Mediterranean then …

Yes. People will  still continue do die in the Mediterranean and we should take that into account.  We should see what alternatives are there. The second really important message I would want to leave has to do with mobility. If people go forth and back, if they are free to come in and out, after 10 to 12 years, fifty per cent of them would go home again. This is a given fact by all those who have done empirical work on migration. This would really decrease migration pressures. Meanwhile, hopefully, many of them would have learned something in our countries.

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