Friday, April 06, 2007

Migration benefits all

Migration benefits all
By Edward Mortimer
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: April 6, 2007


Nine percent of people living in the European Union, and 13 percent in the United States, were born abroad. These figures are historic highs, and are likely to go higher still.

Is this a problem? Certainly not for employers, who benefit from a seemingly inexhaustible influx of cheap labor. And not, overall, for either the receiving or the "sending" countries. The latter receive a massive boost to their development through the remittances the migrants send home, while the former get not only a boost to their productivity but also a stimulus to their economy as a whole, since migrants are consumers as well as producers.

Less tangible, but no less important, are the benefits a receiving country derives from a culturally diverse population that includes many resourceful people with links to other parts of the world. Equally important are the benefits that a sending country can derive from a diaspora in the rich, northern world, whose more successful members become investors in - and advocates for - their former homeland. Many such countries are now making it easier for emigrants and their descendants to maintain dual citizenship.

Yet many people in both Europe and North America see the current migration boom as a major crisis. Indeed they have done their best to stop it. Massive fences have been built, not only along the U.S.-Mexican border but also on the Spanish-Moroccan one. The Mediterranean and the European Union's eastern borders - not to mention its airports - are more heavily policed.

The northern world should be grateful to the migrants who nonetheless keep on coming - often paying extortionate fees to smugglers and cramming themselves into small, unseaworthy boats, or stifling sealed compartments in the bottom of trucks. They form the great army of "illegals" who clean offices, wash dishes in restaurants and care for many children or elderly relatives.

These people have effectively no rights - since they cannot challenge ill-treatment by employers or landlords without risking deportation. Most of us in the richer countries manage to ignore this, but we should not. For a society to declare something illegal while taking advantage of it every day, and indeed depending on it, is not only unethical but incoherent. It brings the law into disrepute and effectively cedes control of immigration policy to smugglers and traffickers.

Immigrants are now appearing in large numbers in countries or states that are not used to them. Spain, which 10 years ago was still a country of net emigration, now has 4.5 million immigrants, the largest figure for any country outside the United States.

It is in countries like Spain, where national identity has become part of the debate; many say it is incumbent upon the immigrants to adapt.

But identity is not timeless or unchanging. Today's Americans and Europeans are different, in many ways, from those who fought in World War II. The absorption or inclusion of immigrants is one factor of change, and it cannot be a one-way-process.

Americans may find that easier to do because the United States is a nation consciously formed by successive waves of immigrants, and has a ready-made set of gestures and symbols by which citizens of different origin bind themselves together. In Europe, by contrast, public expressions of patriotism tend to be frowned on, because they recall the nationalisms that engendered two world wars.

Also, a high proportion of immigrants in Europe come from Muslim countries. Violent acts by extremists - the July 7 bombings in London, the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands - and wholly nonreligious riots by ghettoized and marginalized young people in France, have led many Europeans to fear an Islamic takeover of their societies, and to ask whether it is possible for Muslims to be European.

But that, says Tariq Ramadan, the well-known advocate of a moderate, "European" Islam, "is a too-late question." Already millions of Muslims have been born within the Union and grown up as Europeans. It cannot be in anyone's interest to make them feel unwanted.

Edward Mortimer, formerly chief speechwriter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is now senior vice president and chief program officer of the Salzburg Seminar.


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