Asylum Seekers - Mutual Benefits But Not Without its Problems

The mass migration of asylum seekers into Europe represents the largest group of displaced people since the Second World War. UNHCR numbers of global displaced people hit 59.5 million people in 2015, the highest on record. This year alone more than 750,000 people have migrated to Europe seeking asylum from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia.

Immigration regularly tops the list of European voters concerns. Far-right political parties are gaining ground, playing on voter’s fears. Neo-Nazi groups in Germany have torched asylum seeker hostels and a Swedish coalition government was elected in 2015 on a platform of anti-immigration. Ollie Immonen, a Finnish MP called recently for voters to “Defeat this nightmare called multiculturalism”.

Countries are less welcoming than they were after World War II. Upcoming elections in France and the US drive the discussion. Political soundbites such as “Turn Back The Boats” aim to dehumanise and oversimplify what is a human, multilateral and global problem. Fears of terrorism, polarised minority governments and sluggish economies still licking their wounds after the Global Financial Crisis make countries more inwardly-focused. After the terrible attacks in Paris, voters are right to be concerned. Though as European winter approaches hundreds of thousands of people are looking for sanctuary. These people are here and more are coming.

As nationalism and anti-asylum rhetoric increases it is worth considering the mutual benefit that exists for both asylum seekers and sponsoring countries.

Countries within Europe and other developed nations face a fast-ageing population. Within 10 years Europe’s labour force will be shrinking while Africa’s is on track to grow 3 times that of Europe by 2050. Developing economies are facing a double-effect of declining tax revenues amid rising health care spending. Germany, with one of the world’s lowest birth rates, has been quick to see the opportunity.

Large cities such as New York, London and Vancouver are examples where high immigration has led to economic success. Tanzania, with an average income one fiftieth of Europe, has for years hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees from Congo and Burundi. Studies find refugees to be on the whole entrepreneurial, keen to work and less likely to commit serious crimes. Many of those from Syria are young, educated and possessing skills and training. Contrary to an often-held view, migrants increase GDP and create jobs through boosting consumption and innovation - one person’s spending is another’s paycheck.

Many asylum seekers aspire to one day return to their home countries, taking with them skills, connections and cultural awareness. Such knowledge increases entrepreneurism and trade flows between the two countries. Much has been written of the importance of such cultural knowledge driving trade among ethnic Chinese living in other countries.

Challenges exist to be sure. Vetting the backgrounds of so many asylum seekers is time-consuming and extremely difficult. Many European countries aside from Germany lack the social and institutional infrastructure to process and integrate such large numbers of asylum seekers. Finland represents a good example of successful integration with a history of anti-discrimination legislation, language and support centres. Creating the infrastructure to integrate large numbers of asylum seekers will be a costly exercise.

How to slow the numbers of asylum seekers? It won’t happen anytime soon. While large disparities exist between Europe and its poorer southern neighbours people will naturally seek a safer, better future. With young populations, shattered economies and no jobs people do what they must. However it is important to consider the long-term benefits to sponsoring countries, economies and trade. And that these are people too.

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