With tensions over the issue of migration running higher than ever, Catherine Wihtol de Wenden believes the solution does not lie in a security-oriented approach. Making it easier for people to move around would make development fairer for all.
Do you share the view that immigration is a factor in development?
Yes. Migration makes a key contribution to the development of migrants’ home countries. According to a recent World Bank report, in 2018, migrants sent US $529 billion to their countries of origin–3 times the total amount of foreign aid. These funds account for significant local spending power and can be seen as a sort of “insurance” for families living in countries where insecurity affects all aspects of life, from business to health and politics. Money from migration therefore serves as a “safety valve”. However, we do not want such funds to be their only resource, just as aid cannot be the sole resource of developing countries.
Managing migratory flows was a key issue in the last European elections. What response can be offered against a backdrop of growing populism?
It will take time… Far-right parties use the topic of immigration to win over voters. The issue is exploited as the public can be taken in by false political arguments and threats that are blown out of proportion. There is little education about migrants, the history of migration and our relations with others, which leaves room for portrayals and fabrications that bear no relation to reality. But, over time, reality will win out. Population decline in Europe means that migration is vital to meeting the future needs of the labor market. Many countries with aging populations, such as Germany, Italy and even our neighbors in central Europe, will come to realize this, even if they are not sympathetic at the moment.
Feelings around this issue are running high.
There are upsetting episodes, but migrants have always ended up being accepted. Take Italian immigration to France. This was a hugely complicated issue in the late 19th and 20th centuries, but these days no one bats an eye. Stereotypes always rear their head, whatever the nationality of migrants and their host countries, they are inevitable. But there is undoubtedly a dialogue between communities that live together and, over time, things evolve.
Does the way in which migration is portrayed prevent it from contributing to development?
Yes. Our vision of our countries and identities often limits opportunities for new arrivals, who are subject to some degree of vilification. Without this glass ceiling, France and Europe could get much more from immigration, while developing countries would also see greater benefits as their diaspora would have a better standard of living.
Can the way in which migration is portrayed be changed in the short term?
There is always much resistance and this often stems from ignorance. What is needed, first and foremost, is education and better information, if we are to move away from a purely populist approach and grasp the facts. The vast majority of migrants come to Europe to work, not to profit from welfare benefits or impose sharia law, as some–unfortunately–think.
Secondly, we need to understand that development is, in essence, a factor in mobility and migration. A migrant is not someone who goes to live somewhere forever. People come and go. Education makes us more mobile and encourages us to travel more. With city dwellers on the increase and improvements in education provision, those from developing countries will become more and more like us and will want to travel.
Those in power also need to be careful that their foreign policy or economic decisions do not have a detrimental effect on migratory flows.
The international community often approaches the topic of migration from the perspective of humanitarian aid, rather than that of cooperation.
And yet it is all interdependent. The negotiations over raw materials currently under way at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are destabilizing certain countries, while military action in the Middle East is forcing millions from their homes… As I see it, there is also a stark contradiction between the principle of the market economy upheld by developed countries and their highly security-oriented approach to migration. If we had a truly liberal view of the world, people would be able to move as freely as goods.
We are seeing tensions rise over the issue of border control. This is a serious and worrying development, one that means we lack foresight on these issues. It took the refugee crisis of 2015 to force the international community to agree to the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) in Marrakech. The right to migrate has not been made a human right, but it is a pressing issue given the inequalities that exist–deliberately or otherwise-in migration law at global level.
We talk about “migrant crises”. Is migration in essence a phenomenon brought about by crisis that brings with it undesirable consequences?
No. We need to listen to reason. Immigration is normal; it is not dangerous. It is a part of life. The world has been built on successive waves of migration. Imagine if people were unable to move around. The consequences for the economy and our security would be catastrophic! We would condemn young people in developing countries to remain in undemocratic states, which could give rise to more serious violence.
We all have an interest in making it easy for people to move between countries. Can you imagine a world in which only those living in developed countries could move around as they pleased, for business or pleasure, while those from developing, and even emerging, countries would be forced to stay put or go back to their home countries? We need to wake up to the fact that we cannot stop migration and that it can have a positive effect. Harmonizing the legislation of different countries seems an obvious way forward and top of the agenda should be how we deal with those displaced by environmental disasters, who currently have no status.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.