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Growth and the Migration Factor
By Brigitte Granville

Wars and natural disasters have always forced people to cross political borders to seek safety and a better life. But whether they are well-received when they reach their destination depends on a confluence of political, social, economic, and geographic factors.

Forced to choose a single factor driving the development of human societies, students of world history would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than migration. In The Unsettling of Europe, the University of Manchester historian Peter Gatrell suggests that the periods when societies have not been “unsettled” by migration are even shorter and rarer than the intervals between wars.

Of course, war itself has been a major driver of migration throughout history. Within living memory, however, the relationship between the two has changed. The archetype of conquering hordes seeking new lands for settlement and exploitation (with the current inhabitants massacred, expelled, or enslaved) has given way to a pattern of mass displacement as a byproduct of larger conflicts.

In Gatrell’s comprehensive, fascinating, and deeply humane history, the conflict in question is World War II. But armed conflicts remain the single most powerful cause of refugee flows around the world, affecting countries of origin and destination alike. And in The Wealth of Refugees, the University of Oxford’s Alexander Betts proposes an impressively coherent and thoroughly articulated “refugee economics” through which to understand the implications of human displacement.

GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR?

The two books are very different in scope, style, and purpose, and each is rewarding when read on its own. But, read in tandem, the perspective they provide amounts to more than the sum of its parts.

Definitions are a major issue in both works. What makes a migrant or refugee? Attitudes toward immigration often hinge on distinctions like those made by Victorian social reformers between the “deserving poor” and the wretches whom society has deemed unworthy of aid. When it comes to displaced persons in our own times, refugees fall into the “deserving” category, whereas migrants tend to be regarded with suspicion. Migrants’ reasons for moving are often qualified as “economic,” and this justification for crossing borders to seek a new life elsewhere is typically held to be morally inferior to displacement by violent conflict or natural disaster.

The modern concept of a refugee as someone escaping war or persecution was embedded in the system of protections that emerged, under the auspices of the United Nations, to deal with mass displacement
in postwar Europe. Gatrell and Betts both give thorough overviews of this history from their respective vantage points. In Betts’s case, we see how certain distinctions have become blurred.

For example, it is assumed that “migrants” retain the option of returning safely to their homelands. But Betts shows that such safety is increasingly hard to come by. He thus proposes a new category of “survival migration,” arguing that those fleeing failed states – such as contemporary Venezuela or Afghanistan – should be accorded the same status as refugees, who, under international law, may not be deported or forcibly repatriated.

This blurring of categories has created a social and political minefield in many developed countries as they struggle to manage waves of immigrants and asylum seekers. By providing a rich account of the desperation and hardships faced by displaced people, Gatrell helps us rise above the lurid politics of the issue. Through dozens of vivid profiles capturing how people have experienced initially alien environments, and how they have developed a sense of belonging, he shows why people on the move – whatever their reasons – deserve a more sympathetic reception than they tend to receive. It is a fine example of the kind of history writing that bears witness.

As a history that runs to the present, Gatrell’s account also offers fresh perspectives on the political economy of immigration in our own time. He calls our attention, as good history often does, to deep continuities, such as the persistent demand for immigrant labor. From a depopulated Soviet Union’s need for labor after World War II to aging rich countries’ dependence on immigrant labor to fill low-paid jobs today, this has been a pattern across modern economic history.

Another striking continuity is the role of colonial collaborators. Consider the Afghans who worked for the previous US-backed government, and who now must flee from the Taliban. Their situation is eerily similar to Gatrell’s moving account of pro-French “Harkis” who fled retribution at the hands of the National Liberation Front after Algeria won independence.

But equally important are the discontinuities in Gatrell’s historical sweep. Over the past decade, Europe, in its relative tranquility, has experienced immigration on a scale that is typical of all-out war. Some 1.8 million people arrived through Mediterranean crossings between 2014 and 2020, with 16,000 reported dead or missing. Previously comfortable and complacent, Europeans have had to confront the dire realities of the explosive conflicts in Libya, Syria, and other parts of their neighborhood.

Still, only a minority of migrants arriving in Europe have been directly fleeing those conflicts. The majority have come from other failing or failed states such as Afghanistan, or from the Sahel via the Maghreb or the Horn of Africa, aided by smugglers who exploit regional chaos to facilitate their passage.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

The same phenomenon – Betts’s “survival migration” – has also been intensifying in the Western Hemisphere. Migrant flows from Central and South America have leapt to the top of the US domestic political agenda in the past two decades. This part of the broader immigration story demands close economic analysis. In contrast to Gatrell’s history, which doesn’t emphasize any specific historical lessons for today’s policy quandaries, Betts’s work is explicitly geared toward policy recommendations.

His “refugee economics” framework rests on four pillars: ethics, economics, politics, and policy, with the economics pillar supporting “what works to achieve what is right.” His analysis is solidly grounded in empirical studies of large refugee populations in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. It may come as news to some Western readers that these three African countries have taken in more refugees than the entire EU over 2017-20.

As in his previous work, Betts stresses that refugees’ welfare is best served by settling them in neighboring countries. Highlighting Uganda’s successful policies, the chief finding in his new research is that both refugees and the host economy benefit when refugees are allowed to move around freely and seek work.

Betts has many sensible things to say about the role of external financial support from wealthy countries and the use of conditionalities to promote favorable outcomes. “For everyone who cares about refugee protection,” he writes, “denial is not an option.” But while few will disagree with that sentiment, it is easy to see how his rather elaborate policy framework could be weighed down by real-world burdens.

This is not to suggest that any single part of Betts’s agenda is unrealistic. It is not unreasonable to think that political leaders in rich countries should be capable of convincing voters to support increased financial aid for poor countries that are hosting large refugee influxes. While pandemic-related anxieties have led to cuts in development aid budgets in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, there is a strong case to be made for the kind of aid that can prevent future waves of refugees or asylum-seekers.

The more fundamental problem, rather, is that wealthy countries themselves have become economically dysfunctional. The necessary counterpart to the “demand” from displaced persons is the “supply” of effective responses from rich countries. This could take the form of either development assistance to reduce demand at its source, or new frameworks to manage large-scale immigration in more economically and socially sustainable ways. One approach might be to require “economic” migrants to build up a track record of steady employment, language competence, and general assimilation before family reunion visas could be issued.

Yet wrenching adjustments would be needed to wean the US and especially European economies (with their less favorable demographic profiles) off their long-standing reliance on immigrant labor. The European case presents a particularly stark reversal from the postwar conditions that Gatrell describes. It may be hard to imagine now, but Italy and Greece were so overpopulated that the International Committee for European Migration had to arrange for large-scale emigration from those countries to Brazil and Australia, respectively.

BAD HOSTS

Gatrell’s narrative also underscores the decisive role played by economic conditions in recipient countries. One problem (also highlighted by Betts and Paul Collier in an earlier book about refugees) arises when immigrant communities are too large and spatially concentrated to permit smooth assimilation. This risk is widely (though controversially) reckoned to depend on the extent to which an immigrant culture is “alien” to that of the host country.

A conspicuous example is the diaspora from former French colonies in the Maghreb who now live in France. Gatrell cites opinion surveys from as early as 1975 showing that a majority of French people thought that North Africans could not be assimilated, and that their numbers should therefore be reduced. He also describes how immigration rules throughout Western Europe were tightened during the recessions following the 1970s oil-price shocks, and again after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when intensified migration pressures coincided with another economic downturn.

I would draw a sharper conclusion than Gatrell does about the direction of causation in these episodes. During the “glorious” three decades of strong post-war growth, it was easier to manage adverse social reactions to immigration, because many economies enjoyed full employment and broad-based secular improvement in living standards. Growing up in greater Paris during that halcyon age, I remember only harmonious race relations in my school community.

This historical experience shows that the labor market is more important even than schools. In France, the rising unemployment caused by the 1970s stagflation became a chronic problem, with significant implications for attitudes toward immigration. Hence, in 1997, as Gatrell recounts, the French secretary of state for migrant workers, Philippe Deforges, worried that, “When it came to the North Africans, the lump of sugar did not dissolve in the way it should.”

The idea that North Africans are more resistant to assimilation would not have gained such purchase had this concentrated diaspora found its place alongside host communities in a flourishing labor market. Instead of benefiting from available work and rising living standards – the best solvent for “lumps of sugar” – these communities ended up stuck on welfare in urban ghettoes.

The problem certainly isn’t limited to France. The toxic mix of low growth and high unemployment has fueled anti-immigrant resentment across the advanced economies. Populist politicians have exploited the widespread perception that migrants are preying on the welfare state. In countries like the UK, governments pocketed the gains of the additional growth from an influx of working-age immigrants without ensuring a corresponding expansion in public services.

MORBID SYMPTOMS

These economic problems and policy failures were well established by the time the global financial crisis struck in 2008. As Gatrell puts it, that is when “a shadow fell over Europe.” Writing about the intervening years, Gatrell finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish negative attitudes toward migrants (including both the undocumented and asylum seekers) from the more general sense of distrust in the political process. If anything, the shadow of 2008 has lengthened. After a decade and a half of wage stagnation and growing inequalities, Betts’s proposals for promoting refugee self-reliance and social mobility have become equally applicable to native-born low- and middle-income people in rich countries.

Many voters in advanced economies have reacted against the political class either by abstaining from voting or by systematically turning away from traditional mainstream political parties. (Similarly, in the US and the UK, traditional center-right parties have been taken over by insurgents.) The displacement of people thus has not been only geographical. Though migrants still regard the wealthy countries of Europe and North America as desirable destinations, these countries’ own economic and policy shortcomings have produced a growing class of internal exiles.

It is little wonder that this socioeconomic dislocation has found expression in unfavorable attitudes toward culturally distinct immigrants. When it comes to managing migration, as with so many other of the great challenges of our time, Europe and America must follow the old proverb, “Physician, heal thyself.”

(Alexander Betts, The Wealth of Refugees: How Displaced People Can Build Economies, Oxford University Press, 2021 and Peter Gatrell, The Unsettling of Europe: The Great Migration, 1945 to the Present, Allen Lane, 2019.)

Brigitte Granville is Professor of International Economics and Economic Policy at Queen Mary University of London, and the author, most recently, of What Ails France? (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2021).
For Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-ve) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point

For Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-ve) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point

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Information for Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point
Information for Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point
Information for Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point