News / A connected, compassionate society is needed to handle migration challenges

A connected, compassionate society is needed to handle migration challenges



30 / 09 / 15

Phil-Champain-portrait-200x200Phil Champain, 3FF Director

So we are still talking about migration and refugees. The media story has progressed from immediate reactions to the sad and moving picture of Alan Kurdi being held by a Turkish police officer, to the decision by the EU to implement a quota system for absorbing a calculated 160,000 refugees, and the UK government’s agreement (whilst staying out of the EU deal) to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020 (Jordan has 600,000). This is, of course, not a solution. There will be further chapters.

It is not a solution because whilst responses so far have been framed in terms of the localised responsibilities of nation states, the problem is global in nature. The flow of an increasing number of individuals and families seeking safety and opportunity will present an increasing challenge to the moral and practical feasibility of rich nation states managing the numbers they will ‘allow in.’

War and conflict in ‘fragile states’ remains a major push factor, whilst global inequality makes Europe and the USA major pull factors. We need to recognise these two interconnected issues if we are to entertain the idea of effectively managing what Angela Merkel regards as ‘the issue that will define this decade’. Not an easy task I hear you say.

Well, no it’s not. There are a growing number of international migrants. The 200 million today, up from 70 million in 1970, are likely to continue to grow due to a fragile zone of peace, particularly from Syria (despite a reduction of wars from 50 in 1990 to 30 in 2010 more recent evidence points to a bottoming out of this trend); rising inequality (half the world’s population lives on less than $3 per day); and the lack of preparedness in Europe (between 2002 and 2014 the EU spent $2bn on security defences and border controls while the UK pulled out of operation Mare Nostrum aimed at preventing ‘survival migrants’ drowning at sea, but little on preparing for settling these people).

But, what if we tap into what J.P. Lederach calls the ‘moral imagination’ and try to reframe what seems at face value to be an intractable problem?

Consider these two points. First, despite the relative paucity of research into the economic impacts of migration, the evidence that does exist indicates that it has very few adverse effects on UK communities. Research also shows that when allowed to integrate into the workforce, migrants do this quickly and put more into the social system than they extract from it. This is particularly significant given UK’s ageing population.

Second, even if the EU accepted all 4m refugees from Syria and 100% were Muslim, the rise in the proportion of Muslims in Europe would only rise by 1% (from 4% to 5%). And for those fearing sustained high birth rates amongst the Muslim population, it has also been proven that birth rates decline with rising standards of living and education. Syrians are highly educated and birth rates in Syria before the current conflict were decreasing.

The EU is wealthy and well organised, with mature democracies and industries, has much to gain by handling the crisis and has no reason to fear being ‘overrun by Muslims’. So why do we fear it? Our fear is arguably fed by an ongoing deficit in the connectivity across class, race, faith and identity that we need for real understanding of difference and the riches it can bring. We can be either celebrity millionaires or gang members in Stockwell. Parallel lives lead to misunderstanding, stereotyping and poor policy making.

We need to connect in the right way. Which gives credence to the well-touted quote from the UK’s Diversity Group – ‘If diversity is the mix, inclusion is making the mix work’. Difference is not the issue in this sense. It’s finding ways to connect the different categories of our diverse society in ways which work best for us all. If we knew how to do this then perhaps we would be able to manage the current refugee crisis with the humility, compassion and foresight that it requires.

And if we managed to do this, by becoming more connected rather than more divided, then we would be acting in a way that is arguably compatible with finding ways to stop the violence that continues to devastate so many peoples’ lives in Syria, pushing then out of their homes and communities to faraway places. This compatibility lies in the search for the richness that come from difference, from the embracing and trusting of difference, and from finding ways to harness diversity to tackle the common interests that we all value – safety, education, employment, fairness and justice.

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