Putrid Smell of Populism Haunts Migration Policies

 

Credit: euronews.net
Credit: euronews.net


IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

BERLIN (IDN) - It may sound naive, but is nonetheless the truth: Migration has been the lot of humankind since the very first man wandered throughout the African savannas some three million years ago. Ever since, migration has been a central component of progress: you cannot conceive the U.S. extraordinary economic growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries without immigration.

Migration has also always constituted a relief valve for distressed societies and individuals -- recall the millions who migrated from Ireland during the great famine that devastated the Green Island in the mid-19th century. Or the migration waves from Europe before, during, and after World War II.

The present African and Asian migration towards Europe is in tune with such historical trends. Of course, governments and societies in Europe can try, and are doing it, to manage this migration and frame it, to avoid human and social catastrophes. But the official and unofficial ways Europe has been dealing with it, mostly through repressive methods, and often inciting racial hatred, is most wrong.

Take the recent mass expulsions carried out by the French government against Romany groups, reinforced this summer. On the one hand, French analysts with good reasons suspect that President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered the spectacular actions to divert attention from corruption and other misdeeds that have eroded his government's and his personal reputation.

That Sarkozy's popularity has somehow reversed the unhopeful trend can be seen as a proof that his diversionist populist strategy is working. France has seen such bouts of racism since 1972 -- when the neo-Fascist party Front National (FN) emerged, only based on nationalist and racist themes. Until recently, the FN has regularly obtained some 15 percent of the votes -- a substantial share of the electorate Sarkozy without doubts aims at with his policies of expulsion of Romany.

On the other hand, however, the measure is perfectly useless and extremely expensive. According to the French government's own figures, each individual expelled from France since 2006 has cost the taxpayers some 20,000 euros. Even if one mistrusts the government's figures as inflated and reduces the estimated cost by half, the expulsions of Romany since 2006 represent some 500 million euros.

Apart from the fact that this money could have been invested in far better measures (for instance, in improving the living conditions of the Romany in France), a second factor confirms the absurdity of the expulsion policies: The number of Romany people living in France remains stable since 2002, when the visa obligation for citizens from Bulgaria and Romania was suppressed. That is, France has spent half a billion euros for aggravating the living conditions of some 10,000 to 15,000 people -- that is the estimated number of Romany living in France -- and for increasing racial hatred, without reaching any effect in reducing that population.

Even though Germany never practised such cynical policies towards migrants, the country's governments since the early 1960s failed systematically to address the problems associated with it -- especially those concerning the education of migrants. Turkish workers and their families, officially referred to as "Gastarbeiter" or "guest workers", were left alone while government officials hoped they would one day go back to where they have come from after they have helped to create the "economic wonder" of the 1960s and 1970s.

State institutions thus helped to create what officials and social scientists and politicians of all colours now and with some dread call "parallel societies". This is an euphemism for the virtual ghettos -- hundreds of thousands immigrants, specially of Turkish origin, who barely speak German and never learned the minimum standards of Western liberal and cultural behaviour, continue to live at the margins of society, both in social, economic, and cultural terms, and to adhere to an ideal, deceitful Turkish identity.

The recent debate on the book by the former member of the German central bank board of directors Thilo Sarrazin on the problems associated with migration -- the book's title is "Germany Abolishes Itself" -- shows edifying similarities to the French policies of expulsion of Romany.

Sarrazin argues that Muslim immigration into Germany is corroding the very base of society, and goes as far as to pretend that intelligence has ethnic and genetic origins. Sarrazin also complaints that poverty and pauperisation are worse among immigrants -- but ignores that some of the poorest districts in the capital Berlin, such as Koepenick, have no immigrant population whatsoever.

Similar phenomena in Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, and even Sweden, confirm the thesis that Europe has so far been unable to find an appropriate answer to the problems posed by migration. So far, the common denominator has been repressive, discriminatory policies, and the emergence of extremist right wing parties.

Curiously, at the same time, consensus reigns in practically all European countries that migration is sine qua non to preserving economic growth and social stability on the continent. Given the demographic perspectives in most European countries, migration is indeed needed to guarantee a stable working force and thus growth and wealth. This consensus has not flown into a rational, human migration policy. In this case, the wheals of politics turn slow -- the more so, if the drivers behind take a fancy to the putrid smell of populism. (IDN-InDepthNews/04.10.2010)

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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The writer is a freelance journalist. This article appears in his regular column 'Stray Thoughts' in the October 2010 issue of Global Perspectives (www.global-perspectives.info), a monthly magazine for international cooperation, produced by Global Cooperation Council -- a non-governmental organisation campaigning for genuine cooperation and fair globalization -- in partnership with IDN-InDepthNews.

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