Tag Archive: asylum seeker

The refugee backlash – pulling-up the European drawbridge

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

2015 was another tumultuous year for Europe. Over a million refugees found their way into the European Union (EU), but already a new dynamic is evident in early 2016: the refugee backlash has begun and Europe is pulling-up the drawbridge on refugees and economic migrants. The broad contours of the dynamic evident can be summarised as follows:

  • The EU countries have accepted too many and cannot continue to absorb refugees at the same rate;
  • Germany was irresponsible in allowing so many refugees;
  • Without proper checks, the refugee will include a radical element that will pose a threat to the EU´s security, as illustrated by the terrifying Paris bombings in November 2015;
  • Once in Germany, or wherever, they will spread to other parts of the EU, so the freedom of movement of people principle may need to be looked at again;
  • Further sexual assaults on women and robberies by young men from “the African or North African region” are to be expected following the shameful New Year’s Eve experiences in Cologne, Hamburg and other cities;
  • The current levels of migration will destroy Europe as we know it; the borders must close, only legitimate applications up to a predetermined cap can be accepted and the rest sent back.

This all seems logical and it plays well as a populist theme. This certainly applies to parties such as the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), but it also goes down equally well with the mainstream political parties such as the Conservative Party in the UK and the CDU and especially CSU in Germany. This is without even mentioning the more radical right wing movements that exist throughout Europe. Not surprisingly, shrill criticism of the migration issue and the EU’s apparent inability to manage the situation is particularly evident in the UK, as it gears up for the forthcoming referendum (the exact date of which has not yet been announced) on whether to remain in the EU or not.

It is very difficult to unpack and analyse what is clearly a highly emotive theme, let alone have a sensible debate about it, which is the very reason why certain political parties are making hay with the refugee issue. Previously, their favourite theme was the Eurozone/Greece crisis, now it is migration but the overall gloom and doom narrative does not change very much.

I should stress that there are clearly legitimate public concerns throughout Europe about the migration issue, both within the EU and from outside. However, the use of scare tactics to gain political or other advantage is not something I enjoy witnessing so I aim to address a sub-set of issues, such as Germany’s alleged irresponsible behaviour, the argument that Europe simply cannot cope and the refugee backlash that is in full swing before the first month of 2016 is finished.

The blame game

I will start with Germany’s role in the European refugee crisis. There is certainly a messy situation, but did Germany act irresponsibly in 2015?

Any way you choose to cut it, Germany has played the key role in the refugee crisis. Germany accepted 1.1 million refugees in 2015, a number than could rise further on by the time the counting is official. Germany had in any case been experiencing significant flows of migrants, mainly from the EU. For the last few years this has been running at over 400,000 net migrants per year. Add this up and Germany received at least 1.5 million net migrants last year, which is an astonishing figure. Furthermore, under the German asylum law, refugees may be allowed to bring their family members, resulting in a significant and unquantifiable flow connected with 2015.

By any reasonable criteria Germany has been an incredibly good country to accept so many people. This is not just about the cost involved, which is undoubtedly significant albeit one which Germany is in a position to absorb. Being a good country is first and foremost about the willingness to recognise the human suffering cause by the migration crisis and to try to do something about it, rather than turning a blind eye to it all.

The contrast with many other EU countries could not be greater. Countries such as the UK have agreed to accept 5,000 Syrian refugees per year for the next five years. It has to be borne in mind that even this paltry number was only agreed to following a public outcry from British citizens appalled by their government’s hard heartedness, which bounced Parliament into agreeing to do more.

Germany is not alone in being a good country: about 90% of the refugees have been accepted by three countries out of 28 in the EU: Germany, Sweden and Austria. What about the response of the other 25 countries of the EU?  Following months of unedifying political squabbling, which continues to this day, the best they could come-up with was to agree to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over the next two years: this is an average of 5,700 per country over two years, though very few of these transfers have actually occurred so far (less than 500 were achieved in 2015 and only 3 out of 10 “hot spots” have opened according to some estimates).

Is “pitiful” too strong a word to summarise the EU’s collective failure in the face of a mass humanitarian crisis? I don’t think so. It is not the first time that the EU has failed miserably to stand up to be counted and it will almost certainly not be the last. It is not as if the refugee crisis was some sudden, unexpected act of god; this is the result of steadily growing pressure and reaching its natural and inevitable conclusion. There was nothing about it that could not have been predicted by the civil servants of the European Commission or of the EU member states.

Germany’s decision to act more or less unilaterally in accepting 1.1 million refugees must be seen in the following context:

  1. This is the worst crisis since WW2: the number of forcibly displaced people, often due to wars, reached almost 60 million worldwide at the end of 2014, including over 14 million refugees. This was an increase of about 25% compared to the previous year and is mostly due civil war, violence and oppression in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, etc. although other regions, including northern Africa and the Balkans, are also major sources of migrants (IMF, 2016 / The Refugee Surge in Europe: Economic Challenges). This is nothing short of a mass human tragedy, which Europe is neither immune to nor can afford to simply turn its back on. Globalisation entails many new developments, including the capacity of large numbers of people to move in the direction of Europe. It may take time, but sooner or later, it does reach Europe.
  2. This was not a crisis of Germany’s making: it did not chose to invade Iraq in 2003 and played little or no part in setting in chain a series of events which have destabilised parts of the Middle East, in an attempt to bring about democracy through regime change. Of all the European nations it is the UK, France and Italy (together with the USA) that bear the greatest responsibility for any resulting instability in the region. All are now conspicuous for their efforts to obfuscate causality and deny moral or other responsibility (if you break something, you should fix it) to deal with the resulting mess that they helped to set in chain.
  3. The EU failed spectacularly: the utter inability of the EU to find common ground in dealing with the huge volume of people heading towards Europe is what resulted in Germany’s more or less unilateral action. Just as in the Greek/Eurozone crises, it is proving extremely difficult for 28 countries to make decisions quickly and act in unison. This should not be in the least bit surprising. The EU is very far from being a United States of Europe; this simply reflects the fact that the nation-state is alive and well within the EU, despite exaggerated claims of its demise. Each nation retains the ability to follow its own mandate and block changes that it does not agree with. The Central European (Visegrad countries) and Western Balkans states have made their views crystal clear in respect to taking a share of the refugees, but they are not alone. Just as in the case of Greece and the Eurozone, finding a common solution to an unexpected large-scale problem is a slow, messy and costly process. In the end, to misquote slightly the famous words: Europeans Will Always Do the Right Thing — After Exhausting All the Alternatives. The 28 nation states plus the various Candidate Countries (i.e. Western Balkans including Turkey) will find an imperfect compromise and Germany will pay a disproportionate amount of the cost arising. Such is the iron rule of the EU. No other scenario is possible if 28+ nations are to continue to play broadly for the same team. How many other international agreements are you aware of that take a couple of weeks or months to resolve? Climate change agreements? International trade agreements? These things take years or decades, not weeks or months to sort out and are always and everywhere an uneasy compromise. 28+ countries finding a way to deal with the worst humanitarian crisis in 70 years takes time but in 2015, time was of the essence where people are involved, rather than just economics.

Cometh the hour, cometh the country: Germany chose not to sit on its hands but to act in alleviating the growing pressure along the Turkish-Greek-Balkan-Central European corridor.

Refugees in Miratovac, close to the border between Serbia and Macedonia. Photo by Djordje Savic / EPA

Refugees in Miratovac, close to the border between Serbia and Macedonia. Photo by Djordje Savic / EPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are free to form your own opinion about whether Germany has acted irresponsibly or not. I personally think that not only has Germany acted incredibly responsibly, but as tax payer and resident of the country, I am proud of living in such a country. No doubt, Germany has already changed as a result and ordinary Germans are deeply unsettled about the implications, an issue which I plan to write about in the future. This is a reflection, among other issues of the fact that the scale of the problem is so great that no country can possibly solve it all on its own – not even Germany.

Europe Cannot Cope! Really?

The next issue is whether Germany and/or Europe have relevant experience and if they can absorb the numbers of refugees.

For a start, I can distinctly remember (since I was part of it) a small, poor, broken European country of 8.5 million absorbing about 1 million people from its former colonies during the mid- to late-1970s. While there are major differences with the current situation (common language, culture, religion, etc.), Portugal was not part of the EU but absorbed those numbers and did not collapse despite its politically chaotic and economically precarious post-colonial situation at the time. In fact, it thrived as a result of the influx. Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that Europe should fling open its doors to all and sundry with no questions asked, but I am saying that Europe is much more robust than many would seem to believe.

After a short-lived spike of international approval for its decision to take on the refugees, Germany has since reaped criticism, direct and indirect, most of which has been leveled at Angela Merkel, the Germany Chancellor. The gist of the argument is that she has gambled Germany’s long term interests for personal hubris: she wanted to cap her career with a Nobel Peace Prize and/or improve Germany’s international image after the Greek crisis. Others of a more analytical bent sought instead to justify Germany’s actions (and presumably the inaction of their own governments) by pointing to Germany’s ageing population structure. It seems to me that almost all 28 EU countries are suffering from the same problem, albeit to varying degrees. Did others facing the same demographic situation jump to take their share of refugees? I don’t think so.

It is certainly true that Germany and many EU countries have a rapidly ageing population structure (fertility of around 1.5, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1) that would greatly benefit from significant immigration of the scale that happened during 2015. But I take issue with the implication that the German authorities naively failed to foresee the likely stresses and strains that would be generated by taking so many refugees in one year (the estimate at the time was 800,000 – 1 million refugees). The reality is that Europe generally and Germany specifically have plenty of experience of large scale refugee crises and indeed of Muslims culture.

Firstly, Germany has a large number of Muslims. According to the 2011 Population Census, there are just under 6.2 million foreigners in Germany and Turks alone accounted for the largest group (1.5 million people or 24.4%). In all, some 2.5 million people are of Turkish origin. It is not as though Germany is not aware of the stresses and strains associated with the religion, gender, education, labour market and other dimensions connected with integrating populations, including Muslims. The same applies to many countries of the EU but unlike others, it still went ahead with what is often described by its critics as its “open door” policy.

Secondly, it was not so long ago that Germany had to respond to a refugee crisis of similar proportion. During the 1990s, a large number of asylum applications were lodged due to crisis in the ex-Yugoslavia, though the peak of that crisis in 1991 (around 700,000) has been exceeded in 2015 (see first Figure below). That said the second Figure below illustrates the point that the numbers were relatively low compared to those of the 1990s, though the diagram does not take the 2015 influx of over a million refugees into consideration. It is probably not a coincidence that then, as now, Germany absorbed the lion’s share of refugees.


IMF graphic 2016

Source: IMF, 2016, p.11

Thirdly, to put things in context, Europe had only absorbed 1 out of the 14 million refuges worldwide in 2014 and this increased to 2 million in 2015. Whoever believes that what has happened in 2015 is the end of the matter and that the EU can simply put-up the fences, close the borders and turn its back on the rest of the world is deluded. A proportion of the 12 million other displaced people are heading our way in 2016 and beyond: the current estimate is that another 1 million will aim for the EU this year and possibly more. The way to end this catastrophe is not by pulling-up the drawbridge to Fortress Europe; if the conflicts in the countries in question are ended and if this is combined with a major reconstruction programme, in time, the human tragedy and the migratory process will also abate. Putting-up fences and closing borders will restrict some of the flow, but will also add to the human desperation without actually dealing with the root cause.

To conclude, in my view Germany did not saunter into the current situation blithely and Mrs Merkel was right in saying “Wir schaffen das.” We can do it: I agree with her. Other, much smaller and poorer countries have in the part or are currently absorbing the same or higher numbers of refugees. Germany knew, more or less, the implications of opening its borders to about a million refugees, even if the general public could not have predicted the exact consequences, including the outrages in Cologne and other cities. It is most unlikely that Europe’s pre-eminent politician would not have sniffed the potential political, social, religious and cultural implications of undertaking such a radical step. The numbers absorbed by Europe are relatively small by comparison with the numbers being absorbed by other countries, including Turkey. If they can do it, so can Europe. Indeed, a cursory reading of European history proves that it has coped with wave after wave of migration.

Refugee backlash

To ask if the refugee backlash is coming would be to pose the wrong question: it is already here.

The mood in Germany and the rest of Europe started turning ugly long before the Paris terrorist attacks and the mass sexual and other crimes in Cologne and other German cities during the New Year’s Eve celebrations that went wrong. Pensioners are up in arms about the way they perceive their country is changing. Parents are concerned about their children’s education as gymnasia are requisitioned as temporary accommodation and class rooms begin to take the strain of absorbing the influx of non-German speakers. House prices and rent levels are being pushed up in an overheating housing market where affordable accommodation is scarce.  Region and local authorities remain deeply concerned about practical matters in addition to shelter, such as state benefits and labour market opportunities for refugees. The issue of integration and whether it is possible to achieve or not, is “the” topic of conversation. This applies to Germany and it applies equally to other EU countries.

Angela Merkel has gone from being Europe’s pre-eminent politician and practically politically unassailable in Germany, to being under siege. Make no mistake about it; she is fighting for her political future.  Yet despite the ratcheting of pressure, even today, she is refusing to put a cap of the number of refugees that will be accepted by Germany in future (the CSU is openly advocating a cap of 200,000 per annum, which itself puts the UK’s response in the shade). There are probably two reasons for this. Firstly, German asylum law is based on individual assessments so caps would not be workable without changing the law (but we know laws can be changed at the drop of a political hat). Secondly, the huge numbers of forcibly displaced people out there (14 million and counting) are desperate and there is no end to their travails in prospect. What would you do in their shoes? Which safe harbour would you try to reach, possibly at the cost of perishing on the way? A cap would be a meaningless promise without a workable EU arrangement.

Mrs Merkel is displaying the hallmark of true leadership: political courage and acknowledging moral duties beyond her nation’s borders. That is the essence of being responsible in a European and global sense, though I recognise fully that many would much rather put national and personal interest before anything else, including in Germany.

Merkel probably expected the rest of Europe, especially the largest countries, most of which have had more than a hand in the unfolding disaster in the Middle East, to take a much greater share of the humanitarian burden. Despite the lessons of Greece, she has miscalculated in relation to most of the EU and is now in the middle of the biggest political crisis that she has ever faced. She also appears to have greatly overestimated the Greek and Turkish capacity to manage their borders.

But she is nothing if not a pragmatic leader. She has recognised that the whirlwind is not just gathering, it is already blowing. A change has already been signaled that 2016 will not be the same as 2015. The scale of the challenge means that Germany cannot shoulder the burden mostly on its own for much longer. All three of the most generous countries have introduced border visa checks (three others have also and many more are threatening to do the same). A closure of national borders has so far been resisted by the EU, but this could change. Sweden has announced that 80,000 of the 160,000 refugees it accepted will be sent back because they are economic migrants, not refugees. The EU has reinforced the message by stating that 60% of the applicants are not refugees at all but economic migrants mainly from the Balkans and North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia. It has also threatened to suspend Greece from Schengen for systematic failures in the migrant crisis. In turn Greece is pointing its finger at Turkey for allowing migrants to “swamp” their border and islands.  Reports are piling up that in addition to anti-refugee demonstrations and hostels being set on fire in Germany, violence is erupting in Sweden and other countries.

A common EU approach is the only way forward, combined with a serious and concerted effort to end the conflicts and reconstruct economies, since these are the drivers of mass population displacement. But just like the Greek and Eurozone crises, which are also far from over, it will not happen miraculously or overnight.

So, get ready for a much more hard-nosed European approach to the refugee crisis, with an emphasis on only accepting people from conflict zones (true refugees and asylum seekers) and rejecting all others (i.e. economic migrants). The EU drawbridge is being pulled-up. The wider societal backlash is already underway and those that are leading it will not be pausing to distinguish those that deserve to be helped from those that do not.


I found refuge in the EU. You helped me. Now, let’s help the others.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

The Grexit crisis has blown hot and cold many times in recent years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, by common agreement, there is now an even greater crisis affecting the European Union (EU) and its future, namely the current refugee and asylum seeker crisis. It is not about economic migration; it is a humanitarian crisis.

A Refugee Crisis of Mega Proportions

I have been commenting on the issue of migration on the AngloDeutsch.EU Blog so I cannot but discuss this crisis of mega proportions. I would like to briefly summarize the points of the current situation before presenting a personal perspective below:

  • There is a variety of different types of migrants. The two main categories are “asylum seekers / refugees” who are fleeing something which makes them fear for their lives/safety and “economic migrants” who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families;
  • The difference is fundamental. Each EU member state makes its own decisions in relation to the issue of asylum seekers/refugees within the framework of broad international agreements which appear to be difficult or impossible to enforce. The same applies to economic migrants from outside the EU. Within the EU, a fundamental principle is that of “freedom of movement” of capital, goods, services and people. Consequently, there is no restriction of migration within the EU, except for recently joining countries, such as Croatia. Restrictions remain during a „transition“ period for some countries such as the UK, but other, such as Germany, have chosen to abolish such restrictions even before the transition period lapses;
  • Many politicians and some mainstream media, especially those with an ax to grind, deliberately or otherwise, lump the refugees/asylum seekers, economic migrants and freedom of movement into one giant, emotive issue: this is spurious, confusing and contributes to a heated debate in the EU and elsewhere. In an atmosphere of anxiety about migration in general, this is not helpful;
  • Most EU citizens, British and Germans included, make a clear distinction between economic migrants (there is concern about the level of migration in some countries) and genuine refugees / asylum seekers, where there is generally a good deal of sympathy;
  • The current levels of refugees / asylum seekers must be put into context: it is the highest level since World War II and is the direct result of various conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, not least in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, etc. This is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis. For the first time since World War II, there are more than 50 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide;
  • Some of the people joining this wave of desperate humanity are taking advantage of the situation. Having worked in Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, etc., all of which are making strides to join the EU, there is little doubt that the vast majority of these applicants are being opportunistic. If this sort of thing is allowed to continue, it may discredit the overall refugees/asylum situation and undermine the willingness to help others;
  • The latest development, since this blog focuses mainly on Britain and Germany, is that the German government has issued what is nothing less than an unprecedented commitment of take in at least 800,000 and possibly a million refugees/asylum seekers this year, not counting other forms of migration, which has been running at very high levels in recent years. By contrast Britain has taken 5,000 Syrians since 2011 and there is a major political debate about whether a target of 10,000 refugees / asylum seekers would be acceptable. The British government, under increasing pressure from ordinary citizens, has just announced that it will accept 20,000 refugees/asylum seekers over five-years (4,000 per year);
  • The main political explanations for this imbalance is that one (Germany) has a shrinking population and therefore needs to take in people but that the other (UK) is an overcrowded island that cannot absorb any more than are already coming in. There is a prominent political view that taking in refugees would not solve the problems in the relevant countries and would simply encourage even larger numbers to come to the EU;

It is up to each person to reflect on whether their respective governments’ policies are appropriate in the face of this human catastrophe, bearing in mind the costs involved as well as the potential knock-on effects on social, health, housing and other services, including the downstream integration issues. There will certainly be implications in the short-, medium- and long-term, since most refugees/asylum seekers that are accepted are likely to remain, even when the crisis is over.

A personal perspective

In the rest of this post, for a change, I shall not focus on the definitions, statistics and policy responses, etc. but the human element using my own migration experiences and those of my family. The point has been reached in this humanitarian crisis where everyone must pin their colours to the mast.

I was born in Mozambique. When I was nine years old, the civil war that quickly followed the war of independence reached stage where by parents finally decided that they had no choice but to abandon the country. There were a series of issues leading to this decision, but the straw that broke the camel´s back was a bomb that blew out the windows in the surrounding buildings. Fear for our safety, combined with a sense of growing injustice, led to a decision to leave everything behind, except for our lives and the clothes on our back. This is the “refugee / asylum seeker drive“ and it is this which is at the bottom of the crisis we are witnessing.

By the time I was 11, my parents had decided that living in Portugal was not for them and that they preferred to leave for the UK, where they felt they could rebuild their lives and offer their children better prospects. This is the „economic migration“ drive, which I shall leave for another day. My family and I have experience of both the “push” drive to get out of a country, as well as the “pull” element of a prosperous country like the UK (Portugal was not a EU member in 1977). As such, I can sympathize with the stream of people heading towards the EU.

Each of these families seeking the safety of Europe will have their own catalyst, but they are generally similar: fear of safety/life/well-being reaches a point where the extremely high barriers to leaving are overcome. Those barriers include family and friends (you leave the people you grew up with behind, probably for ever), possessions (home, furniture, mementos of life, etc.) and communities, traditions and all the other things that make-up everyday life. Only the bare minimum can be taken: people, clothes, food and money.

The decision amounts to rolling the dice that will determine their fate. They know that they may be turned back at any of numerous borders. They are only too aware that they will experience all sorts of privations. They come to terms the stark fact they or members of their family may perish on the way. Yet they are determined to head for Europe and more specifically the EU. Most will do what they are allowed to do, not least where women and children are involved. Some, especially single young men, may do whatever it takes to reach their goal, as the scenes in and around the Channel Tunnel prove.

But even if their drive, courage and determination (for that is exactly what is involved) is rewarded with success and they end-up in the EU and preferably in countries with the resources to successfully absorb them, they also know that it may all be in vain. After all, there is a high chance of being put on an aeroplane and sent home sooner or later, once the crisis is over.

And still they roll the dice, often taking their young children on this incredibly arduous and sometimes lethal journey. Imagine this, if you will, and reflect on what it would take for you to reach such momentous life and death decisions. I ask you:

  • Would you take these sorts of decisions without a very good reason?
  • Are the people who manage to reach Europe´s shores worthy of sanctuary?
  • And if so, are such people likely to have the drive to integrate and thrive in the EU?

Follow your instinct. Form your own opinion.

I am not just a migrant to the EU, I am a serial migrant within the EU. This is not a source of shame. On the contrary, it is a source of great pride which has given meaning to my life. Every country I have lived in had enriched me and, for my part, I have contributed to every country I have had the good fortune to experience. Migration has been and remains a constant feature of humanity.

There may be some seeking to reach the borders of the EU purely for economic reasons, rather than being driven by misfortune not of their own making. It is not so easy to separate out the genuine cases from the bogus ones. But the sheer scale of the crisis, the types of people involved and the risks that they are taking demonstrate that these are, in the main, fellow human beings in desperate need of our help. For them the EU is a beacon for all the things that we take for granted. There can and there will be a win-win situation for them and for the countries taking them in. Europe has absorbed countless waves of immigration in the past and benefited from them; it will continue to do so in the future.

Let us be humane and thereby reaffirm the fundamental values that EU countries are right to be proud of. You helped me. Now, let’s help the others.


Freedom of Movement of People and Recent Immigration Trends in Britain and Germany

There is a great deal of discussion about immigration in Britain and Germany and the extent to which this is driven by the EU’s freedom of movement principle. In the case of the Britain, this is resulting in increasingly Eurosceptic public discourse due to perceived uncontrolled immigration and border, resulting in questions about whether to stay in the EU or  not. In the case of Germany, the concerns revolve around benefit abuse, especially the recent EU member countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, which acquired freedom of movement rights in 2014. This post examines EU and non-EU migration trends, including those from old, recent (A8) and new (A2) countries.

Recent Immigration has been at a Historical High

First things first: it must be noted that the net migration figures in Britain in the last decade are unparalleled. During the period until 1982, the UK actually experienced a net outflow of people. This means that more Britons, on balance, chose to leave Britain and were obviously received by other countries. Until 1997 there was an average net annual inflow of 50,000. With the accession to the European Union (EU) of the A8 countries (e.g. Poland, Slovakia, etc.) and, crucially, with the UK decision to allow people from these countries to work in Britain well in advance of being required to do so under the transition rules of the EU, this rose to a peak of 244,000 in 2004. It has been decreasing since then and reached 177,000 in 2012. The latest data suggest that net migration is increasing once again (209,000 in 2013), probably because of the influence of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, combined with the fact that Britain’s economy is growing once again. Since these have much smaller populations that the A8 countries, this is not likely to last long. Broadly the same trend was evident in Germany but see below for variations, particularly in recent years where net migration has taken-off.

 Asylum seekers

In a previous post, we defined the key types of immigrant; asylum seekers are basically a sub-set of immigrants. According to Eurostat data, in 2013 there were 434,450 applications made to all EU-28 countries. The largest volume of applications was to Germany (126,705 or 29.1% of all applications in the EU), France (66,265) and Sweden (54,270). The UK received the fourth largest volume of applications (29,875) but this was noticeably less than the several other EU countries (6.8%). Given the size of its population and economy, the UK received a relatively modest number of applications during a humanitarian crisis which is considered to be the worst since WWII and is concentrated on Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia. Nevertheless, the Office of national Statistics estimates that asylum seekers accounted for around 4.5% of UK immigration. The German equivalent is bound to be higher since it approves about 30% of the applications. But the fact is that the public perception of the volumes of asylum seekers is out of kilter with reality as discussed in a separate post.

Let us be clear about this part of the immigration debate: the Conservative-led Government does not propose turn asylum seekers away and, as an aside, neither does Ukip at the present time. The same applies to the German Government as well as AfD (and as far as I know PEGIDA) in Germany. This is only as it should be in humane, modern societies. It should be stressed that although there are international conventions governing this issue, each country makes its own decisions and determines which applicants to accept or not. Neither is this an area which the EU is involved in.

Net migration

The net migration is the difference between immigration (arrivals) and emigration (departures) since all countries exhibit a degree of turnover in their population. Ultimately, in terms of social and economic, cultural and other pressures that may build-up in a country, net migration is that really matters. Given our focus on UK and Germany, Table 1 shows two contrasting trends. Germany has been experiencing a very sharp increase in net migration during the period 2009-2012, a trend which has continued up to today. In 2014, the net migration in Britain reached 260,000 and 470,000 in Germany. We have seen in the previous posts, the public perception of asylum seekers and immigration in Germany contrasts somewhat with that of the UK. This is not to imply or suggest that immigration is not an issue in public discourse in Germany – far from it. However, in terms of public perception and public discourse, it is relatively equable, except in the case of the PEGIDA movement, which is specifically targeted at Muslims (see the recent a post on this issue), though there is a chance that it will implode following the resignation of, for the lack of a better expression, its colourful ex-leader. Generally though, the contrast with UK is evident. Yet the statistics show that new migration in the same period had been declining in the UK until 2014, undoubtedly influenced by Conservative party’s target of “tens of thousands” (i.e. up to 100,000) immigrants per annum, whereas it is increasing steeply in Germany. The German population rose to 81.1 million people in 2014, the fourth annual increase in a row, boosted by the highest level of net migration in more than two decades.

Table 1: Net migration in Britain and Germany (2009-2012)

  2009 2010 2011 2012
Germany 59,634 151,599 240,377 352,174
United Kingdom 229,000 256,000 205,000 177,000

Source: Table 7c: Net migration in European Union countries, 2002-2012, House of Commons Library, 2014

There be Foreigners in EU Countries: Freedom of Movement at work

Looking at the total figures, the countries with the largest number of foreign-national residents in 2013 were Germany (7.7 million), Spain (5.1 million), UK (4.9 million), Italy (4.4 million), and France (4.1 million). The countries with largest number of foreign-born residents were Germany (10.2 million), UK (7.8 million), France (7.5 million) and Spain (6.2 million). These figures include very large numbers of Britons (1.3 million), Germans (1.4 million) and other EU nationals living in other EU countries, not least in Spain and France. EU migrants accounted for 35% of the total migrant stock in the EU countries as a whole in 2010 living, studying, working and retiring in elsewhere than in their own country. This is, after all, one of the wonderful things that are taken for granted in the EU, right?

Of  Natives and Foreigners

Another interesting dimension is the proportion of migrants relative to the overall population. The table below illustrates that, overall, the UK and Germany had very similar levels of foreign-born inhabitants (12.3% and 12.4% respectively) as a percentage of the overall population. The latest figures are around the 14% mark for both countries.

Table 2: Foreign-national and foreign-born populations of DE and UK (at 1 Jan 2013)

  Foreign National, Number Foreign National % of total population Foreign Born, Number Foreign Born % of total population Total, Number Density of Foreign Born (x per 1000)
Germany 7,696,413 9,4 10,201,192 12,4 82,020,578 123
United Kingdom 4,929,710 7,7 7,828,376 12,3 63,896,077 124

Source: Table 10: Foreign-national and foreign-born populations of EU countries, at 1 Jan 2013, House of Commons Library, 2014

It should be noted that the percentage of foreign-born populations in the UK and Germany are in fact relatively modest compared with many EU countries such as Luxemburg (42.4%) and Cyprus (23.2%), both outliers, well as others such as Belgium (15.7%), Ireland (16%), Austria (16.1%), Sweden (15.4%), etc. The percentages do not appear to be out of line with similarly developed and advanced countries. Indeed, given Britain’s extensive colonial past, unlike Germany, Ireland, etc., suggests that the percentage could have been higher still. What is out of line though is the public perception of how many foreigners there are in the UK (47% more than is really the case), Germany (24%), something which is repeated in other European countries (see a previous post on the perceptions and reality of immigration). This misalignment in public perceptions and reality is even more pronounced when it comes to estimates of Muslims: UK (76% more than is really the case) and Germany (69%).

 EU and non-EU immigration

Another important dimension is the origin of the immigrants. Eurostat data demonstrate that in the case of Germany, a notable proportion of the immigrants (14.7%) are actually citizens returning to their own country. However, half are citizens from other EU countries, with the balance (34.8%) being non-EU citizens. The distribution is somewhat different in the case of the UK (16.1%, 31.4% and 52.2% respectively). In other words, Germany has mainly EU and own nationals as immigrants, whereas the UK has a similar proportion of nationals returning home, but a much larger proportion of non-EU immigrants. This may be explained by the greater influence of the old and new Commonwealth on the migratory patterns of the UK, as well as the economic malaise of the country in 2012. However, it should be made clear (see definitions post) that the UK is fully in charge of its own borders and of its own immigration policy when it comes to UK and non-EU nationals. The latter is not the responsibility of the EU.

The EU-related immigration (31.6% of the total) is the key element that the UK not in charge of because of the principle of freedom of movement of people, one of the four basic freedoms of the EU. Based on the data from 2012, the bulk of the immigration issue, as far as the UK is concerned, was not the EU and its freedom of movement, contrary to what one might conclude from the current political debate and the media reporting in the UK. The contrast with Germany, which does receive more than half of its immigrants from other EU countries, could not be greater. The German Chancellor and the President have gone out of their way to make it clear that asylum seekers and immigrants generally, including Muslims, are a part of the country. They have also made it clear on numerous occasions that the EU’s freedom of movement principle is not up for renegotiation.

Table 3: Immigration by Citizenship in DE and UK (2012)

Citizens of own country % Other EU countries % Non EU Countries % Total
Germany 87,245 14.7 298,541 50.4 206,389 34.8 592,175
United Kingdom 80,196 16.1 157,554 31.6 260,290 52.2 498,040

Source: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=migr_imm2ctz&lang=en

The EU Accession Countries

The EU freedom of movement principle affected about a third of the immigration flows, whereas half were subject to immigration controls in Britain. Furthermore, the recent Accession countries that have been subject of such extensive debate in the media and political circles (the so-called A8 or Eastern European countries that acceded to the EU in 2004, including Poland, Slovakia, etc.) actually made-up 12% of all immigrants in 2012.

The above point reinforces the extent to which the immigration debate in the UK is distorted, though A8 immigration was certainly important during 2004 – 2010. Based on the data available relating to 2012, half of the immigration flows are entirely controlled by the UK and are subject to border controls. This has little to do with the recent Accession or “new” EU countries. Presumably the public is not particularly interested in reducing immigration from the “old” EU (15) countries such as France, Italy and Germany (i.e. 17.1% of the total). In terms of the recent members that are now eligible to work throughout the EU, namely Bulgaria and Romania (the so-called A2), 2014 started with a trickle of immigrants, but this increased steadily, so that net immigration is on the up. Consequently, the EU immigration debate has increasingly focused on the A2 countries where, in addition to the numbers involved, the implicit debate is often about the Roma communities from those countries.

Let us be clear about one thing: it is not the EU’s freedom of movement principle that has historically contributed the largest percentages of immigrants to the UK, except for a short period of time (2004 – 2010). This period coincided with a concerted effort on the part of the UK to actively court people from the A8 countries to migrate to the UK. The UK had made a political and economic decision that A8 immigrants were needed to sustain the economic boom and associated prosperity of Britain at the time. These decision cannot be used to subsequently blamed either the EU (after all, the transition arrangements were in place and the UK chose not to make use of them) or the people who heeded these official overtures from the duly elected British government of the time. Nothing can change these facts. The real immigration story, if there is one, is, has always been and will continue to be the old/new Commonwealth (ca. 26%) and the Other Foreign countries (another ca. 26%), as illustrated in the Table below.

Table 4: Immigration to the UK by Nationality, 2009-2012

2009 2010 2011 2012 % 2012
British 96 93 78 80 16.1
European Union 167 176 174 158 31.7
EU 15 82 76 83 85 (17.1)
EU A8 68 86 77 60 (12.0)
EU Other 17 14 14 13 (2.6)
Non EU 303 322 314 260 52.2
Old Commonwealth 30 31 29 31 (6.2)
New Commonwealth 141 156 151 98 (19.7)
Other Foreign 132 135 135 131 (26.3)
Total 567 591 566 498 100

Source: Table 2a: Immigration to the UK by nationality, 2000-2012, House of Commons Library, 2014

EU15: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, the Irish Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden; A8: Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, namely Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia; EU other: includes all other EU 27 countries (Croatia joined the EU later); Old Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa; and New Commonwealth: all Commonwealth countries not part of the Old Commonwealth, including those of the Indian sub-continent and African Commonwealth countries other than South Africa.

It would be great if we would refrain from denying the importance and value in economic, cultural and social terms of the EU’s principle of freedom of movement (of people, goods capital and services) to all European citizens. This applies particularly to Britons and Germans, who are themselves far from averse from making full use of the freedom of movement to study, work, retire and invest (e.g. second / retirement homes) elsewhere in the EU. For its part, the German government has always nailed its colours firmly to the mast, as have all other EU nations: freedom of movement is the foundation of the EU and is simply not up for discussion. To put it crudely, Britain can either like it or lump it, otherwise it has to leave the EU.

To make a decision about leaving the EU on the basis of a “swamping” by EU citizens or in response to “benefit tourism” (I a plan a separate post in the so-called abuse of benefits) and other vague anti-EU sentiment may make for good short-term domestic politics in a pre-election period but it is not logical or in Britain’s long term interest. I agree that there are criticisms to be levelled at the EU and that there is a legitimate debate to be had about the role of the nation-state and the principle of subsidiarity but the EU immigration debate is being used excessively to castigate the EU.

Conclusions

I am only too aware of the quotation: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” I do not expect all readers to be swayed let alone persuaded by the statistics that I have presented above, not least because some of them are quite dated as per the December 2014 House of Commons Library report used. I am sure that others can and probably will make an even more convincing case that Britain continues to be “swamped” by immigrants, that the key problems are the EU and the freedom of movement and that the sooner the UK takes full control over its borders and immigration policies, the better the UK will be much the better for it. So I only ask for consideration to be given to the following issues:

  • The numbers of asylum seekers has declined to pretty small numbers in the UK but an opposite trend is taking hold in Germany, especially because of the Syrian crisis. The numbers accepted by Britain are relatively small but larger in Germany. There is broad consensus about the importance of receiving asylum seekers as long as they are not bogus.
  • The UK had a major surge of net immigration during 2004-2010 and much of this was from the new EU member countries. The UK did not have to let in immigrants from the A8 countries at the time but chose to actively court them to come, live and work in the UK so as to satisfy its overheating labour market and prolong its economic boom at the time. The flows have declined dramatically since 2010, as has overall net migration to the UK but are increasing again, not least because the British economy is growing once again and Britons are employing the immigrants.
  • There is now significantly less immigration from the A8 countries such as Poland, so the debate has moved on to the A2 countries, namely the Bulgarians (population of 7 million) and Romanians (population of 22 million) and implicitly the Roma community (population of 10-12 million in the whole of Europe). The debate on welfare tourism and EU’s freedom of movement will continue in the UK and Germany, though in the latter case it focuses on specifically on benefit fraud/abuse.
  • The majority of immigrants to the UK in 2012 were either UK nationals or non-EU immigrants from the Commonwealth (68.3%) and beyond. This is an issue which the British government is entirely responsible for and exclusively in charge of its own borders. It is not an EC/EU issue.
  • Unlike the UK, the number of net migrants is peaking in Germany, contributing to population growth in the last four years. There is a lively debate about immigration and the PEGIDA movement has been growing. However, there is nowhere near the same degree of emotive talk on immigration, of being swamped, of uncontrolled immigration and so on, despite having almost identical levels of foreign-born population and absorbing increasing levels of immigration.

At the end of the day, the issue is not so much about numbers but about perceptions, emotions, geographical concentrations, etc. There are very real stresses and strains in society at large in Britain and Germany and immigration is a contributor to them. The politicians and media are tapping into those voter concerns but merely debating the symptoms of those concerns by focusing almost exclusively on the ills of the EU, the freedom of movement of people (but not capital, of course) and EU immigration. Would life suddenly be that much better in terms of housing, education, health, wages, employment, benefits, taxes, social services, environment, transportation, etc. as a result of leaving the EU (see the related post on the British Question)? Since the EU has either limited or no responsibility at all for almost all these I very much doubt it. The real causes of the stresses and strains, greatly exacerbated by austerity in Britain and long-term real reductions in net incomes in Germany, will be the topic of future blog posts. I believe that the real causes are to be found much closer to home than either politicians or much of the media care to acknowledge, especially in the build-up to a General Election.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


Mixing Apples and Pears in the Immigration Debate

The great immigration debate is becoming increasingly heated in Europe. It tends to lump all immigrants into one group, mixing apples and pears, and  making little allowance for the important differences in the type of immigrant. The differences between refuges, asylum seekers, migrants and economic migrants are sadly either misunderstood or misrepresented by the general public and the media. Furthermore, the conflation of immigration with the European Union’s (EU) “freedom of movement” principle adds to the general fuzziness of the debate. This loose approach to the differences is contributing to the growing antipathy to immigrants and to the EU itself.

Definitions

We appear to be on the threshold of a much more unrestrained debate on immigration. If so, we may as well be clear about the definitions of the main types of immigration involved, prior to looking at the perception of the level of immigration in the next post. There are four main types of individuals that the media and the politicians refer to, but which tend to be lumped together in the public discourse, despite their heterogeneity. The International Organization for Migration is the leading international organization for migration and defines the following important groups:

Asylum seeker: is a person who seeks safety from persecution or serious harm in a country other than his or her own and awaits a decision on the application for refugee status under international and national instruments. If the decision is negative, the asylum seeker must leave the country and may be expelled, as may any non-national in an irregular or unlawful situation, unless permission to stay is provided on humanitarian or other grounds.

Each country determines their own policy in relation to asylum seekers, though international conventions exist. What the media and politicians rarely acknowledge is that asylum seekers are normally a relatively small percentage of the immigration issue. Almost all Brits and Germans support a policy of supporting this group. What they do not support, is illegal immigration such as asylum seekers staying on after a negative decision. Each country determines its own asylum seeker policy and has little or nothing to do with the EU.

Refugee: is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country. Each country determines their own policy in relation to refugees, though international conventions exist. Again this is a small part of overall immigration, though the percentage does fluctuate according to crises (about 30,000 applicants in the UK but about 120,000 in Germany in 2013). In 2012 the main country of origin was Afghanistan and at the moment it is Syria. The overall number for 2014 could top 700,000, “the highest total for industrialized countries in 20 years and not seen since the 1990s conflict in former Yugoslavia” according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Nevertheless, the great majority Brits and Germans support a policy of accepting legitimate refugees.

Migrant: there is no universal definition but the term usually cover cases where the decision to migrate was taken freely by the individual for reasons of “personal convenience” and without an external compelling factor; it is applied to persons, and family members, moving to another country or region to better their material or social conditions and improve the prospect for themselves or their family.

Each country determines its policy in relation to non-EU migrants. If the numbers are perceived to be too high / low, this is a reflection of the policy priorities of each nation. The situation is different for EU nationals. One of the four “fundament freedoms” of the EU is that of freedom of movement of people (the others being capital, goods and services). These are at the core of the EU, and Brits and Germans have been among those making the extensive use of them such as buying second homes, retiring in the sun, working abroad, etc. EU nations, not least Germany, have made it clear that this freedom is non-negotiable. Britain is questioning whether this freedom can be reformed but is currently in a minority of one out of 28 EU nations. As things currently stand, Britain must decide whether to accept all four freedoms or none of them. What is clear is that it is not feasible to have an explicit immigration policy of 100,000 net migrants per year when Britain is not in a position to control its own borders in relation to non-EU immigrants and thus unable to influence the number of people entering (or leaving) the country from the EU. Moreover, it is Britain and Germany that are broadly in charge of their welfare benefit eligibility rules, not the EU.

Economic migrant: is a person leaving his or her habitual place of residence to settle outside his or her country of origin in order to improve his or her quality of life. This term is often loosely used to distinguish from asylum seekers, and is also used to refer to persons attempting to enter a country without legal permission and/or by using asylum procedures without good cause. It may equally be applied to persons leaving their country of origin for the purpose of employment.

Each country controls its own borders in relation to non-EU economic migrants. Britain and Germany have made and continue to make extensive use of this as exporters and importers of well-qualified workers. Without a work visa, which is issued by each nation-state, there can be no economic migrants from outside the EU. Britain and Germany choose to allow people to come into the county on work visas for them and their respective families because it is in their economic interest to do so.

The situation is different for EU economic migrants, since the freedom of movement applies to everything, including tourism, study, retirement and work. Inevitably, some countries will be more popular or economically dynamic than others and the economic migration trend will vary over time. It is generally understood to be a good thing that those in high unemployment regions can migrate to low unemployment regions within a country, so as to get a job. If this is so, then surely the same applies to the EU region (28 countries) as a whole.

You cannot have your freedom of movement cake and eat it at the same time: either you accept the whole package or you reject it. Britain must decide whether it wants in or not; if not, as things currently stand, the consequence is that Brexit (British exit from the EU) will occur as surely as night follows day. Either way, economic migration will continue from non-EU and EU countries because it is in the economy and society’s interest for it to do so. The flip-side of Brexit is theoretically that Britons currently living and working in other EU countries might have to return to Britain. An estimated 1.1 million Britons were living in three countries of the EU, namely Spain, France and Germany alone.

Mixing Apples and Pears

It is obviously important to distinguish these various categories, but a cursory exploration of UK and German media and politicians’ statements suggest that the distinctions do not appear to be understood, let alone respected in the popular discourse about migration.

The route of capping non-EU immigration is theoretically and practically possible; many countries do so, and it is up to the politicians to implement this if their electorates insist upon it. Having created a “target” of 100,000 for the first time in British history, the failure or otherwise to achieving it is the responsibility of the British government and theirs alone. It has nothing to do with the EU since the freedom of movement has always existed from the very beginning, something that surely must have been known to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who in his wisdom, created this particular target in the first place.

Presumably it was a political calculation because of the recent influence of Ukip in British EU and immigration politics. But by doing so, the British Government appears to have achieved little more than to create a large rod for its own back. Ukip has got firm hold of this particular rod and is gleefully availing itself of the opportunity. The Conservative-led government is simply reaping the political whirlwind of an ill-advised, but apparently populist policy. The recent bye-elections have gifted Ukip increasing power and influence, and represent evidence of the folly of such a policy. Attempting to steal the Ukip emperor’s clothes may reinforce the trend and further entrench public opinion, which is increasingly negative towards both immigrants and EU. As discussed in the last post, the two are increasingly portrayed as part and parcel of the same issue by politicians and the media.

Capping EU immigration is simply not feasible without leaving the EU and it is a case of political smoke and mirrors to suggest or pretend otherwise for short-term political gain. It leaves Britain increasingly diminished in the eyes of its other 27 partner nations. Britain and Britons must make-up their mind about whether the British Isles, the so-called special relationship with the USA and the old (and new?) Commonwealth represent a better alternative to the four freedoms offered by the EU28. The Germans are bound to the EU at the hip (and increasingly the other way around). It is inconceivable that such a debate would seriously take place there in the short or medium term, though there is certainly a growing debate about leaving the Euro, driven by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Releasing the Genie?

The UK cannot go on pretending that it can have it both ways. It is irresponsible for politicians and certain parts of the media to lump all types of immigrants together, paying little attention to the major differences between them, which also deriding immigrants in general and the EU and the European Commission in particular. Society is responding to these populist messages. Scan the comments made in response to newspaper articles, listen to live radio interviews and the views increasingly aired on TV and you will catch the general drift in respect to the twin themes of the EU and immigration. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband (and indeed Nigel Farage, who is married to a German) seem set on allowing this trend to continue in the period leading up to the UK general election. The question is: will it be easy or indeed possible to put the genie back in the bottle thereafter? Personally, I am far from convinced the everything will be back to normal after May 2015.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu