Migration: between myth and reality
Not a day goes by without some reference being made in the media to a refugee crisis. Politicians use the concerns of the general public to win votes. Countries keep their borders closed; immigration is, to a large extent, something that is unwanted.
People have many different opinions on the subject of migration, but what are the facts?
“Migration is a problem that has to be stopped.”
For the most part, migration is presented as a problem. Many view it as a threat to our security and standard of living. Migration, however, is nothing new. It is an integral part of our history. For centuries, people have migrated and settled in new places. Switzerland, for example, is a country of migrants. Almost a quarter of the Swiss population has a foreign passport and many Swiss citizens have ancestry in other countries. Migration helps states to grow, both economically and culturally. We can’t prevent migration, but we can turn it into a positive.
“Too many refugees are coming - we can’t possibly accept all of them.”
‘Everyone wants to come to Europe, especially Switzerland’: this belief is all too common. In actual fact, around 86% of refugees live in developing countries, with the impact of migration being felt much more strongly in countries neighbouring conflict zones. If you take a closer look at the statistics, you notice that just 10% of all Syrian refugees have migrated to Europe, while 1.1 million have taken refuge in Lebanon alone. At the end of 2016, a total of 45,804 accepted refugees were living in Switzerland. At 0.5%, this is a fraction of our overall population.
“Refugees get benefits and make no contribution to society.”
The refugees that have recently arrived in Europe are young and have an above-average level of education in their home country. The majority of refugees would prefer to be employed rather than dependent on benefits. Despite this, they often find it difficult to get a job. Educated refugees face other obstacles too: for instance, their educational certificates are usually not recognised in their country of arrival. This situation also makes it difficult for young people to continue their education. In Switzerland, accepted refugees wait a long time for the chance to make an active contribution to their host country. It's not their willingness to participate that is in question, therefore, but the ability of the system to enable them to do so.
A solution to the migration debate will not present itself to us on a silver platter, and it’s clear that the topic of migration and refugees will not resolve itself any time soon. That’s why it’s crucial for states to find a way of dealing with this reality and coming up with positive solutions. Terre des hommes’ focus is on the special support that should be provided to the ever-increasing number of – frequently unaccompanied – children and adolescents to facilitate integration. Unaccompanied minors must be accepted with appropriate measures and have a right to education and training. Particular attention should be given to psychological and mental health problems, and access to psychological support should be provided to enable these young people to overcome traumatic experiences. Such measures improve the prospects of these young people, who will be included in our growing economy in future.
On the whole, migration can be a success if the host society is prepared to view refugees as a benefit rather than a burden. As Alexander Betts, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford explains: “There’s nothing inevitable about refugees being a cost. They’re human beings with skills, talents, aspirations – with the ability to make contributions – if we let them.” Fundamentally, if rights to work and education are guaranteed and accepted refugees are allowed to play a constructive role in society, immigration can be turned into an advantage.
Photo credits © Tdh/ Francois Struzik and Ollivier Girard