GENEVA (Reuters) - The European Union should recognise the potential benefit of migrants fleeing to its shores, not try to keep them out for fear of the burden they will place on Europe’s economy, labour and human rights say.
The European Commission will introduce a “European Agenda on Migration” on Wednesday, following criticism for what U.N human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called its “callous” approach to the 219,000 migrants who sailed to Europe last year, and the 3,500 who died trying.
The publication of the agenda comes after as many as 900 people trying to get to Europe drowned last month off the coast of Libya. Libya detained another 600 would-be immigrants from Africa last week as they tried to sail across the Mediterranean.
But it also comes as anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in Europe, where it is often conflated with opposition to the EU itself. From Italy’s Northern League to Germany’s PEGIDA to France’s Marine Le Pen, immigration opponents are making themselves a factor in European politics.
Consequently, they are influencing politicians. Britain’s newly elected Conservative government said on Tuesday it would not take part in any EU plan to resettle refugees using quotas for each EU country.
Last month, Zeid said EU politicians should stop “pandering to the xenophobic populist movements that have poisoned public opinion” and admit the EU needed “the low-skilled labour that migrants are desperate to contribute”.
“The elephant in the room surely is the issue of economic migration, and the rational way to deal with it is in a managed way, rather than ignoring it and hoping it will go away, because it ain’t going away,” Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
Academic studies have found that if the conditions are right, waves of low-skilled foreigners can bring economic benefits.
One study published in March by Mette Foged at the University of Copenhagen and Giovanni Peri at UC Davis looked at a refugee influx in Denmark between 1991 and 2008. The study found it improved wages and job mobility for young and low-skilled Danes.
“In labour market migration, the impact is often positive, and certainly one cannot detect what would be a natural fear, for example the decline in wages and working conditions with a significant number of incomers,” said Raymond Torres, head of research at the International Labour Organization.
A 1990 study by David Card at Princeton examined the Mariel Boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans arrived in Southern Florida, and found the sudden 7 percent increase to the Miami labour force had “virtually no effect on the wages or unemployment rates of less-skilled workers”.
“All the evidence points in this direction,” Torres said. “When you have growing inequality in society, there’s a certain tendency to try to find culprits.”
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Larry King