Europeans should think more about the potential contributions refugees and other migrants can make, and not over-emphasise problems related to their arrival.
That was the message from a Friends of Europe Policy Insight debate on 29 March, which focussed on the integration of the unprecedented number of refugees and asylum-seekers who have arrived in Europe recently. The 2.3 million new refugees represent only about 0.45% of the total population of the European Union. But the influx has unleashed populist sentiments, which have put into question Europe’s ability and willingness to absorb the newcomers.
But there is little evidence of any economic harm arising from the migrants’ arrival. On the contrary, they are arriving at a time when some countries are experiencing a labour shortage. The money they send to their countries of origin help those economies – lessening the probability of the kind of crisis that drove them out in the first place.
“We should look at this not as a liability but as an opportunity,” said Jacques Bughin, Director at the McKinsey Global Institute and Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company. “We are all afraid that migrants will take our jobs. But on average, there is no real pressure on wages coming from the migrants.”
That doesn’t mean that all migrants will automatically be smoothly absorbed. Instead, a range of actors – from local government to industry – are needed to ensure newcomers acquire language and vocational skills and do not remain isolated in migrant communities.
“The national policy in the Netherlands was about discouraging people from coming,” said Kajsa Ollongren, Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam. “When the refugee crisis arrived, that didn’t work anymore. They were in asylum centres, and had to spend one or two years there doing absolutely nothing. Municipalities thought, ‘these people are here, and we have to do something.’”
There should also be ways to identify refugees’ particular talents and potential contributions. “Every refugee has a talent, so when we are trying to integrate refugees, we should look at what they are bringing,” said Paul Mbikayi, Director of the Refugee Talent Hub. “We believe that integration for refugees goes smoothly when they have a job.”
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