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Four Myths about the European Refugee Crisis (And Why You Need to Know the Reality)

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This is a guest post by Dr. Adam Luedtke, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York – Queensborough Community College. He received his Ph.D. from University of Washington, and has held academic positions at Princeton University, Washington State University and the University of Utah. He has written numerous books and articles on the politics of global migration.

News reports about the EU refugee crisis have been misleading at best, and have potentially (in an unfortunate guise of well-intentioned awareness and concern) made the situation even worse for the refugees. While the headlines have outlasted the media’s usual attention span, they will inevitably fade, but the plight of 60 million refugees will not. For those wishing to do more than post solemn declarations of concern on social media, there are some critical facts to know–facts being obscured by how the media talks about the crisis. The first step to helping more refugees, in a more effective way, is to correct misperceptions about: 1) who the refugees are–that is, who makes it out (and why), versus who remains in conflict regions; and 2) how governments can or should act to alleviate the problem. As powerful as headlines are for sparking concern, people remain wholly misguided about the origins, manifestations and optimal solutions to the problem. The first step to moving beyond this ignorance is to consider the problem systematically, and debunk the most common media myths that obscure such understanding.

Myth: Europe is facing its largest refugee crisis since World War Two.
Example: “Even now, with the biggest refugee crisis since WWII… the E.U. doesn’t seem to be conscious of its magnitude.”


Reality:
Today’s crisis is horrible, but the early 1990s saw more refugees than now, and the crisis was more acute. In 1992, on the heels of communism’s collapse and turmoil in Eastern Europe (including genocide in former Yugoslavia), there were 670,000 asylum applications to (the 15) EU countries. Among other things, headlines detailed regular Neo-Nazi firebombings of shelters in Germany. So, the belief that we are in the largest post-WW2 refugee crisis is simply wrong. Last year, 626,000 people (44,000 fewer than 1992) applied to all (now 28) EU countries. The first quarter of 2015 shows this year may pass 1992’s total of 670,000. However, even if this happens, the period 1992-1997 will still have seen a larger number than 2010-2015 (and today’s total is spread over double the countries).[2] Our media feed perceptions of an unprecedented crisis, shocking us with graphic images and a steady stream of detail about the misery. It is fortunate that this raises awareness and prompts desire for action. But incorrect information undermines the cause of helping refugees. The sudden burst of alarm–and the well-intentioned concern that results–obscures important facts, such as who makes it to Europe, and who is left behind.

Myth: The poorest and most desperate arrive at Europe’s doorstep.
Example: “Most migrants who live illegally in the European Union fly to the 28-nation bloc on valid visas. But for the poorest and most desperate travelers… the journey often takes months by sea or land, with payments to traffick[ers].”

Reality: The new arrivals have suffered greatly, but their poorest and most desperate compatriots never make it out of the region. Only those with resources can afford the high fees charged by human smugglers. Because the burden of travel is usually placed on refugees themselves, the poorest and least-equipped are trapped in their home countries or make it to neighboring countries at best, which are often underdeveloped and face grave sociopolitical problems themselves. 1.8 million Syrian refugees have been admitted to Turkey, with Lebanon taking 1.2 million and Jordan 600,000. The world was captivated by images of little Aylan Kurdi’s body, after his family attempted sea passage. It was only because his aunt in Canada gave the family thousands of dollars that they were they able to pay the human smugglers who facilitated that journey from Turkey. Turkey now shelters more refugees than any other country in the world, and just four countries (Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran) host 36% of global refugees. The most deserving refugees are ignored by the logic of this system. If this is true, then who makes it to safe haven in the West?  The greater skills and resources of the “successful” refugees can benefit host countries, while admitting them in the comparatively small numbers they represent alleviates the political pressures from the headlines. But haven’t countries now stepped up their efforts?

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Credit: European Union

Myth: Rich countries are finally taking in their fair share of refugees.
Example: “Why are the Germans being so nice? Angela Merkel has come out in favor of giving the refugees a big welcome. Being nice to refugees… helps dispel the ‘ugly German’ image. Angela Merkel has no difficulty in appreciating… human rights.”

Reality: Germany likes people to think it’s helping, but overall, rich countries admit few refugees, and the recent increases (though welcome) are a drop in the bucket. Germany does host the world’s eighth highest refugee population, but their refugee-to-native ratio is about 40 times less than Jordan’s. In the U.S., total admissions have dropped to under 70,000 from a 1990 peak of 122,000. Indeed, developing nations now host 86% of the global refugee population, and 25% of all refugees reside in the world’s “Least Developed” countries. This unbalanced settlement of refugees reveals the global system’s disproportionality. Refugee camps closer to the country of origin allow for more refugees to be helped. But the costs are much higher to resettle refugees in the West. This is why rich countries back a system which secludes refugees in temporary encampments, where they can be organized and managed by NGOs, who help shift focus and responsibility away from politicians. As analyst Robert Gorman notes, “Although the UNHCR is the institutional focal point of refugee protection, individual governments are the ones who must take up the cause.” So how could individual governments have handled this crisis better?

Myth: We could have avoided the crisis if states coordinated better.
Example: “Crisis… could have been avoided had refugees been able to travel normally, or make applications for asylum at embassies.”

Reality: Even if rich countries were willing to host every single refugee out there, it would be logistically impossible. Extra efforts should therefore be concentrated on the conflict region. While the option of asylum for refugees who reach Western shores is critically important, it is “hopelessly inadequate” as a solution to refugee crises. The causes of refugee flight are complex, and require a multi-faceted approach, including diplomacy and conflict resolution. To Oxford’s Matthew Gibney, even if “democratic states were to satisfy all of humanitarianism’s requirements, the claims of many of the world’s refugees to a safe place of residence would still go unmet.” Obviously, refugees arriving on the Western doorstep cannot be turned away. But in weighing the costs, benefits and ethics of refugee policy, we must acknowledge the relatively privileged status of the few refugees who have the means to make the journey, versus the dire needs of far larger populations near the conflict. There are no easy answers to their plight, but the inevitable search for answers must begin with correct facts. Otherwise, headlines will shock and sadden, without prompting effective action.

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  • Thank you for your post Dr. Luedtke. I think one of the defining crises of the 21st century will be climate change-related mass movements of population. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • DrDick

      Enthusiastically seconded.

      • adamluedtke

        Many thanks!

    • adamluedtke

      Thank you Helmut! Yes, I completely agree about climate change. Some people see it as causing the Syrian conflict, which I disagree with. But I do see the climate change as a main catalyst of the Genocide in Darfur, and I agree that this may be the defining issue of our time, in part because of the migrations it will inevitably cause (and the resulting political conflict).

  • Ransom Stoddard

    Is there any substantive normative argument against an open borders approach to refugee crises? Because all the economic analysis I’ve seen on immigration (e.g., the oft cited claim of Clemens that open borders would double world GDP) suggests that it’s an unambiguous net positive, with the previous residents getting slightly wealthier in the aggregate and the migrants getting much wealthier. The strongest concerns raised about a large influx of immigrants seem to be about the distribution of gains to the host country, something that can be clearly solved through Kaldor-Hicks redistribution. It seems that even if open borders for refugees was charity that made the host country a small to moderate amount worse off, it’d be well worth it for the sheer decrease in human suffering. But if mass immigration is a net economic positive, it seems like the only reason to be opposed to it is pure racism/tribalism/xenophobia.

    Great post, by the way, and hope to see more of your writing on LGM in the future.

    • xq

      One reason to oppose it is that many current citizens of destination countries would strongly oppose it, rationally or not, and vote for extreme-right parties in response.

      • Ransom Stoddard

        Yeah, I see how there are limits under actually existing political conditions to reform by fiat—hence my qualification in the original comment of “normative”. What I meant is more like is there any reason that an ideal political community should have restrictions on freedom of movement beyond concerns about things like communicable diseases and terrorism.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Yes, there are a number of places where the existing majority, indigenous or not might become a minority in their homeland if unrestricted immigration was allowed. This has been the great fear of Outer Mongolia versus China looking at what happened to Inner Mongolia. It is also a fear in Kyrgyzstan and Australia. Given that in the 1960s Kyrgyz were a minority in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhs a minority in Kazakhstan this fear has a pretty strong social base. Countries with small populations and lots of land bordered by goliaths like China have at least a plausible reason for restricting the number of immigrants they allow.

          • Ahuitzotl

            Lebanon inundated by Palestinians

            • Ellie1789

              Didn’t we just “celebrate” Columbus Day?

            • adamluedtke

              Jordan is a more extreme case. On the other hand, the UAE’s population is 90% foreigners and the problems are not as great as one might expect.

    • Merkwürdigliebe

      I realize this response sounds like something that might very well come out of a mouth of some Hungarian Jobik brownshirt… but while the right unjustifiably overemphasizes this aspect, I feel it is also undeservedly dismissed out of hand by the left:

      Cultural differences and their effects down the road.

      My own country’s culture is, without much exaggeration, based on beer, pork, loose sexual… interactions and cynicism and disdain towards anything grand and authoritative. If a large community of refugees from – perhaps not necessarily fairly cosmopolitan Syria, but lets say Iraq or Libya – was to arrive and stay, it would result in a fairly miserable time for everyone involved on both sides.

      The immigrants would likely not integrate in a culture they would view as heathen, barbaric and unclean, and locals would in turn take them for undesirable foreign pests and moochers, with the wrong skin pigmentation to boot. Thus an isolated ghetto culture would be formed and this would result in a permanent state of xenophobic tension, punctuated by mutual hate crimes.

      I’m not saying it would necessarily have to happen this way and in any event, all these risks must be on the moral level weight against the current suffering the refugees are facing, but the fears of this outcome are, in my opinion, not entirely unfounded either.

      • Ransom Stoddard

        This is something I’ll perhaps expand on in greater length when I have more time, but suffice it to say that the main problem I have with this line of reasoning is that it sees “culture” as an immutable and “natural” property, instead of a product of the institutions that humans interact with. I don’t know about the European experience, but in the U.S. the quantitative and qualitative evidence overwhelmingly suggests that immigrants assimilate into the native culture rapidly. As immigrants participate in a prosperous and educated society, their “culture” changes to reflect the values of that society, just as the comparable values held by European and East Asia “cultures” changed following the rise of industrial capitalism.

        Further, and perhaps this is just my reptilian aspiring economist nature, it’s unclear to me why people holding different values from you is itself a problem. If you’re worried that immigrants will vote in parties that legislate those values into law, then the solution would be to make residence for a certain period of time a precursor to being allowed to vote. If you’re worried that they’ll break good and just laws as a result of their “culture”, recognize that open borders advocates don’t argue that immigrants should be immune from legal sanction regarding those laws.

        Also, if immigration is actually bad for immigrants, they won’t need massive state coercion to leave. Generally, when people voluntarily move from one place to another in large groups, it’s because the new place is better than the old place.

        • Ronan

          I dont really agree with Merkwürdigliebe, and support more generous immigration policies than Europe currently has (and think the ‘cultural’ argument is completly overblown and too simplistically argued). However, although I agree that culture is not ‘immutable’ (and i dont think many would argue that it is) it *is* more important than the left likes to imagine.
          The evidence in the US doesnt (afaik) show quick integration, it generally shows the three generations rule (after three generations full integration occurs) A lot of this is complicated by place of origin, class, and (as is becoming more prevelant) what sort of connection you can retain with your place of birth.

          Again, I dont mind it personally. I dont see any mechanism where isolated immigrants without meaningful political power can change the host country’s institutions and norms, but these are still peoples fears.

          • adamluedtke

            Very well said.

        • Merkwürdigliebe

          This is more a matter of the second and subsequent generations – people who didn’t have to face the wars that had led to the exodus, who didn’t chose the country they have to live in, but who are never the less not accepted by the majority population and permanently discriminated against by a culture they themselves view as foreign.

          And as far as smooth integration goes, I will single out Islam – in particular Islam now, post 9/11-inavsion-of-Iraq-western-support-for-Israel-Charlie-Hebdo-ISIS Islam of Seriously Heightened Tensions – as a major obstacle. Secularists tend to vastly underestimate how seriously some people take their allegiance to their perception of the Divine (this, of course, does not apply to everyone).

          And if this perception tells them that acceding to the customs and values of the majority population is unacceptable (cf. the note on beer and pork), they will resist it. And they will be reinforced in their resistance by the hatred piled upon them by racists and xenophobes who will take every opportunity to make their existence miserable.

          • adamluedtke

            Yes, but if it’s any comfort, this is hardly new. The same process went on with Italians and other Catholics in 19th Century America (and I myself was a victim of Catholic terrorism when an IRA bomb threat was phoned into the shopping mall I worked at in London).

        • Ahuitzotl

          As immigrants participate in a prosperous and educated society, their “culture” changes to reflect the values of that society, just as the comparable values held by European and East Asia “cultures” changed following the rise of industrial capitalism.

          Wonderful but completely unsupported by reality, at least as far as Europe goes. Talk to the indonesians in Holland, the Turks in Germany, the Algerians in France, just to start.

          • adamluedtke

            Give it another generation before you pass judgment. I live in Queens, New York. Assimilation is powerful but slow.

      • sonamib

        The immigrants would likely not integrate in a culture they would view as heathen, barbaric and unclean, and locals would in turn take them for undesirable foreign pests and moochers, with the wrong skin pigmentation to boot. Thus an isolated ghetto culture would be formed and this would result in a permanent state of xenophobic tension, punctuated by mutual hate crimes.

        Hey, here’s another myth : states can effectively control their borders. They can’t. Restricting legal immigration might dampen a little total immigration, but the number of illegal immigrants will increase.

        Just like in the abortion “debate”, there’s this tendency to talk in vague, abstract ways. You might ponder “Wouldn’t it be better if there were no abortions?” but the truth is abortions are happening whether they’re legal or not. Similarly, it’s useless to ask yourself “Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t want to flee their war-torn shithole to come to my country?” Immigration is happening even when politicians are trying to curb it.

        So, in this context, if you oppose immigration, you are actively contributing to marginalize the people who do manage to come here. You are participating in the tribal mindset that you decry. And you do sound like a right-wing populist.

        • Ronan

          It depends what you mean by ‘effectively.’ Countries quite obviously *can* control their borders (not perfectly, but enough for political purposes)

          • sonamib

            Have you read the linked article? It’s fascinating, and I believe it addresses your objection, i.e. it explains the “fundamentals” that determine the immigration level in a given country. Spoiler : it’s mostly the economy.

            • Ronan

              Yes I have, and it doesnt say what you claim it does. It doesnt define ‘effectively.’ States can, through border controls and penalties, disincentivise and stop migration. Not all, obviously, but it does (in fact) have an effect. The point is to ask what, politically, the aims of the state are.

              • sonamib

                “Not all” is doing a lot of work in your comment. Immigration policies are at best a secondary factor, the main one being the economy (absolute GDP but also unemployment level, etc.).

                Let me cite the article :

                As migration researcher Timothy Hatton has found in a sophisticated statistical analysis, fluctuations in asylum migration are mainly driven by levels of violence and terror in origin countries, and restrictiveness of asylum policies only play a secondary role.

                On top of that, closing the borders to migration of EU citizens is likely to have a number of unintended side effects (so-called ‘substitution effects’) which can make such policies partly if not entirely counterproductive.

                • Ronan

                  You are talking about a world with border restrictions in place already, whether implicit or explicit. They are measuring effects in that context. Removing the restrictions (whether visa requirments or armed borders or so on) changes the context completly. Hence, border controls do, in fact, help stop migration.

                • sonamib

                  Ah, I see where you’re coming from now. We were talking past each other. Your points are obviously unassailable.

                  To be clear, I’m in favor of “more open” borders, not completely neglected, unattended borders. Like, making legal immigration easy for anyone who’s not a security threat.

                • Ronan

                  I was thinking the same thing (that we were talking past eachother). I think we’re pretty much coming from the same place. Im probably just being argumentative.

                  edit: also, Im glad to see youve begun commenting here more regularly as well!

                • sonamib

                  edit: also, Im glad to see youve begun commenting here more regularly as well!

                  Why, thank you Ronan. I actually stopped commenting for a week or so because I was embarrassed by something I’d written here when I was a little tipsy/tired. I’m over it now.

                  And it may not look like it, but I do like your argumentative style. It keeps me honest.

                • adamluedtke

                  Great interchange here! I learned a thing or two for sure :-)

          • djw

            While remaining relatively free/non-authoritarian? States can certainly shape and channel flows, without anywhere near the precision they pretend to, but as far as “controlling borders” goes sonamib is, with a few exceptions, entirely correct. Border “control” is a childish nationalist fantasy.

        • Merkwürdigliebe

          I was rather providing a rationale for the current political opposition to migration, not really putting forward my own policy prescriptions.

          I also disagree with your assessment of the situation on the borders. With current technology it would in fact be rather trivial to create essentially impermeable corridors on land, thus in effect restricting the migration to non-EU parts of the Balkans, Greece and Italy.

          Forcibly resisting the current migration wave would certainly worsen the situation of the refugees and cause somewhere on the order of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousand of unnecessary deaths and immeasurable increase in human suffering. But to me that does not mean problems associated with accepting cannot be mentioned. I believe in informed consent.

          • sonamib

            Well yes, we have the technology to transform our borders into Orwellian dystopias if we wish to do it. Hell, the DDR managed to do it, we could do it too. But since we’re not ready to spend the enormous amount of money needed by such a nightmarish border control system, I think it’s fair to say that in practice, immigration is more “nudged” than “controlled”.

            And my other point was that by spreading the myth that immigrants are more conservative than natives* you were participating in the very tribalism that you so rightly decry.

            *I mean, in Germany, really? What’s next, South East England complaining about conservative immigrants? Flanders? Hungary?

            • Merkwürdigliebe

              Well, even then it can still be nudged in one way or the other.

              And the immigrants are undoubtedly more conservative than natives on the social front. LGBT rights? Gender equality? Wall of separation?

              As far as the domestic minority of reactionaries is concerned, that is rather a cause for further worry – on the core interest of politically suppressing the relative progress of the past 50 years, they will gladly play ball with the dour patriarchs of the other side.

              • sonamib

                And the immigrants are undoubtedly more conservative than natives on the social front. LGBT rights? Gender equality? Wall of separation?

                Fair points, though I have no idea what this “wall of separation” is. But if you consider the plight of undocumented immigrants a social issue (as you should), then immigrants are way more liberal than natives on that.

                So, considering that brown-skinned immigrants are themselves an oppressed class, don’t you think it’s possible to bring them into a progressive coalition? Actually, it’s already happening. Here in Belgium, at least, immigrants vote overwhelmingly for the centrist and left-wing parties.

                • Theobald Schmidt

                  Wall of separation between church and state.

              • adamluedtke

                I think you’re exaggerating a bit, but even if you aren’t, I think the process of generational assimilation tends to sort this problem out in 1 or 2 generations. At least it has/does in America.

          • adamluedtke

            “Impermeable” until we consider all the ways in which people get through, have always gotten through, will always get through, and need to get through in a globalized economy dependent on trade, tourism and communication. The US found this out after 9/11, and we are still suffering the effects. Walls are mythical. And restricting legal avenues only puts more money into the pockets of mafias, and puts more people in danger. I liken it to the arguments over drug policy and harm reduction. Accept that people are going to find ways to do drugs, and then come up with responses that don’t hurt everyone while also making criminals rich.

        • adamluedtke

          Totally agree with Sonamib here, though I think characterizing the comment as “right-wing populist” is dangerous, just as making comments like that are dangerous because they easily fuel or justify right-wing populism. Much like the debates over guns or drugs, it’s very difficult to have a rational conversation because honest intellectual curiosity can inadvertently fuel or perpetuate damaging and ill-conceived notions. Empirical research on tribalism and identity shows that we unconsciously seek out information that confirms our innate tribalism. That being said, I seek out nuance whenever possible, because I don’t think the open borders/”all immigration control is racism” is useful from a policy standpoint. On the other hand, I’ll side with the open borders anti-xenophobes 99.9% of the time, because of how easily contrary arguments become odious and even more sub-optimal from a policy standpoint.

    • Ronan

      There’s no serious way of predicting with any accuracy the economic consequences of open borders, either on the sending or receiving contries. And then, even with these vague and caveated estimates, once you start correcting for how it would effect specific income groups, or try to measure other more difficult to isolate consequences (strain on resources, social solidarity, societal and institutuonal stability etc) it becomes clear that whatever evidence a person is marshalling is purely to support their ideological priors.

      • Ransom Stoddard

        The logic of the case for the economic gains from immigration is very simple. We can observe that immigrants make far, far more money using the same skills in their new homes (anywhere from twice to ten times as much) than their old ones. This is mostly because the political and economic structure of a nation like the United States is more efficient than one like Syria, Mexico or Belarus. Their resources can simply be much more effectively utilized by an employer in the new nation than the old nation. If you stop thinking about economic communities from the perspective of, say, an American citizen, and see them from the perspective of a global citizen, you see that billions of people are locked into nations that have archaic institutions that greatly impoverish them. They would really, really like to move to the areas where’d they make more money with their labor, but immigration restrictions enforced by state coercion prevent them because…uh, they chose the wrong country to be born in.

        If you want to know about the specifics regarding methodology and data, see this JEP paper for starters: http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.25.3.83

        TLDR: Have I mentioned that open borders would double world GDP?

        • Ronan

          Ill read your paper and get back to you. Ive heard the double GDP point before, also agree that there’s (that ive heard) no morally serious argument to oppose open borders.

          • adamluedtke

            Matthew Gibney’s book is a great example of the latter. And Dani Rodrik has done the best research of how liberalizing migration would affect GDP (he doesn’t specify a doubling, but he does indicate that the effects are/would be more positive than the liberalization of trade in goods and services).

        • rieck

          So much for the theory. The practical siutuation on the ground is that a large percentage of refugees have no skills. Many of them are simply too young, others have no profession or only university education (without ever having a job requiring their university qualifications.)
          Of those who do have skills, many have non-transferable skills. Professions that are simply not in high demand in their host countries.
          So, practically speaking, most refugees will have to be trained or re-trained in their host countries. This starts with the very basics: Learning the latin alphabet, learning the language. It will take years until the majority will get to a level where they get productive in their host nations. Many of them never will.

          • adamluedtke

            But surely banning them from working is not a good start, presuming some can and do want to work in fields skilled or unskilled (and some will work on the black market anyway). Also, a small investment in language classes will pay off in social integration and labor market terms, I’d argue. It’s very cheap to have language classes. Border enforcement, deportation hearings and beefing up Interior Ministries cost far more and yield far less good.

        • adamluedtke

          The JEP paper is excellent!

      • adamluedtke

        Though Dani Rodrik has done the best estimation.

    • adamluedtke

      Thanks Ransom! Obviously that’s a tricky road to go down ethically, but Matthew Gibney (who I cite in the post) wrote an excellent normative argument against Carens et al.’s open borders argument. I review it here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01402080500112055?journalCode=fwep20
      I also just published a book chapter on the ethics of a global response to migration (A “WMO” if you will) which takes on the Carens-type argument. You can read it here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275647206_The_Ethics_of_a_Global_Response_to_the_Governance_of_Migration

  • J. Otto Pohl

    I do not think the Yugoslav refugee crises is really comparable to the one today. First, Yugoslavia is in Europe so the movement was within the same continent. This meant that there was not movement over the sea with its attendent dangers. It also meant that even if the Bosnians were “Muslims” that they had a claim to being European that Syrians and Eritreans do not. Second, for whatever reasons there was not a contingent of European governments in the EU like the Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic today strongly opposed to the admission of the Bosnian refugees. So even if there were more Bosnians, Croats, and other white European refugees from Yugoslavia to other parts of Europe in the 1990s than Arabs and Africans fleeing into Europe today it was not a breach of Fortress Europa.

    • DrDick

      You actually highlight the real difference between the two situations. The refugees in the 1990s were white European and largely Christian. Those today are black or brown, Asian and African, and Muslim. It is all about racism and xenophobia.

      • Merkwürdigliebe

        While racism and xenophobia are a major part of it, religions do carry a non-negligible political content.

        It’s not a precise analogy, but I would tend to oppose a huge influx of bible-thumping, union-busting and gun-fondling Texans into my country as well.

        • Ronan

          The geopolitical situation over the last decade +, and exagerrated fears of mass migration induced religious intolerance are certainly exacerbating the situation. And all of these have historical parallels in Europe.

        • sonamib

          But you do know that there’s no way in hell to prevent Texans from moving to Europe, right? They’re American, so the anti-immigration types don’t count them as an invading species.

          Hell, to provoke you, I might say that I’d like to stop austerity-loving Germans to move into my city. But I can’t do it, what with it being the EU’s capital and all.

          In any case, it would be unethical to side with the racists. Sure, a few Muslim nuts will not get their visas (it’s unclear if this actually would prevent them from coming but nevermind). But a lot of good people will be forced into clandestinity too, and that’s unacceptable.

          • Ahuitzotl
          • IM

            So you do propose that Belgium should take in much more refugees and not not the piddling amount you do now?

            • sonamib

              I do! I hate with a passion Theo Francken, our secretary for asylum policy, and I participate in a platform of solidarity with refugees. One of our demands is that the government should process more than the 250 demands per day that they’re doing now.

          • adamluedtke

            Agreed! I myself lived as an illegal immigrant in Brussels in 2004-2005.

        • Ellie1789

          In contemporary Europe (and the US, to a large extent), Islam has been racialized in political discourse, so that it’s meaningless to distinguish between racism, xenophobia, and religion when it comes to Muslims.

          • adamluedtke

            Agreed.

          • DrDick

            Exactly.

      • Ronan

        Yes and no. White migrants have always , and still, face xenophobia and bigotry. In fact for a lot of white migrants it can actually work as a double edged sword , as the institutions and help set up for immigrants tend to overlook them. Of course there are racial and cultural (both of which are relevant with migrants from the Balkans ) and , IMO most importantly , class based factors that exacerbate the situation, but I think they’re more subtle and need teasing out

      • Lee Rudolph

        The refugees in the 1990s were white European and largely Christian.

        And judging from the several Bosniak refugee students I knew in those years and after, at least the ethnic Muslims who made it to the US were as “white European” as anyone could demand (being, of course, essentially indistinguishable [except perhaps in the matter of circumcision, not something I would have had any knowledge of in the case of my students, even if they had not all been women] from Serbs and Croats).

    • adamluedtke

      Interesting points. I haven’t made up my mind on this one yet. But I will tell you that I was in Eastern Germany in 1992 and I visited an asylum-seeker shelter and in the same city (Erfurt) there were Neo-Nazi skinheads walking the streets (I personally witnessed one act of violence and the aftermath of another one). This, combined with the fact that there was actual genocide going on, made THAT situation feel more like a “crisis” than the current one, though this does not mean that we should minimize the importance of helping refugees from the current crisis. I just think it’s wrong to focus on the few who can pay human smugglers to get to the West and ignore the millions who are in or near the conflict zone.

  • kayden

    “Refugee camps closer to the country of origin allow for more refugees to be helped. But the costs are much higher to resettle refugees in the West.”

    Great post. So how do you help refugees so that they don’t have to take on the perilous journey to Europe or other developed countries in the first place? Seems like many are fleeing corrupt governments or wars which are not easily addressed by external players.

    • DrDick

      We could start by not propping up corrupt governments and feeding wars through arms sales.

      • sonamib

        Also, it couldn’t hurt to give financial help to Lebanon, Turkey et. al to manage the influx of refugees.

        • erick

          We also have several wealthy middle eastern countries which are supposedly our allies who I think aren’t taking any refugees

          • DrDick

            I hear Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are lovely this time of year. I do believe that charity is one of the Seven Pillars of Islam.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Saudi Arabia claimed recently that it is sheltering some (quite astonishingly) large number of refugees. The details of their charity were not spelled out in the article I read; I don’t suppose it’s all peaches and cream, even if it isn’t outright slavery, but it may beat the alternative.

            • adamluedtke

              Though my research on UAE shows that their least desirable immigrant group is Sunni Arabs, due to worries over political organizing, radical Islam and foreign ties. Paradoxically, though, these are the only migrants who address the fears expressed by Emiratis in my research – namely, loss of Arabic language, Islamic culture, low birth rate, and erosion of traditional values. But there are far more Egyptians or Syrians than there are Emiratis – which gets at the numbers problem that others have alluded to here.

          • adamluedtke

            I totally agree, though from a realist, strategic standpoint, the Sunni states resent the rise of Iranian/Shiite power that is part and parcel of this conflict, and many of their citizens are funding Daesh.

        • DrDick

          True, as well as pressuring our more affluent “allies” in the region to help out.

          • adamluedtke

            Yes, though the problem in Syria is that no actual allies are much involved on either side!

        • adamluedtke

          YES!

      • adamluedtke

        Or better yet, not backing two sides of the same war (Sunni extremists via Saudi, ISIS and other Syrian rebels – Shiite extremists via Iran, Iraqi militias and Hezbollah).

    • adamluedtke

      Therein lies the question! You nailed it. It’s not easy, but as the comments below indicate, conflict prevention is one pillar. The other has to be better and stronger refugee help closer to source countries. The UNHCR can provide safety to at least 100 refugees for the cost of resettling a single refugee in the West.

    • adamluedtke

      Well, the more realistic solution is to stop wasting money on enforcement, resettlement, and hosting, and to stop giving migrants incentives to spend thousands of Euros on human smuggling mafias. Let’s stop wasting time and money and strengthen the refugee protection areas closer to the conflict zone. A small amount of money invested in UNHCR can help many more refugees, who are going to also be the poorest and most desperate for help (i.e. the ones who do NOT make it to the West).

  • Ronan

    As far as I know , the claim isn’t (generally) that *europe* faces the greatest refugee crisis since ww2, but that the world does ie that there are more displaced people, globally, than at any time since ww2. I don’t know if that’s true, but that has been the claim for long before this specific crisis.

    • DrDick

      That I believe is true, but the vast majority of those displaced persons are currently in the equally poor neighboring countries. It is only a crisis if they are coming to Europe or the US.

      • Ronan

        ah yeah, i agree that it’s a fact of life that these crises generally destablise their neighbours (not the rich countries) In Europe, It isnt a crisis in any meaningful sense of the word (except perhaps a political one)

    • adamluedtke

      That is indeed true! I was hesitant about that one because I didn’t want to give the impression that this crisis isn’t a big deal. But it’s important that we avoid ahistoricism and hyperbole. This is perhaps the most difficult topic of all political topics to have a rational discussion about, in part because of the way people talk about it in such hyperbolic terms on both sides. Analogous to the drug debate, I’d like more people to adopt a “harm reduction” approach to migration. Accept that it’s going to happen, and do our best to maximize outcomes for everyone, particularly the migrants themselves. And I don’t think the migrants themselves are necessarily helped by hyperbole or arguments in favor of completely open borders, in part because the latter are logistically impossible, regardless of how we feel about them normatively.

  • James

    This is crazy off topic, but I have been wanting to ask what if anything became of that notional LGM World of Warships group?

  • IM

    His numbers are nuts. Germany alone will pass the 1992 numbers in this year. So much for “myths”

    • adamluedtke

      I wasn’t singling out Germany in the comparison of numbers, but rather talking about the EU overall. Nor was I comparing any single year to 2015. In fact, I admitted that 2015 may have the most numerous figures. But I thought it was important to point out that 1990 to 1995 saw more EU arrivals than 2010 to 2015, even though the number of EU states is now double the 90s membership.

  • rieck

    There is nothing great about this contribution. Is is unfortunately ill-informed and totally misrepresenting the situation in Europe.
    Just to give 2 examples:
    (1) The figures are wrong, not by little, but by are big margin. This should not happen to an academic writer. By the end of the year Germany alone will have taken in more than 1 m regugees. This is a much larger scale than in 1990, as more people came within an extremely short period of time. During the summer months, Germany had close 300,000 arrivals per month. (for a comparison: Frankfurt has roughly 550,000 inhabitants). So we are looking at the task of having to build housing equivalent to one major city per month. Plus, once accepted as refugees, each of the refugees can get their famliy over, so Germany is estimating to get at least 3 more persons for every refugees who just arrived. This dwarfs the numbers from 1990. The author should know this, as this is presumably his area of expertese.
    (2) The author compares the number of refugees in different countries and concludes that Germany has much less a burden than, say, Turkey. However, the comparison by numbers is flawed. By law Germany pays every refugee 350 Euro per month plus housing plus electricity plus heat. That amounts to easily 800 Euro per month. In copmarison, in Jordan refugees get only a space in a tend and food, which is largely sponsored by international aid organizations.
    Germany tries to integrate refugees into their society, which includes giving them language courses, schooling, and so on. Other countries merely dump them somewhere on the side of the desert and do no intend to provide any decent perspective. Hence, the impact is a totally different one and is certainly not expressed by stating the number of refugees.

    Finally, the motivation of letting refugees into Germany is not to refute the image of the “ugly German”. Where did the author get that idea from? I don’t think he really understands the issues he is talking about.

    • adamluedtke

      Thanks for your comments. To address the points:
      1. I argued that the EU overall had more asylum applicants from 1990-1995 than from 2010-2015, even though it now has twice as many member states. I did not specifically argue that Germany took in less people this year than it did in any single year in the 1990s, because those numbers are more difficult to get, and more subject to measurement inconsistencies. If you have data comparing the number of asylum applications in Germany this year to the numbers in the early-to-mid 1990s, I’d love to see them.
      2. I think it’s problematic to measure refugee resettlement in dollar terms, though by that logic, I think you’d agree with me that it’s logistically impossible to resettle all refugees in the West, particularly given the thousands of dollars that go to human smuggling mafias on average, which I’d argue is a net loss for refugees AND host societies. Why not spend more money on your proverbial “tents”, which could actually improve conditions for millions, as opposed to thousands?
      3. I agree that the “ugly German” refutation argument is completely false. That’s why I cited it as one of the myths. The quote is from Tony Paterson writing in The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/refugee-crisis-germanys-welcoming-approach-towards-people-in-need-is-no-surprise-10488960.html

      • rieck

        Thanks for you reply. Let me be a bit more specific.
        In your blog you try to refute the myth that “Europe has the largest refugee crisis since WWII”. Now, I still hold that this is no myth. We do have the largest crisis. There are two aspect that I would like to stress here:
        (1) If you argue with the numbers of refugees, you need to take a sensible time frame. In 2010 we did not have a refugee crisis yet. Neither did we have a crisis in 2011 or 12. Even the 2014 numbers, although high, were not on “crisis” level. The crisis really hit this year, when the number of refugees skyrocketed.
        If you want to find exact data for the case of Germany, check https://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Downloads/Infothek/Statistik/Asyl/statistik-anlage-teil-4-aktuelle-zahlen-zu-asyl.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
        Note however, that the German ministry for immigration compiles only the number of asylum filings. These numbers understate the crisis, as there is a huge backlog of refugees who did not have the chance yet to file for asylum. Estimates for the backlog range from 9 to 12 months (!). The official estimate for the number of refugees in 2015 is now at 800.000, inofficial esteimates range between 1 and 1.5 m. Nobody, not ever the German government, knows the exact figures. That’s the scary part.
        Hence, even with the most conservative estimates, Germany has as many asylum seekers in 2015 as in the years 1990-1992 combined. Probably more realistically, we are looking at the numbers of 1990 through 1994 combined.
        Now, you said that you did not talk specifically about Germany, but about the EU. Of course, if you include Poland or Estonia, it may appear that there is no crisis, as these countries take very few refugees. Yet, there is a European crisis. For Germany and Sweden, as the targeted host countries, it’s a crisis of the number of refugees. For Croatia, Greece and Austria, it’s a crisis of many people transiting through their territories. For the rest, it is a political crisis, since the situation causes friction within the EU that makes many citizens doubt the future of this organization. So I hold that there is a crisis. Looking at Eu refugee figures alone, and that in the wrong time period, is a myopic view that will make you overlook the obvious huge problems that Europe is currently facing.
        (2) I did not suggest that measuring resettlement in dollar terms is a perfect or approprate measure. What I tried to point out is that measuring the impact just in the number of refugees is also not a good measure and does not allow an asessment of the impact on the host societies. But I do agree with you about having to spend more money on the refugees who are currently “camping” close to their home countries.

        I believe that things will turn much worse before they get better. Europe and in particuar Germany do need some degree of immigration. But the current numbers are a strain on the European societies. Let’s just hope that the citizens of Europe don’t turn to the right-wing nut cases for solutions.

        • rieck

          Just as a follow-up on my first point above. Sometimes, taking averages does not make sense, or is at least not helpful. 10 blind people and 10 people with perfect vision have on average 1 eye, so on average everybody can see. Right?
          For Europe, if the largest country has a crisis, and needs to find a solution in the European context, this does not look like a crisis using averaged or cumulated data, but it is nevertheless a crisis. So what I am asking for is doing statistics in a sensible way, meaning looking at the relevant time periods and giving the data a meaningful interpretation.

          • adamluedtke

            Agree, good point.

        • adamluedtke

          Reliable numbers (let alone ones that are comparable across time and place) make these debates very difficult, obviously. But I concede that national and yearly fluctuations make this a particularly bad time for Germany (though keep in mind that in the early 1990s Germany was also taking on the early steps of reunification, which I’d argue made things more difficult, as I saw in Erfurt in 1992). On a related note (and to bring in the money issue), would you say that the refugee crisis or the Euro debt crisis is today the more acute crisis, and why? Thanks!

          • rieck

            Well, my sense is that the Euro debt crisis is – in economic terms – much more serios then the refugee situation. We are looking at approximatly 7b per year for refugees, that would be less that the financial risks Germany is facing just in the context of Greece alone.
            However, you used the word “acute”… now, the debt crisis is somewhat more abstract. For example, Germans pay by receiveing interest on their savings below the inflation rate. This constitutes a slow expropriation of savings, but does not really hurt at any point in time. It is highly dangerous, maybe precisely because it is not perceived as an acute threat to the citizens.
            The refugee crisis is acute. I just recieved a mail saying that my sports club has to stop operations because the facilities we use are needed to house a group of refugees. So Germans are directly impacted in the way they live their lifes. And this, although we are really only into the first 6 months of the situation. The worry is, that what is now still a relatively minor inconvenience for our daily lives may very quickly turn into a political crisis (right wing parties gaining power, an so on). So my guess is that unless the European governments regain control of the situation, we will run into a political crisis latest my mid-2016.
            As for the Euro-crisis, I give it some more time. But also here, anything can happen. And if things spin out of control, the consequences will be more severe that those of the refugee situation.

            • adamluedtke

              I agree! Thanks. The question of threat perception versus actual social & economic effects is, of course, the interesting one. Subtle monetary effects from pooled interest rates, etc., are difficult enough for the public to see the impact of in their daily lives, other than easy inferences (true or not) like “prices have gone up”. Foreigners arouse more anxiety, rightly or wrongly, because they are visible and have agency. But I agree that the Euro & the economic future of monetary union is the bigger challenge for the EU project if it is to survive/thrive in its 1st Century! I personally have confidence that it will . . .

  • adamluedtke

    Since a lot of this discussion seems to have focused on broader issues around migration in general (not refugees in particular), I thought people might find this other “myth”-busting list I wrote somewhat interesting or provocative:

    10 Myths about Immigration – By Adam Luedtke

    1. *Immigrants “take jobs” away from native workers*
    This common myth fails to understand how a free market works. Jobs are not a “pie” – i.e. there is not a fixed sum of “jobs” out there in the economy, so that if I “take” one, there is one less for you. Instead, jobs are continually being “destroyed” through lack of profits, and continually being “created” through profits that are re-invested back into the economy. So if profits are made from immigrant labor, those profits are re-invested back into the American economy in many forms, often including the hiring of more American workers.

    2. *Illegal immigrants collect welfare and don’t pay taxes*
    Since 1996, non-citizen immigrants (including Green Card holders, aka “permanent residents”) have been prohibited from collecting most forms of welfare benefits. Immigrants pay all sales and other “use” taxes, as well as paying social security, which many of them will never be able to collect. Free-market economist Julian Simon, in a study for the conservative Cato Institute, found that over their lifetimes, the average immigrant pays “thousands of dollars more in taxes than they use in government services”.

    3. *Most illegal immigrants sneak across the border*
    In fact, illegal border crossings account for just under half of America’s illegal immigrant population. The majority of illegal immigrants meet all the criteria to enter perfectly legally, but they simply overstay their visas once they are here.

    4. *We have more immigrants now than ever before in US history*
    In absolute numbers, this is true, but remember that America’s population is also far bigger than it has ever been. As a share of the total population, we actually have LESS foreign-born people today than in 1910. In 1910, according to the US Census, 15 percent of all Americans were born in another country. In 2002, only 11.5 percent of Americans were born abroad.

    5. *Earlier immigrants “blended in”, today’s immigrants “stick together”*
    This claim assumes without historical evidence that earlier waves of immigrants somehow became “Americans” overnight. In fact, Census data shows that most first-generation immigrants lived in ethnic communities and did not speak English. One could walk down many streets in New York in 1910 and rarely hear English spoken. “Full” assimilation is usually not complete until the third generation, and this trend has been consistent throughout history.

    6. *The definition of what a “white American” is has always been the same*
    The term “white” is a new concept, having been invented in the late 20th Century. Groups like Italians and the Irish were considered separate “races” for most of American history, and suffered great discrimination for being Catholics, as well as being stereotyped as “dirty”, “poor”, “uneducated”, “criminal”, etc. In fact, because they were seen as a threat, Irish/Italians were generally not allowed to immigrate into the US for the first hundred years of its existence.

    7. *Most immigrants try to move to democratic, developed countries like the US*
    A Deutsche Bank study found that “most international migrants stay within the same geographic region and migrate to neighboring countries . . . the ratio of foreigners to nationals is in many cases much lower [in the developed world] than in many countries of the second and third world.” In fact, Deutsche Bank found that none of the five countries with the highest percentage of migrants in the total population (the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, and Singapore) were in North America or Europe. Similarly, none of the three countries (Pakistan, Syria and Iran) who host the most refugees are democratic or wealthy.

    8. *Refugees and illegal immigrants are usually the poorest and worst-off people from their countries*
    Because most refugees end up in poor, developing countries near their home country, the refugees who arrive in the West tend to be those with the most skills, education and resources. Similarly, the average illegal immigrant who arrives in the US actually has MORE education than the average citizen of his home country. Emigration is expensive, and is usually not an option for the poorest citizens of a developing country.

    9. *Development aid helps emigration countries*
    Emigration (leaving one’s country) is not an option for the poorest and worst-off citizens of a country. Thus, emigrants tend NOT to come from the poorest, least developed countries. Instead, it is middle-income, developing countries who send the most emigrants. Development aid tends to increase education, and to push people off their farms and into cities, but in the short term the developing economy cannot absorb all of these new workers, who then consider emigration as an option for meeting their (now higher) expectations.

    10. *Emigration (people leaving) hurts developing countries*
    This is the so-called “brain drain” argument – that because immigrants tend to be the “best and brightest” from the Third World (a quarter of America’s Nobel Prizes and half of all Silicon Valley startups are due to immigrants) – the countries they leave are hurt. But in fact, these countries’ economies often did not (and do not) have the capacity to effectively utilize their skills. Instead, developing economies (because they are short of investment capital) are better-served by remittances (the money sent home by immigrants), which provides funds necessary for developing the economy (remittances provide up to 30 percent of some developing countries’ GDPs).

    More full-text work at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Adam_Luedtke

    • Ronan

      Thanks for getting involved in the thread ! On your last point re the brain drain, I mostly buY the arguments that it’s an exaggerated problem, and that a lot of the negatives are outweighed by the positives (particularly remittances and easing demographic pressures) but I think it goes too far at times. Afaict most economists models are more concerned with short term effects, and consequences for the individual rather than the society they’re leaving. In the only example I could speak about with a little bit of confidence, Ireland, I think you see both positive and negative factors at play.
      Positively, during and after the Famine and throughout the 19th century you see an easing of demographic pressures which were helping to prevent modernisation, so plausibly emigration could be seen as a necessary and largely “positive” event at this time. But later into the 20th century it became a method to prevent political elites making decisions that would develop the economy. Arguably one of the factors that caused a change in elite policy making was a fear of a revolution from those who were expected to leave and their families (which was most of the country)That doesn’t touch on what depopulation has done to long term development (this seems to be applicable on a regional basis in countries as well, so unless you have regional development strategies you’re going to end up with large regional disparities in wealth. Which I think will happen more explicitly in Europe over the coming decades , as the young educated or those without assets (including a lot of the poor) move to the centre and trap peripheral countries in sub optimal development strategies )

      • Ronan

        I’m sorry typos and incoherence , on my phone on a train

      • Ronan

        It’s basically the central contradiction with liberalism, it’s almost monstrous to suggest people have obligations to place of birth or larger communities that are only based around geographical proximity, but then if you completly absolve people of those obligations you just end up with the elite (in terms if wealth and education ) self selecting into small concentrated rich areas, locking out a lot of people without their wealth or education

        • adamluedtke

          Very good way to put it. I think that this is the logical endpoint of Carens’ argument in some ways. Though I guess the “social clustering” tendency that Portes reveals in his work gives us some hope that people are motivated by more than money when they move. As much as it’s useful to think it pure utilitarian terms, people’s desire for community (and the power of well-regulated cities to attract economically diverse populations, i.e. artists, without becoming islands of wealth) give me hope. Since I live in New York City, I see examples of both the problems you identify (self-selecting people living in overpriced areas) but also the ways in which the proximity of people and neighborhoods and municipal regulations forces some social integration that seems to work well at times. I always try to stay optimistic :-) I’ve recently been doing research on migrant labor in the UAE, which in some ways is a politically illiberal but highly liberal (in terms of mobility and labor market flexibility) system that produces some very strange results (including a 90% foreign population who works at both low and high ends of the economy with locals protected by welfare and reverse affirmative action). Strange stuff. In my paper in BJPS we find that people are actually more likely to move from democracies to non-democracies rather than vice-versa! https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254200750_Global_Migration_and_Political_Regime_Type_A_Democratic_Disadvantage

          • Ronan

            Thanks for these responses and links (im only seeing them now) Ill check them out.

      • adamluedtke

        No, it was very well stated! There is actually some interesting work on the political side of this question being done by David Bearce. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263858929_International_Labor_Mobility_Redistribution_and_Domestic_Political_Liberalization

  • adamluedtke

    Dani Rodrik on the economic effects of liberalizing migration: http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2007/05/more_on_immigra.html

  • adamluedtke

    I really see the central problem in these migration debates more broadly as being a lack of necessary international cooperation. This certainly shows up more specifically in the the failure of EU states of coordinate in the current crisis, but it also has a lot to do with the lack of cooperation between sending, receiving and transit countries. It’s a status quo mired in a classic collective action problem, with appalling levels of political hypocrisy allowing us to live in denial. With sending, receiving and transit countries working at cross-purposes, everyone is left worse off. Politicians pretend to be able to limit migration despite their knowledge to the contrary. Due to the hostility against immigrants on the part of the public, foreign workers are frequently pushed into illegal status, and their exploitation goes unnoticed or is even encouraged. They are more likely to be victims of crime, and to fall into criminality themselves due to their underground status. Businesses in developed countries continue to lack needed labor in many sectors, while developing countries face a “brain drain” of their best and brightest. Receiving-country publics are angry over the perceived loss of control of national borders, and the abuse of immigration laws, and this anger is felt at the ballot box by their governments, who have few options available to them, since immigration is obviously continuing apace despite the political risks of being seen to encourage or accept or even discuss sensible ways to control it. On the other hand, sending-country governments feel the heat from their own citizens’ accusations of allowing foreign exploitation of their citizens, even as they feel the heat from receiving-country governments for their perceived failure to “stem the tide”. In such a situation, sending and receiving countries see no reasons to trust each other or to work together on regulating migration. Until this changes, it will be “beggar-thy-neighbor” on a far more dangerous and grand scale than we see with trade, finance or the international drug trade, to name a few quandaries with similar logics.

  • adamluedtke
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