The West’s Best Interest: Accepting Migrants During Crisis

1 year ago Alger Mag Editor 0


Since the start of civil war in Syria, more than 200,000 civilians have been killed in shootings, artillery strikes, and chemical weapon attacks. Hundreds more have faced torture and starvation. Millions have been forced to abandon their homes, seeking asylum in neighboring countries and increasingly within the European Union.

In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, government leaders across Europe and in the United States have not only failed to address the needs of these escaping refugees, but have implemented policies which make it more difficult and dangerous for refugees to seek safety.The United Kingdom, for example cut funding for search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean in 2013, resulting in the preventable deaths of over 2,500 people in one summer alone. Even when refugees manage to successfully cross the Mediterranean to enter Europe, they face tight border security and the challenge of almost impossible assimilation. This unwelcoming attitude can be evidenced by the harrowing barbed wire fence installed around Hungary’s border to deter refugees and a new law passed in Denmark which allows officials to seize refugees’ few personal belongings to pay for social services.

Interestingly, many European nations not only have the resources and wealth to fully integrate migrants, but would likely experience an economic boost by allowing increased migration. According to the United States Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), by increasing the working-age population and contributing to the development of human capital, migrants contribute to economic growth. In fact, over the past ten years, migrants have accounted for 47 percent of the increased workforce within the United States, and 70 percent in Europe.


As immigrants play a larger role in the workforce, the diversity they add to markets further contributes to economic growth and productivity. Increased diversity is critical to driving innovation in traditional businesses and is an increasingly important aspect of remaining competitive in today’s globalized world. Furthermore, migrants and immigrants are more likely than the average citizen to be entrepreneurs. By working in niche sectors of the economy, especially by establishing new businesses, refugees ultimately give more to the economy than they take away via benefits. After all, as researchers Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri point out, “Who can deny that Italian restaurants, French beauty shops, German breweries, Belgian chocolate stores, Russian ballets, Chinese markets, and Indian tea houses all constitute valuable consumption amenities that would be inaccessible to Americans were it not for their foreign-born residents? Similarly the skills and abilities of foreign-born workers and thinkers may complement those of native workers and thus boost problem solving and efficiency in the workplace.” Ultimately, increased diversity results in not only a positive net economic contribution, but also in more culturally diverse and aware communities.


If accepting refugees ultimately contributes to economic growth, why are so many countries hesitant to open their borders? For one, when refugees first enter a country they often receive more support from the government than they pay in taxes. This is especially the case in countries such as Germany and Sweden where there is a strong focus on redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor. Since refugees are often more poor than the average citizen, they will disproportionately benefit from egalitarian policies. However, the longer a migrant stays in a foreign country, the more that migrant gives back to the accepting country. In fact, after about 15 to 20 years, the trend begins to reverse, meaning migrants give back to the economy more than they take away. This leads to the economic growth discussed earlier, and in the case of countries like Germany and Sweden, can lessen the upward crawl of rising state pensions.

In the short term, the swell of refugees creates greater competition for work and can lower wages and increase unemployment. Nonetheless, evidence from Germany suggests that this suppression of wages is minimal; a 10 percent  increase in the proportion of immigrants working in unskilled labor positions lowered wages by only 2 percent. Furthermore, refugees do not replace native workers, but rather foster increased demand for products and social services, which can over time create more positions for employment. A recent report from the IMF found that in Turkey, for example, Syrian refugees are barred from working in the formal economy, and as a result are taking over jobs in the informal agricultural sector, replacing the uneducated female Turkish workers who previously did this work. Native workers, however, are increasingly employed in higher-paying jobs of the formal economy. This means that instead of facing unemployment, many native workers instead have increased opportunities to find higher paying work.

The question of whether or not to accept more Syrian refugees, then, is less a matter of monetary capacity as it is a matter of social concern. In the face of terrorist attacks such as those in Paris and Brussels, many political leaders and members of the public oppose admitting  refugees in fear of an increased risk of terrorist attacks. Ohio Governor John Kasich expressed this fear in a letter to President Obama, writing “I do not believe the U.S. should accept additional Syrian refugees because security and safety issues cannot be adequately addressed.” Governors from thirty other states agreed with Kasich, calling for the federal government to cease the resettlement of Syrian refugees, despite the thorough screening process refugees already undergo. Because of this position, by the end of 2015, the United States had accepted only 1,869 Syrian refugees – about 0.0005 percent of the people escaping conflict.

These views are not limited to the United States. According to a New York Times article, after the Brussels terrorist attacks, conservative leader Nigel Farage said, “I think we’ve reached a point where we have to admit to ourselves, in Britain and France and much of the rest of Europe, that mass immigration and multicultural division has for now been a failure.”

However, despite anti-immigration sentiment, accepting an increased number of refugees can actually deter recruitment tactics used by terrorist organizations such as ISIS, weakening them more effectively than refusing entry to these refugees. As author and professor Anne Speckhard explains, “just as gangs attract youth in inner cities, terrorists are adroit at exploiting the most vulnerable who might turn to them for security, justice, and even hope.” The monotony of a refugee camp, where many young people easily lose hope for the future, provides the perfect setting for this scenario. Terrorist organizations harness this potential to generate support, and have been successful in doing so. If Europe and the United States wish to douse the terrorism associated with radical Islamism, instead of reacting to deadly attacks they should target the fuel of the fire: recruitment strategies of terrorist organizations.

In the end, the decision to take in more refugees is a multi-faceted issue with economic, social and political implications. The rise of right-wing anti-immigration rhetoric across the United States and Europe has led to greater public opposition to accepting refugees, many of whom have different cultural and religious practices. Fear is augmented by a short-term focus on the negative economic impacts that migrants can bring to a country, but this short-term thinking ignores the overall benefits that migrants can bring to an economy, and overlooks the advantages that increased diversity has on efficiency and productivity.

In the midst of this political storm, we must remember the situations of the people affected. The question of whether to accept or deny refugees ultimately has less to do with economic effects on the West than it does with helping innocent people. Refugees have lost their family members and homes to a violent civil war and with nowhere to go, they look to Western nations for opportunity. It is now up to these Western nations to respond in ways that help as many people as possible.


By Erin Gottsacker

(Image courtesy)