Author: George Kitsaras
Editor-in-Chief / Psychologist / Doctoral Researcher
2015 seems like a lifetime away. That year a record number of refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean in search for a better future. Millions made it through, thousands died in the sea and millions more were left behind in countries torn apart by civil wars, authoritarian regimes and poverty; in countries where every day is another struggle, another plight for survival. 2015 was significant for another reason. That year, an awakening in the consciousness of many, a humanitarian call to action mobilised thousands of citizens across Europe who willingly and altruistically offered their help to those battered by life’s challenges and misfortunes. While many Europeans helped and assisted those in need, others cultivated hate and capitalised on the fearful, uncertain and heavily polarised times fuelled by intense and frequently biased media coverage. Europe was divided, the world was divided.
Fast forward to 2018, a mere 3 years after the volatile and dramatic days of 2015. Much have changed around Europe and the world yet much remains the same. Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are left stranded in Greece and Italy while millions more who made it to Turkey saw their dreams and hopes put on hold following a widely criticised Turkey-EU policy. Destination countries like Germany and Sweden have now become accustomed to the backlash of their “open-door” approach to those in need. Other countries like the UK that did so little to receive refugees maintain a quasi-humanitarian interest by dictating policies and vague ideas. A spate of terrorist attacks across Europe, predominately by home-grown “lone-wolves” are not helping either. All across Europe, the rise of ultra-right, xenophobic and narrow-minded politics and behaviours is reaching extremely worrying levels.
Despite facing the worst humanitarian emergency since the end of the Second World War, from 2015 to 2018 little has actually changed. Decisions followed at a lethargic pace. Actions focusing solely on how to deal with what was perceived as a “problem” that threatened the shire existence of the European Union and posed a great danger to democratic societies through the rise of fascism. Little to no thought was given on the benefits that refugees bring with them. Benefits that in pure economic terms outweigh the cost. Benefits that can spread from the economy to societies because refugees work. As a detailed study by TENT showcased the huge, and in many cases untapped, potential that refugees bring to host-destination countries. Potential that can yield tangible outcomes in pure economic terms by investing in refugees (“Invest 1E in welcoming refugees can yield 2E in economic benefits in 5 years’ time”) (Legrain, 2016). Even though an initial investment will be necessary, resulting dividends around increased demand, payment of taxes & social insurance contributions as well as uptake of dull-dirty-dangerous-difficult (4D) jobs that the local population usually avoid will result in excellent returns (Legrain, 2016). Apart from tangible, and immediate, economic benefits, refugees can offer a much needed societal-demographic boost to ageing European societies. The interaction of a diverse mix of people can result in greater generation of ideas while young refugees can complement older local populations by paying for the swelling pension and social care expenditures across the Continent (Legrain, 2016).
Now, in the midst of Summer, citizens around Europe woke up in yet another round of talks on the migration crisis hitting Europe. This time the awakening has lost its sense of urgency and appending doom that dominated the coverage back in 2015. Nevertheless, the narrative remains largely the same. Little to no focus is given to the benefits that refugees can bring to ageing societies and stagnating economies. Maybe it’s time for that narrative to change. Maybe it’s time to show that refugees work.
Legrain P. (2016). Refugees Work: A Humanitarian Investment That Yields Economic Dividends. TENT Organisation.