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Migration & Refugees

Migration & Refugees

This is a summary of a discussion group on the topic of migration at the State of Europe Forum 2019 in Bucharest.

What generates migration?

Enormous amounts of refugees are coming into Europe for all sorts of reasons, from economics to disasters. In many cases, migrants fall prey to the slave trade. 

In the case of sex trade, the girls that come are not necessarily ignorant of what happens, but often they have no choice. Warning people might not be necessarily sufficient at times. The culture can be the source of the problem. For example, in Roma culture, a girl must often follow whatever the father or the uncle says. 

In the case of migrants coming from outside Europe who fall prey to slavery, the root cause is not necessarily with Frontex, the slave owners or those who organise the slave market in Libya but with those who recruit people in the source countries. This is billion dollars business. The problem must be addressed at the source, for example in Congo, where slave-traders are acting in all impunity. Even if the governments, the police or the church know about it, they are just washing their hands.

With regards to European interests, unfortunately people are not considered as important. We are looking for raw material and this generates slavery in the supply chain of our products. For example, every European benefit from the copper mines in Congo. Cheap clothing often contains slavery in its supply chain. The situation will not change until we decide to stop buying cheaper products such as phones with cobalt. It is a costly and yet a necessary step. 

However, there are good steps being taken. Some chocolate companies are deciding to produce only ‘slave-free’ chocolate. But it takes us, as people, to refuse to buy products which are the result of slavery and it takes companies to clean up their supply chain. This is the only way to cut the source of income of the slave-traders in these countries. As long as money is made, the slave-trade will not stop, but we can contribute to stop this.

There is also a vicious circle generated since the United Nations Development Program was set up in the 1980s. What is actually going on is a swop of money for land. But the latter is more vital than the first for survival. Moreover, money doesn’t necessarily go to the people, and this contributes to the set the conditions for smuggling and recruiting slaves. 

Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, once said that a quarter of the world’s arable land were used by Europeans. There is a need to change our lifestyles. For example, cheap roses sold in Europe are grown in Kenya, where the water that should normally serve the local people is used. Instead of buying cheap roses, why not buying tulips instead? So, some simple changes in our lifestyles can greatly contribute to stop the problem worldwide.

Also, what drives so much migration is almost always a lack of hope and a perception of more hope to be found in Europe. This makes the candidate migrants vulnerable. Traffickers are obviously promoting glossy ads, although anyone can now find on social media that it is not all rosy. When the migrants who had been mistreated in Libya were later asked whether they would have tried to migrate had they known beforehand that it would have been this hard, they almost always answered ‘yes’. The driving force is hopelessness and it is extremely powerful. Trying to restore hope in the communities where migrants come from is an extraordinary opportunity for the church and for the mission. The Christian Church has done this for a long time but it has to be done in a larger scale now.

Migration from outside Europe

In Africa there are lots of private schools, mostly Christians. People receive a good education, but then they want to go to Europe to study because there are not a lot of alternatives in Africa. 

There is little capacity building, and building hope is building capacity. Nowadays, China is building great capacity in Africa, but the Chinese government does it to sustain its own legitimacy before its own people. And since it is impossible to give a bowl of rice to a billion people in China, the Chinese government send their people to Africa to do the work. China is welcomed in Africa because, since they don’t have any colonial history, they present themselves as equals with the Africans. But the reality is that they invest into the heaviest infrastructures and the jobs are mostly given to Chinese people, so they don’t give hope to Africans. 

As for the Europeans who go to Africa with their plans, they would also go there as equal to equal, but in practice they would use Africa to build infrastructure in order to export their big companies. We need to rethink in depth the way in which we cooperate. It is not just about money. It is about private investment by giving hope and taming our greed.

Moreover, many Europeans are migrating to China because the market is bigger. For example, there are lots of Dutch farmers in Romania. If we think that we can migrate out of Europe, why can’t a Nigerian or a Congolese migrate to Europe? While it is true that Europeans can usually support themselves, this is not generally the case with migrants coming into Europe who, mostly, cannot become directors straight away. However, Europeans also tend to be condescending or paternalists. We tend to put migrants in a box, blaming them that they can’t do anything, that we have to provide food, money and shelter to them. 

Nevertheless helping a person who comes without shoes is not the same as to perpetuate a behaviour of entitlement. Some Syrian refugees in Lebanon want to go back to Syria, but they won’t because they receive 100 dollars in the refugee camp. If they leave they won’t receive money anymore and it wouldn’t be enough to sustain themselves. If they go back to Syria, they will have to rebuild everything, and this is a big task.

Finally, Europeans tend to see the migration issue only because it affects us. Two million migrants have come to Lebanon from Palestine for seventy years. There are millions of migrants out of Chad and most of them didn’t come to Europe. The situation is not comparable.

Intra-European migration

Romania joined the EU in 2007. Up to 2019, three million Romanians, out of a population of twenty million, have migrated as economic workers to Western Europe. Now the population of Romania is below 17 millions, compared to 22 millions in the nineties. A retired member of the faculty of astrophysics at the university of Cluj once said that the youngest person in his department was 48 years old, and that every student they had sent abroad to do a PhD has stayed afterwards. There is a huge brain drain. Then other Romanians with university degrees go to pick up strawberries in Spain, to drive trucks in Belgium or to become baristas in London.

On the other hand, a lot of working class families, for example in Britain, often don’t have the same skills than Eastern Europeans. Romanians are very good workers, have good attitudes, will outwork a British working class person and are willing to work for less, because it is still far more than getting 200 € in Romania. This situation builds up resentment because migrants from Romania are competitive. On the other hand, mothers are left in Romania without seeing their children and villages are being depopulated. This example shows that there are many narratives within each story of migration. There is certainly an upside to it but there is also a downside to it as well.

Countryside to cities migration

The process of urbanisation is also another type of migration, from the countryside to the cities. This process affects global warming. There is a tendency to gather all hope in one place, to consider that the best place is the capital city, the big city, the prosperous city, where everything is possible and where life is possible. And there is a sense that there is no other option.

China is a horrendous example. Two hundred forty million children are left in Chinese countryside when parents are working in the cities. This happens also in Romania. When parents go abroad, lots of children are left with grand-parents or neighbours. There are lots of stories of children committing suicide. This opens up a field that Christians can address, i.e. loneliness, that is the lack of relationships between people. People were always able to migrate but now we live in times when migration is the norm. 

Also, agricultural work is undervalued. Some academic articles are saying that countryside should be made glamorous again because we can’t have a sustainable food supply without agriculture. They advocate for an agriculture made appealing again. Literature used to be always in the context of a forest or in the fields. Nowadays literature talks about the ghettos near to cities, movies are about becoming super-successful. On the positive side, incentives are being created for universities to promote countryside living. People are trained to put ideas together and selected to move to regional work. This creates waves to energise young people.

Positive aspects of migration

There are two examples of positive impact of migration, one for the receiving nation and the other for the sending nation.

Firstly, during the Dutch Golden Age, lots of Jewish migrants came from Portugal and Spain (e.g. Baruch Spinoza). Dutch people were very happy with them because they brought lots of different views, a Mediterranean lifestyle, various food, thoughts and languages. There were advertisements in cities to attract foreigners so that they would participate in the economic process. Ultimately, most of the voyagers from the trade companies were funded by these Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had made money in the Netherlands. They have contributed to the Dutch Golden Age. We should reflect more on these success stories if we would really use them properly in our economy. We would actually benefit, maybe not now but in fifty years.

Secondly, in the nineties, the Italian automobile company FIAT was decreasing in quality and sales. Then, during the 2000s a man called Sergio Marchionne was hired and became the new director. Marchionne was an Italian who had grown up and studied in Canada. He brought the Canadian practice into the company, while knowing how to work in an Italian context. As a result, the company resurrected. This example from the business world can inspire the church to think and meditate on how to communicate hope and vision to develop the nation that the migrants left. This requires a change of mentality. In many countries, people look to the government to give them education, jobs and security. But it’s probably never going happen. People need more entrepreneurship and successful examples.

What can the church do?

In addition to take inspiration from the previous two examples, there are other ways in which the Church can be involved.

The first great campaign against human injustice was the 18thcentury abolitionist campaign in the British Empire. It took fifteen years for William Wilberforce to succeed in enforcing anti-slavery laws in the Parliament. It involved a huge amount of perseverance. Huge researches and campaigning were being done. This is a fantastic example that set a pattern on how to bring about deeper social changes.

We are still drawing from that precedent. There was huge vested interest then. People were profiting from the transatlantic slave trade and from slavery in the New World. The situation is not easier now. There is always a huge economic driving force behind human injustice.

Finally, we must remember that even if we could inspire people to go and rebuild their countries, we can’t force people to go back. If we are for freedom, we shouldn’t restrain people. It would be easier for a single person to move back is more difficult for a family. The children of the migrants are growing safely in their host country, so why would they go somewhere where they don’t have security? We should capitalise on the migrants, not to use or abuse them, but to empower and tell them that they can be motors for change where they have settled or back in their hpme country.

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