Hillary Clinton has warned Europe needs to “get a handle on migration” to combat the growing threat of rightwing populists.
In an interview with The Guardian, the former US presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
“While it is far from a consensus, on both sides of the Atlantic the proposition that immigration amounts to a large-scale threat is gaining ground on the right of the political spectrum”, says the New York Times.
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Across Europe this tactic has been deployed to devastating effect. Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian leader Viktor Orban has positioned himself as a defender of Christian European civilisation, enacting anti-migrant policies to protect Europe from “being overrun by Muslims”. Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy are now controlled by overtly anti-immigrant parties. Meanwhile growing support for Alternative for Germany, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (formerly the Nation Front) and Geert Wilders’ Dutch Freedom Party has led to mounting concern Eurosceptic parties are poised for significant gains in the European Parliamentary elections in May.
Yet the figures do not back up the increasingly alarmist rhetoric.
Migration numbers have fallen sharply since the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.
Some countries who have borne the brunt of immigration such as Germany, Italy and Greece have argued for the burden to be shared more evenly, but others, particularly in central and eastern Europe where populism has proved most popular, have rejected demands to take in refugees.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) estimates around 180,000 African refugees made their way into Europe last year, with another 3,900 dying trying.
“These are not small numbers by any account” says IOL News, “but neither are they statistics – reduced to that by the myopic European fear – that suggest a coming apocalypse, a blackocalypse, which the European governments keep visualising”.
What is more, “the hard statistics show that the region will need more rather than fewer migrants in the years ahead”, says Bloomberg’s Mark Gilbert.
According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, more people died than were born in the EU last year.
Few voters will ever read any of the reams of academic studies arguing that migrants are an economic benefit, but with an aging population there is an ever-growing need for foreign workers to fill jobs and contribute to a ballooning healthcare bill.
In the UK, key myths on the negative impacts of EU immigration were blown apart by a major report commissioned by the government published in September.
The findings from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) found EU citizens have little impact on UK workers’ wages, pay more in taxes, have no adverse impact on young Britons’ schooling, are not linked to increasing crime and contribute “much more” to the NHS than they consume.
But perceptions matter – and the myth of migration has been ruthlessly exploited by populists to stir up hate and drive voters to the polls.
A recent study from Harvard based on surveys in the United States and a variety of European countries found that people across the board vastly overstate their immigrant populations.
For example, Eurostat data shows the EU has fewer than 1 million illegal immigrants, compared with more than 21 million legal immigrants. But in its Eurobarometer survey published in April, the European Commission found that a third of respondents believe there are more illegal than legitimate migrants.
“The message is hard to get across to voters in the era of populist political movements,” says Gilbert, “but it would be sensible for governments, who must surely realise that their pension systems are already buckling under the strain of our increased longevity, to spend more time dispelling the myths surrounding immigration.”
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