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9/24/15

EU-We Should Not Be Afraid Of Refugees - it will pay off in the long-run by doing it right - by Angel Gurria

Europe is facing an historic moment. By the end of this year, the number of people applying for asylum in the European Union will exceed one million. The human cost of this refugee crisis is appalling. Yet, in all but a handful of cases, the response of Europe’s governments has been tentative, at best: acknowledging the need to do more, while fearing the implications.

Some politicians fear the burden that migrants will impose on local communities and taxpayers. Others fear extremists masquerading as genuine refugees. Above all, many are scared of public opinion, which – for all the heart-warming scenes of welcome and support for asylum-seekers – remains hesitant and even hostile to the prospect of still more migrants from war-torn, troubled countries, especially if they practice a different religion.

European leaders cannot afford to be afraid. The refugee crisis is not one from which they can opt out. No magic wand will empower leaders to transport more than a million people back across the Aegean and the Bosphorus to Mosul and Aleppo, or across the Mediterranean to Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan.

The reintroduction of border controls and the construction of fences may buy time for over-stretched countries, but no one can seriously expect to keep out people who are so desperate to move. Given the dire conditions in the countries from which they are fleeing, perhaps half of the asylum-seekers will qualify for
residency under even the strictest rules. So, whatever the sensitivity or ambivalence of public opinion, European leaders will have to find a bold, coordinated, and unified response.

There are three challenges. The first is to agree on a fair allocation of refugees within Europe; despite their vast numbers, these desperate people must be provided with shelter, food, and support. This will be difficult enough.

The second challenge is to start the process of integrating refugees into Europe’s societies and economies. Some refugees will find it relatively easy to find jobs. A university-educated Syrian civil engineer arriving in Munich will need to learn some German; but, once this is done, he or she is unlikely to have to wait too long before employers come knocking. Other asylum-seekers have lower levels of education, and many may well be traumatized by their experience of war and exodus. It will take time and effort to integrate them

and many voters will be skeptical of the process, especially given that successful integration or assimilation will not come cheap.

However, paying the price to accept and integrate today’s asylum-seekers could reap significant benefits for the Europe of tomorrow. Our work at the OECD shows that migration, if well managed, can spur growth and innovation. Unfortunately, in the past, migration has not always been well managed: migrants have been concentrated in ghetto-like conditions, with few public services or employment prospects.

Note EU-Digest: this is a renewed opportunity for Europe to do migration right - we should not blow it this time. 

Read more: We Should Not Be Afraid Of Refugees » Social Europe

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