The challenge of refugees and migrants is a complex problem that can be viewed from many different perspectives. Some politicians and academics don’t view refugees as a problem, but as a resource for the West. But, surely it’s a problem that millions of people are forced to flee persecution or hopeless conditions in their homelands? And surely it’s a problem that refugees and migrants apparently play a role, both real and fictional, in the polarisation, radicalisation, racist, nationalistic and political conflict growing in Europe and the US? The number of people fleeing and migrating has clearly increased in recent years, and the positive integration of these newcomers, especially from the Middle East, is in crisis.
Therefore, addressing the challenge of ‘Refugees and Migrants’ is one of our new Design to Improve Life Goals. Over the past year, our entire team interviewed more than 140 people from all over the world to get their take on the world’s biggest challenges and best solutions right now. We then analysed all the data and identified five new goals that are not equated with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Our goals can be considered as the essence of new global issues that have emerged or escalated in just two years since the UN adopted their new goals.
Right now, the refugee crisis dominates the image of immigration to Europe. In Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, the people flee war or persecution. A horrific situation where three countries are torn apart in seemingly intractable conflicts and despotic regimes. But economically this is yet to be a big problem for the West. In 2015, Europe received 1.3 million refugees – about 0.2 percent of the entire population of Europe. Germany, which received by far the most refugees, took in 800,000 refugees – about 1 percent of their population. Some believe that Europe, because of the continent’s decreasing birthrate, will need refugees and immigrants. It’s believed that without an increase in the labor force, Europe as a continent won’t be able to experience more growth – socially, economically and culturally.
In contrast, the flow of refugees has become a political pressure point playing a major role in the wave of nationalist, racist and anti-Muslim movements that now ravage Europe and the US. These refugees stand in the middle of a politically and culturally polarised society, splitting the people of Europe in two – an event already seen in the US since President Trump’s election.
‘US’ AND ‘THEM’
Pew Research Center recently made a study of attitudes towards refugees and migrants in 10 European countries. Around 49 percent of the public believes that an increased number of refugees from, e.g. Syria and Iraq, poses a threat to their communities. And an even larger number on average, 59 percent, believe that an increased number of refugees increases the risk of terrorism in their country. The study also revealed that 43 percent have a negative view of Muslims in their community.
According to a recent study in Danish newspaper Søndagsavisen, the nation’s biggest concern for the future isn’t pollution or climate change – it’s immigrants. And at the highest political level, the EU has demonstrated confusion and a lack of unity when dealing with refugee and migrant issues. As Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said last year in the newspaper Il Messaggero: “an ever worsening crisis surrounding immigration threatens to tear the soul out of the European Union”.
The coming elections in France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands will determine if Europe, like Poland and Hungary, will venture down the nationalist path. This won’t just be a crisis for the EU. It’ll be a crisis for the entire West that will threaten our human rights, democracy and equality – some of the very virtues that make Europe great.
Many of the traditional parties in Europe have moved to the right, but there are still many who believe that Europe needs refugees and migrants. Greek researcher Angeliki Dimitradi from the Hellenic Fondation for European & Foreign Policy has calculated that even with over a million people arriving each year, there will still be a lack of manpower in Europe as the younger generation is still too small. Like several leftist parties, he believes immigration is needed – we just need to find better ways to integrate them with improved education and employment opportunities.
The problem isn’t immigration – the problem is the West’s economic and identity crisis.
The Western economies have lost steam. Many are nostalgic for the good old days – looking back to grandma’s cooking, the Matador and the allotment house. We’re closing ourselves off to the strangers who seem to threaten us, even if the statistics or experts say otherwise. The feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is being reinforced. It all tells the story of a weakened Western identity, an identity crisis.
But the pro-immigrant arguments will continue to fall on deaf ears as long as some studies show that immigrants are a ‘cost’ to us. In any case, immigrants from non-Western countries. The Rockwool Foundation published a report in 2014 indicating that non-Western immigrants in Denmark cost a total of DKK 16.6 billion annually. But Western immigrants gave a surplus of DKK 3.8 billion. And since the threat of the Islamic State in Europe, any rational argument for immigration simply doesn’t stick. The dividing line between extreme Muslims and the ordinary citizens with Islamic roots is now blurred.
But regardless of how many refugees and migrants come to the West, we still have the enormous task of improving our integration systems. For those who are already here and for all those who will come. The consequences of inaction will be costly.
Refugees and migrants both flee from a hopeless future. They come from situations of persecution, war or economic famine. Who wouldn’t chase happiness for themselves and their family? Fortunately, most can understand the motives of these newcomers.
Currently, many refugees are coming from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve lived under conflicts that show no reprieve, and we simply don’t know how many people will arrive. The number could, however, go down. But a decrease in the flow of migrants isn’t likely.
As the government’s so-called ‘foreign policy scrutinizer’ Ambassador Peter Taksøe-Jensen presented: migration from the Middle East and Africa is an increasing problem for Denmark, and the West will have to deal with it for years to come. And according to experts, the number of economic migrants is increasing every year. But, it’s not just the difference between rich and poor. Paradoxically, it’s the relative increase in prosperity in the Middle East and Africa, as communicated by Facebook and television, which allows them to arrange an escape route.
At the same time, in Africa alone there’s an increased awareness that ‘something isn’t quite fair’ as seasoned Africa-based journalist Jesper Strudsholm writes. Foreign companies collect profits from Africa’s natural resources, the EU subsidises its own agriculture and applies tariffs to Africa’s competitively priced products. It’s not only Africa’s leaders who are to blame for the world’s bias. And many see their only option as an escape to the North.
Generally speaking, there are two ways to go. If the West wants to cap the increasing pressure of political and economic migrants, they can close the fences, put up walls and implement stricter laws. Or, they can actively improve conditions and opportunities in the homelands of migrants – with the local leaders – so there is less motivation to seek possibilities in the North. Right now, in many African countries there are already numerous positive economic developments.
But so far, the West has chosen the second option. Visions of addressing the ocean of poverty surrounding the European enclave of wealth are fading. The Danish funds allocated to help developing countries have been reduced, and political discussion and international cooperation to address the world’s major problems are in dire straits. These developments could only escalate refugee and migrant issues and lead to worse problems in the future.
Therefore, we have a major political problem. But there are other ways to go. Cooperation on the lower level – between cities, businesses and individuals – investments in the Middle East and Africa, as well as cultural cooperation can also have a great effect. And the design of better products, systems and processes has a crucial role to play in improving the development and relations between nations. Better networks, like smartphones and social media, are already working as essential platforms for collaboration and the exchange of amazing ideas and solutions.
The challenge we’re facing right now won’t be solved by politicians alone.
Therefore, one of our Design to Improve Life Goals is to help stabilise the growing refugee and migrant crisis and promote more inclusive systems for newcomers.