Over 65 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict or persecution in 2015. This troubling statistic comes from UNHCR–also known as the UN Refugee Agency–and was a higher number than at any time in the agency’s history. UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding with the OECD in June 2016 to increase collaboration between the two organisations in addressing the problems that arise from such forced displacement, both for the people themselves and the communities that host and shelter them.
When nearly a million Vietnamese “boat people” fled their country in the late 1970s and early 1980s and sought refuge elsewhere, they were typically seen as a burden and often turned away. Eventually, many were allowed to settle in the US. Most arrived speaking little or no English and with few assets or relevant job skills. Yet Vietnamese refugees are now more likely to be employed and have higher incomes than people born in the US.
The unfolding refugee crisis requires a bold, comprehensive and global response. At the same time, OECD countries should adapt their policies to foster the integration of those who are going to stay. While this implies significant up-front costs, it is also essential to reaping sizeable medium- to long-term social and economic benefits.
Brazilian Jobert Marinho stands in the doorway of his local gym, where he trains, in Gort, County Galway, November 2014.
At a joint high-level conference in Paris in January, the heads of the OECD and UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) called on governments to scale up their efforts to help refugees integrate and contribute to the societies and economies of Europe.
In 2015, more than 1 million people crossed the Mediterranean Sea to look for international protection in Europe, and about 1.5 million claimed asylum in OECD countries. This is an all-time record and almost twice the number recorded the year before. Asylum seekers represent about 0.1% of the total OECD population, and less than 0.3% of the population in Europe.
Currently exhibiting at the OECD, the work of photojournalist Anne A.R. on Syrian refugees in Greece “I am with them” is a testimony of the lives of children, women and men searching for a better life as they escape the horrors of war.
The writer James Joyce was unique in many ways, but when he left Ireland in 1904, he was joining a tradition of expatriate Irish writers. Difficulty publishing at home in what was then a conservative country was one reason for his departure: in his 1912 poem, “Gas from a burner”, he referred to Ireland as “This lovely land that always sent Her writers and artists to banishment.” But Joyce also declared that after his death “Dublin” would be found inscribed on his heart. Today the word “Joyce” is in turn inscribed in Ireland’s own heritage.
Today, bolstered by steady economic growth and an emerging confidence in Ireland’s future, the government is taking a new tack by fostering a bolder engagement towards emigration and the diaspora.
We are facing an historic moment. By the end of this year, the number of people applying for asylum in the European Union will exceed 1 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.
Even before the refugee crisis hit European countries, migration was at the top of the international policy agenda. All sides of such a sensitive debate have made appeals to people’s emotions, but there must also be room for facts to inform policy discussions.
"European leaders must stand before history in dealing with this humanitarian tragedy. They have the experience and the capacity to respond to this emergency and chart the path for a long-term solution," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría in a statement on a French-German refugee initiative issued Friday 4 September.
The question of whether or not migration, and in particular free mobility within Europe, can play a role in reducing unemployment is a highly topical one. In the EU, harmonised unemployment rates rose between 2007 and Q3 2014 from 7.2% to 10%.
Immigration became a heated subject of debate during the European Parliament elections in May 2014. Economists are now asking whether anti-immigrant sentiment can be attributed to fiscal, as well as social, factors.
In the land of tabloid terrors, immigrants loom large. Flick through the pages or online comments of some of the racier newspapers, and you’ll see immigrants being accused of stealing jobs or, if not that, of being workshy and “scrounging benefits”.
Changing world of migration
While there has been progress in immigrant integration on many fronts, much remains to be done. The crisis has rolled back progress in some countries, so catching up is still the name of the game. Better policies mean better outcomes. The future depends on it, says the OECD.
©OECD Observer No 293 Q4 November 2012
Migration into OECD countries fell by about 7% in 2009 to 4.3 million people, down from just over 4.5 million in 2008. Recent national data suggest migration numbers fell further in 2010, the 2011 International Migration Outlook says.
Just how significant is international migration in the light of other globalisation developments? One obvious starting point for answering the question is to ask how many of the current world population of 6.7 billion people are international migrants, defined as persons living outside their country of birth.
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