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Unknown people

by Ellen Thalman

In brief

Siawah Ebadi from Afghanistan has become a police officer in eastern Germany.

Siawah Ebadi from Afghanistan has become a police officer in eastern Germany.

The political discourse on immigration remains largely negative and is marked by xenophobia and prejudice. Nonetheless, governments are beginning to recognise that immigrants come to their countries to stay – and that they bring many needed skills.

In the past, migrant flows were largely from southern countries to northern ones, but today people are moving in nearly all directions around the world, says Laura Thompson, the deputy director general of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). She uses the example of Morocco – previously a country of transit for migrants on their way to Europe. Now, however, many people choose to stay there, she says, so Morocco needs to establish immigration policies.

Most governments, however, do not handle migration well, she adds. She regrets that many governments lack crucial information to establish what skills migrants bring and how they manage their daily lives. It is impossible to draft meaningful policies without such knowledge. Thompson warns: "The lack of data on migration is a transnational phenomenon." She points out that there is a lack of international standards. In her eyes, a global system of migration governance would make sense.

International organisations have collected lots of data, but not in a coherent manner. Moreover, the various organisations have not cooperated on the matter. Accordingly there is not just a "data gap", Thompson says, but also "data confusion". She is aware that complaints about poor cooperation were already made a century ago, but says that things are finally improving. The IOM is involving governments around the world in this debate.

To get better data, it would make sense to work with private-sector polling agencies since these agencies are non-partisan and do not adhere to particular ideologies, says Frank Laczko, who heads the IOM’s research division. For instance, Gallup, the US-based polling company, has data about populations in nearly every corner of the globe. Laczko says Gallup could easily be assigned to prepare customised statistics to shed light on issues like the public image of migrants, the benefits migrants bring to society, the state of their well-being and related things. The idea is to create an International Migration Barometer.

In the past, countries used to see themselves either as countries of origin or countries of destination. Today, however, the debate is focusing increasingly on better integration. That was evident at the second UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in New York in 2013. Thompson considers it a good sign that civil-society organisations are increasingly becoming involved. Moreover, the awareness of migration’s developmental benefits has grown.

According to Steffen Angenendt of Germany’s foreign-policy think tank SWP (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik), Germany’s Federal Government has been forced to adopt new policies and accept that the country needs more, not less immigrants. "I am quite certain we will soon have a debate on how to integrate refugees into the labour force," he told
a workshop hosted by the SWP in Berlin in March. In his view, the social-security systems of Europe’s ageing societies cannot be made sustainable without the immigration of skilled foreigners.

Markus Richter of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees agrees that refugees, who were previously viewed as a burden on Germany’s social-protection system, are now increasingly being seen as a potential labour force. Germany is a popular destination for European Union – with about 58 % of migrants being EU-citizens, mostly from the EU’s eastern member countries. Richter notes that there has been a marked increase in highly skilled young people, but regrets that little more is known about these people. "We need a nationwide policy in which all stakeholders are involved," he demands.

In many countries, people feel threatened by migration. That is not different in Germany. Within the government, the debate has changed however. The country’s leaders used to discuss whether Germany should be an immigration country or not. Today, they have accepted that Germany is an immigration country, so they are now discussing how to best manage the phenomenon.

Ellen Thalman