Opinion and Editorial

Europe's illegal migrants could add to its gene pool

Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli
Filed on November 16, 2019 | Last updated on November 16, 2019 at 07.51 pm

The massive migrant surge into Europe is over, at least for now, providing a similar moment of retrospection for its governments and residents.

As high waters recede after floods, it leaves a powerful impact on the land - the landscape transforms and a new picture emerges.

The massive migrant surge into Europe is over, at least for now, providing a similar moment of retrospection for its governments and residents. They should reflect on what has changed and how those changes could influence the future. Like geologists or structural engineers, some wonder if there have been any fundamental, even seismic shifts to the European landscape.

It's important to have an accurate assessment of new arrivals who are residing in various countries on the continent, especially the ones who are staying illegally. 

Pew Research Centre has just completed the first comprehensive study of unauthorised immigrants in Europe in more than a decade, and it has found that a majority are young and male. About half of recent arrivals remain without permanent documents, the study has found. These migrants come from a wide range of countries, not just a handful as many might think.

The survey included 32 counties - 27 EU members, the UK, and European Free Trade Association nations Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

By 2017, Europe was home to between 3.9 million and 4.8 million unauthorised immigrants, about half of them in the UK and Germany, notes Pew. Just under a third have come from Asia Pacific countries including Afghanistan and Pakistan, some 23 per cent were citizens of handful of European countries that are not part of the EU or European Free Trade Association, and 21 per cent came from the Middle East and North African nations including Syria and Iraq. About 17 per cent originated from the sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria and Eritrea. 

The study found that Germany, the UK, Italy, and France have disproportionally larger numbers of unauthorised immigrants. Though together they have about 50 per cent of Europe's total population of 500 million people, they are home to about 70 per cent of the continent's illegal residents.

Many are hailing the detailed report as an important development because it provides a clearer picture of the massive impact that shook European governments and has fundamentally altered the socio-political landscape. Brexit and the rise of nationalists in other European countries can be at least partly traced to the migrant issue.

Andrew Geddes, director of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute in Florence, said the study is a "rigorous, robust and credible" representation of an issue that many have "lost trust and confidence in the capacity of their governments - and the EU - to deal with competently."

Victoria Rietig of the German Council on Foreign Relations said unauthorised immigration is "bad for security, bad for people who live in the shadows, and bad for social cohesion." She said addressing the issue is difficult because the debate has become "toxic and increasingly ideological."

Yet it is the new reality. In towns across Europe, migrants have opened shops that cater to people of similar backgrounds. Unlike Europeans, they tend to have more children and many contribute to the labour force in jobs locals don't want to do.

Some are not only embracing the new normal but also see the benefit in doing so.

German economist Herbert Brücker says the country actually needs immigrants.

"Since the 1970s, Germany's birth rate has declined quite dramatically," Brücker told broadcaster Deutsche Welle. "At the same time, average life expectancy has been going up. Without immigration, the potential number of workers in Germany would decline by 40 per cent by 2060. With net immigration of about 400,000 people each year, we can keep this figure just about stable. But by 2060, many more people will have entered retirement - and they'll have to be financed by same the number of workers as today."

He notes that 25 per cent of the people living in Germany today are either immigrants or first and second-generation descendants of immigrants. If trends continue as expected, Brücker says that 30 to 40 per cent of people living in Germany will have foreign roots by 2030.

The Pew study also compares illegal immigrants in Europe and the US. It found most unauthorised immigrants, some 56 per cent, had lived in respective European countries for less than five years as of 2017, without about half of newer arrivals awaiting a decision on their asylum applications. By contrast, a much smaller share of the unauthorised immigrant population in the US, 20 per cent, has lived in the country for less than five years. The majority came prior to the 2008 recession.

Unauthorised immigrants in Europe in 2017 were also substantially younger than those in the US. In Europe, 65 per cent were under 35, compared with 41 per cent in the US. In both regions more than half, or 54 per cent, were male.

Planners, demographers and politicians alike have no choice but to accommodate the new landscape, the sooner the better. Outrage or denial can do little or nothing to change what has already happened.

And as demonstrated in France with homegrown terrorism by disaffected descendants of migrants, Europe ignores or marginalises new arrivals at its peril. In a Darwinian world, the best outcome is to embrace the change as it renews the cultural gene pool.

Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are editors at www.luminosityitalia.com

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