I’ve been reading through the International Organisation for Migration’s recent “Fatal Journeys” report, which examines the lives lost during migration. The Mediterranean crossing from Africa to Europe saw more than 3,400 deaths this year alone. Men, women and children from the developing world are risking their lives — in some cases with tragic consequences — to come to Europe.
Meanwhile in the UK, a pro-immigration stance is the electoral equivalent of suicide. The UK Independence Party encapsulates Britons’ attitudes towards immigration, with their surge in popularity centred upon policies that tighten border controls. The major political parties are having to respond, and now the traditionally pro-migration Labour Party are following the Conservatives in addressing voter concerns around the issue.
The economic arguments for increasing immigration are well-worn, and there is evidence that spreading such empirical evidence changes the attitudes of some people. The British public may largely cite economic reasons for their opposition to immigration, but it is my suspicion that this is often backwards rationalising of cultural reasons.
A close friend of mine supports a crackdown on immigration to the UK, and chastises me for lacking experience of its negative impacts. In some cases, it is true that certain communities can experience declining social trust due to an influx of migrants. Though crime statistics are often misrepresented (especially for certain migrant groups), there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the profoundly illiberal attitudes of a minority of immigrants.
Advocates of open borders — myself included — often support keyhole solutions to the above problems; for example, restricting migrant voting rights for a set period of time after arriving in the UK. But focusing primarily upon migration’s impact in the host country ignores the most important reason to support immigration. It is the most effective tool for combating absolute poverty at our disposal.
Those on both sides of the debate are often guilty of ignoring situations outside their own personal experience. This is one of the reasons why stereotypes of the “out of touch metroliberal Londoner” and the “insular little Englander” exist. The solution, on the part of the pro-immigration lobby, is to accept that some negatives may arise from increased immigration. If we want to convince people of immigration’s benefits, we have to be forthright about its potential pitfalls. We must also continue to balance this with the astounding economic potential of open borders, but more importantly spread the individual human stories of migrants escaping poverty. The voices of those literally dying to create a better life must be heeded, and their stories must be told.