Something strange happened in Europe's election campaigns this year. In France and Germany, Holland and Sweden the subject uppermost on many people's minds--immigration--was either ignored or exaggerated. Established parties seem almost to have an unwritten pact to play down the significance of immigration.
"We must keep this sensitive subject out of the campaign" seemed to be the prevailing attitude, as if the period of heightened political awareness that elections provide should not be used to debate serious controversies. As a result, fringe parties stepped in with slogans about countries being "swamped" by immigrants and the need to preserve the "purity" of nations. Can one blame voters for being suspicious of the silence of the political majority, and even for being taken in by the fringe's blustering?
It is high time--indeed, past time--for those who believe in liberal and enlightened political discourse to present their case. Some home truths about the migration of people need to be remembered and the necessary consequences drawn. Here are five such truths, or at any rate, five issues for debate:
First, emigration is no fun. As a rule, people do not leave their homes on a whim or out of adventurousness. Typically, they want to escape conditions of hopelessness, as many Europeans did when they left their homes in the 19 th and 20 th centuries, usually for America. Whether migrants are responding to political oppression or economic destitution, it is important to understand that the price they are prepared to pay is as high as the push to leave is strong.