Migration Realism

GENEVA – The scenes of death and misery that are occurring with increasing frequency in the waters of the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia have focused renewed attention on one of mankind’s oldest activities: migration. It is time to accept the reality that, like the waves on the seas that many of the migrants traverse, the ebb and flow of human movement cannot be stopped. That is why the international community must manage migration with understanding and compassion.

Today, some 250 million migrants live and work around the world, and in the coming months and years many more will certainly join them. We must put in place policies to manage the flows of people in ways that benefit migrants’ countries of origin, transit, and destination. And of course, we must ensure the wellbeing of the migrants themselves. This calls for action on four fronts.

For starters, leaders of destination countries – whether in Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia, or Oceania – should not turn their back on the desperate and wretched. For many elected officials, migration poses a complex political dilemma: how to reconcile their citizens’ demands with the interests of migrants. They must find the courage to make the case for a humane migration policy.

But, all too often, migrants are used as scapegoats. To be sure, immigrants must agree to adapt to the cultures and customs of the countries in which they settle. But the public in destination countries, for their part, must acknowledge the critical role that the new arrivals can play in the economy. Migrants fill critical skill gaps, perform jobs that others cannot or will not do, and replace a country’s workforce as it grows older or shrinks. According to the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research, Germany alone will need an estimated 32 million immigrants by 2035 to maintain an adequate balance between its working-age and non-working-age population.