While EU politicians over at Davos have been mulling over the possibilities of Turkey’s membership of the EU, Kofi Annan apparently has things much clearer. In a speech to the European parliament he bluntly told MPs that Europe needs migrants to ensure a prosperous future and that Europeans should stop using immigration as a scapegoat for their social problems.
Annan was apparently given a standing ovation (oh what hypocrisy!), and appealed for leadership in dealing with the issue, saying managed immigration and proper integration into Europe’s ageing societies would help boost the economy and ensure a richer and brighter future:
“Without migrants many jobs that provide services and generate revenue would go unfilled and many societies would age and shrink. Migrants are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Sometimes you do things because you have to, sometimes you do them because they are the right thing to do, and sometimes you do them because you want to. Occasionally, just ocasionally, the three coincide. This is what I would truly call the ‘sweet moment’.
Meantime Joseph Chaimie, Head of the UN Population Division has been briefing the press on the economic and demographic background.
Wealthy countries send conflicting messages to people around the world seeking a better life: “Help Wanted” and “Keep Out,” the head of the U.N. Populations Division says.
Joseph Chamie said Wednesday that many wealthy countries that have aging populations aren’t producing enough children and face a serious shortage of workers unless they allow immigration.
But at the same time, immigrants have become a political issue in some countries, including Austria, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, and serious efforts have been made to curb the influx of foreigners.
Chamie spoke at a briefing ahead of a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is expected to urge European countries to increase legal migration and accept greater diversity in their populations.
The number of foreign-born people living in countries around the world is estimated to be 75 million, about double the number in 1970 but still roughly 3 percent of the world’s population, Chamie said.
“However, the supply of the potential migrants who are free to leave their homelands simply exceeds manifold the demand for migrants which is set by the receiving countries,” he said.
The influx of illegal migrants into developed and developing countries has “increased enormously,” Chamie said.
An estimated 8 million to 10 million people are living illegally in both North America and Europe, he said.
If these people can enter without documents, the immigration systems in those countries “is not operating,” Chamie said. And many of those countries are also “either unable or unwilling” to send back asylum seekers denied entry.
He said Annan would urge European nations to improve their management of cross-border crossings.
For Europe, immigration is crucial. In 2003, the population of the 15-nation European Union grew by just 294,000 – a figure that India, in comparison, needs only seven days to reach, Chamie said.
However, 900,000 immigrants landed on EU shores in 2003, providing a significant boost to Europe’s population, which is about 370 million.
In the United States, the population would remain static at its current level of nearly 300 million without immigration, Chamie said. But immigration is expected to boost the U.S. population to about 400 million by 2050.
Chamie stressed, however, that governments are sending a “confused message” to would-be immigrants.
“On the one hand, we have one message that you see often: Help wanted. The developed countries want workers. … They want skilled workers, technical computer programmers, engineers, doctors, nurses and so on. In addition the countries are seeking semiskilled and unskilled workers, health workers, construction workers, janitors, fruit pickers,” he said.
But these governments at the same time are sending a message to “keep out,” he said, holding up copies of both signs.
“Countries are concerned about the characteristics, the number and the proportion of the migrants,” Chamie said.
In the future, he predicted, “migration will continue to be a controversial and sensitive issue.”
“And in my view, this will be one of the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades – how to live with a diverse group of people in your midst,” he said.