Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Opinion

Politicians can change people's minds on migrants

  • More inclusive integration policies help the public to trust migrants and see the benefits of immigration to society (Photo: Takver)

A poll published last week by the London-based think tank, Chatham House, found that a majority of Europeans in 10 EU countries would support a Trump-style ban on migration from mainly Muslim countries.

This is, as Chatham House said,“sobering news” and should serve as a massive wake-up call to policymakers in Brussels and across Europe who, in the wake of the rise of so-called far-right populist parties, have failed to speak out in support of refugees and migrants and instead pandered to the fear-mongering of far-right politicians.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

It is indeed this increasing refusal by centrist politicians to stand up and explain the facts to their citizens that is leading, at least in part, to such polling results.

A survey carried out last year by the European Social Survey in 21 European countries found that negative attitudes towards migrants do not appear to be linked with net migration rates, but rather “the most preferred [migrants] were people from the same race or ethnic group as the majority”.

Hence, “Jewish people are much more welcome than Muslims, who in turn are more welcome than Roma” without any specific basis in people’s experiences or the country’s context.

However, such attitudes do not have to be accepted as status quo because policies and politicians can substantially affect them.

Inclusive integration

Numerous studies using our Migrant Integration Policy Index (Mipex) show that more inclusive integration policies help the public to trust migrants and see the benefits of immigration to society.

People living in countries with ambitious and inclusive integration policies are much more likely to believe that their country is right to give immigrants the same rights as national citizens.

Canada, the Nordic countries and Portugal, for instance, are good examples of this.

In contrast, where integration policies are under developed, even in countries with small numbers of migrants, high levels of anti-migrant sentiment are often found and restrictive policies likely to only reinforce public distrust and xenophobia.

Worryingly, Mipex research also shows that once the far-right starts to achieve success in elections, centrist politicians reshape their rhetoric and integration policies to please that part of the electorate.

This, in turn, has the effect of essentially legitimising the far-right’s fear-mongering and helps to spread anti-immigrant attitudes.

Politicians have a duty to their citizens to inform them about the facts on migration and not let them ride their own wave of hearsay and fear.

To stop this increase of hate and unfounded fear, policymakers from both the left and right of the political spectrum need to find the will to stand up and tell the truth.

Similar to the US

Several studies show that citizens across Europe grossly over-estimate the number of immigrants and Muslims in their country, leading to negative attitudes that appear to have no link with net migration rates.

Importantly, research also shows that correcting these numbers and misperceptions improves public attitudes towards migrants.

Unfortunately though, as a forthcoming report by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) will highlight, politicians have generally taken the opposite approach since 9/11.

We are all responsible for stopping this negative discourse, but as the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has insisted, politicians in particular have a responsibility to win the integration debate, helping the public “to understand the migrants and changes around them and to build trust and relationships with newcomers and different cultural communities”.

Politicians should therefore be focusing on showing that more inclusive and effective integration policies can benefit everyone in society rather than finding ways to essentially close Europe’s borders.

Michele LeVoy, Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) under-lines that what is happening in the US is not too dissimilar to the situation in the EU where “our protections and rights are [also] being ebbed away in order to appear tough on migration. Public, media, and judicial oversight are now critical if we here in Europe are to avoid similar failures".

Politicians, you have been warned.

Thomas Huddleston is programme director at Migration Policy Group, an NGO in Brussels

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column

Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears

For a long time, Europe's strategic chattering class has been wondering what would happen if you took the US out of Europe's security architecture.

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  2. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president
  3. Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears
  4. Finland: EU 'not brain dead' on enlargement
  5. The labour market is not ready for the future
  6. Parliament should have 'initiation' role
  7. AI skewed to young, male, and western EU, report warns
  8. US and EU go separate ways on Israeli settlers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us