Migrants, refugees and borders: who is ‘deserving’ and who should decide?

Saturday 14 November, 12.00 until 13.30, Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, AB Box 16412, SE-103 27 Stockholm International Satellites

The arrival of thousands of refugees from Syria into Europe has put the debate about immigration and right of asylum at the centre of European politics. And as the continuing popularity of parties like the Sweden Democrats, UKIP and the True Finns shows, immigration is a fraught political issue in Europe today that goes beyond the refugee crisis. Does immigration, from either within Europe or from beyond, help or hinder the economies of those countries migrants go to – or does that question miss the point? Right of asylum from persecution is a universal human right which the EU has agreed to through various conventions – so what are the practical steps needed to be taken for Europe to honour its committments?

The pro-immigration side counters that immigration is actually good for the economy. Migrants are often driven to make a new life for themselves and want to get jobs and work hard rather than live off welfare. Because of their relative youth, they are less likely to consume public services, and seem more willing to take up the relatively low-skill jobs that comparatively affluent Western Europeans are reluctant to do. So does immigration – from either within Europe or from beyond - help or hinder the economies of those countries migrants go to?

Or does that question miss the point? For example, does that miss the broader social changes that come with immigration? While metropolitan liberals seem to welcome newcomers with open arms, others see immigrants as catalysts of unwelcome change that is being imposed upon society from above.  Yet such fears are usually dismissed as xenophobia or prejudice. For example, the former UK prime minister, Labour’s Gordon Brown, was embarrassed during the 2010 election campaign by being caught on a microphone describing an elderly Labour supporter as a ‘bigot’ for raising such questions. Being pro-immigration seems to have become, for many, a way of distinguishing themselves as enlightened while the masses are stupid and prejudiced.

Another issue is who controls the borders. EU rules effectively mean that national governments have little control over migration within the EU. Not only does that mean that workers from Eastern Europe can freely move West, but also that migrants from outside the EU can travel freely if they claim asylum and are granted the correct papers. Has the EU effectively taken away democratic control of nations’ borders?

Where are those willing to defend immigration on the grounds that everyone should be entitled to freedom of movement regardless of their passport or their skill-set? Is there a case for giving up on controlling borders altogether? Conversely, are arguments against immigration too defensive? Are secure borders essential to maintaining national sovereignty? Is it time for a different kind of debate?

Professor Magnus Henrekson
professor in economics and managing director of Swedish IFN (The Research Institute of Industrial Economics); author and public debater.

Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays

Vicky Pryce
board member, Centre for Economics and Business Research; economic advisor, British Chamber of Commerce

Ignacio Vita
lawyer specialising in migration law, EC law and right of asylum

Nathalie Rothschild
freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio

Produced by
Rob Lyons science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum
Recommended readings
Don’t make a moral melodrama out of the migrant crisis

There should be as few restrictions as possible on the movement of people across borders, but the current outburst of political compassion is not as healthy as some imagine.

Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 7 September 2015

When will Britain learn? Immigration from the EU is enormously beneficial to our economy

Fear of the foreigner is politics at its worst and does the UK no credit.

Vicky Pryce, Independent, 29 November 2013

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