Migration: Europe & Aotearoa/New Zealand

Migration: Europe & Aotearoa/New Zealand

This article highlights both differences and commonalities in the phenomenon of recent migration to Europe and Aotearoa/New Zealand.

By Pink Panther

The fascistic Sweden Democrats have become the third largest political party in their Parliament in this month’s elections. The two main political parties have stated they won’t form a coalition with them. However, there might not be an option if they want to avoid having to go back to the polls.

All over Europe ultra-nationalist and racist parties are springing up and winning elections. Why?

Since at least 2012 Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen have been plunged into civil wars that have been marked by levels of atrocities, massacres and other war crimes on a scale that haven’t been seen in decades. Millions of people have been driven out of their homes and forced to leave their war-torn countries. Millions more are on the move, cast out by repressive regimes or the loss of livelihoods as the result of economic, political and social instability or upheaval in their countries.

It’s estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that there are fifteen million Iraqis and Syrian refugees and internally displaced people (Millions of refugees at risk in the Middle East as winter funds dwindle, October 3rd, 2017, UNHCR website). It is impossible to tell how many of these refugees have fled to Europe but the European Parliament estimates that around 2.5 million migrants entered Europe between 2015 and 2017 (“EU migrant crisis: facts and figures”, European Parliament News, June 30th, 2017). Most of them have ended up in Germany and Italy.

Their arrival in Europe was initially mostly welcomed but the sheer numbers of people arriving quickly began to overwhelm local housing providers, social agencies and other organisations. It also didn’t help that a few were involved in anti-social crimes. Of course, the establishment media coverage was often sensationalist around those isolated incidents. On January 3rd the BBC website had an article emblazoned with the headline “Germany: Migrants ‘may have fuelled violent crime rise’.” On January 17th the New York Times had the headline “A Girl’s Killing Puts Germany’s Migration Policy on Trial”. However, it was the far-right vigilante mobs in Chemnitz in Germany who were hunting down and attacking foreigners, including two migrant teenagers – an Afghan and a Syrian – who were accused of killing a German man that finally revealed how deep anti-migrant sentiments run there.

It’s not just in Germany that this sentiment is being expressed. Xenophobic views have played a major role in the election of anti-immigration nationalist governments in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

In Aotearoa/New Zealand we haven’t faced large numbers of refugees putting pressure on already over-stretched social services, state housing and health care. That is primarily the result of the tyranny of distance but it’s also because general immigrants encounter a points system to determine if a person has the qualifications, skills or wealth that the bosses and government deem valuable. The more points a person has the more likely s/he will be allowed to move here.

Refugees don’t go through the points system. They go through a refugee centre where they learn about local cultures, customs and laws. By the time they enter the community they will usually have a place to live, an income (often a social welfare benefit) and someone to help them to integrate.

As a result of the points system, processing procedures and geographical isolation it’s nearly impossible for undocumented immigrants to get here. This has helped to create the belief that immigrants are better educated, harder working and wealthier than many of the locals so they are more likely to be hired to work in better paying jobs than their counterparts in Europe. There is also a more prevalent culture of accepting immigrants and refugees here. Perhaps this is a legacy of the fact everyone here with the exception of the tangata whenua are fairly recent immigrants themselves or descendants of immigrants. As a generalisation, ignorance rather than outright bigotry tends to have been the biggest barrier faced by the most recent arrivals in Aotearoa.

However, it would be misleading to claim there’s no anti-immigration sentiment. Some people labour under the delusion that the Muslim community is seeking to impose Sharia law upon this country (“Sharia Law Inside New Zealand”, www.whaleoil.co.nz, April 13th, 2017) while others, like the Salvation Army, believe that immigrants are taking jobs away from the unemployed (“Too many jobs going to migrants – Sallies”, RNZ, October 19th, 2016). Perhaps the biggest source of discontent with immigrants in recent times was due to the mistaken perception they were driving up house prices to the point few locals can afford to buy a house. Riding on the back of this anti-immigrant populism, the Labour-led government banned foreigners from owning existing housing stock earlier this year. Thus far, house prices show no signs of coming down.

It would also be wrong to assume that life has been sweet for all of the immigrants coming to this country. According to the RNZ website exploitation of migrant workers living in New Zealand is becoming such a big problem that the government has set up an inquiry to look into the issue. (“Migrant exploitation cases growing – advocate”, RNZ, March 8th, 2018.)

Despite some grumbling from certain quarters immigrants and refugees are mostly still welcome in Aotearoa and, at a time when countries in the rich regions of the northern hemisphere are calling for an end to immigration and taking in refugees, many here want the refugee quota to be doubled from 5000 a year to 10,000. So why are so many Europeans supporting anti-immigration parties?

In Europe it’s hard for some in the middle class to grasp that much of Europe’s working classes have still not recovered from the 2008 Great Recession. The majority of the migrants have ended up in areas where there is already high unemployment, shortages of affordable housing and poverty caused by austerity measures that have hit the poor and the working classes the hardest. For a lot of workers these migrants are seen as competition for scarce resources. It also doesn’t help that these areas sometimes have minimal cultural diversity. The local people aren’t used to living with anyone but other people from their own culture, ethnicity and nationality. This is particularly true in the case of Austria, eastern Germany, Hungary and Sweden.

For all concerned in Europe the migrant crisis has been one heck of a culture shock and this has led to the rapid rise of populist anti-immigration, alt-right identitarian and other fascistic groups. It has also led to violent clashes between migrants and extreme-Right groups, especially in Germany. There has been some effort to counter this, but the mainstream attempts have often been things such as marches or music festivals. While holding anti-fascist rallies and concerts can be a component of a co-ordinated and comprehensive fightback, they will achieve little beyond the symbolic in themselves.

Two key issues mark the difference between European and Aotearoa/New Zealand immigration.

The first is that the immigrants and refugees coming here mostly want to be here. In the case of Europe many of the migrants don’t want to be there. They are stuck in Europe because there’s no other option. As the Irish Times article “Road to Damascus: the Syrian refugees who want to go home” (December 2, 2017) makes clear they face legal, financial and practical hurdles which prevent them from returning and many, if not most, of them can expect to be arrested, conscripted or executed if they ever set foot back in Syria.

The second is that most immigrants coming here are lifestyle immigrants looking for a better life for themselves and their families in a country perceived as relatively peaceful and stable and economically and environmentally better than their places of origin. The reality of course is more nuanced than that.(there are real problems of economic disparity, housing, environmental damage and social and economic legacies of the colonial robbery of indigenous people etc.) but that’s the perception or draw card at least. Many have the option of returning home if they choose. Even the refugees in New Zealand seem to like it here and most of them would prefer to stay rather than return home, (“Resettled Syrian refugees talk of life half a world away from their homeland” Stuff website, June 25th, 2016.) In Europe they’re not looking for a better life. They’re looking for a place where they can feel safe and stay alive until they can return home.

Immigration is a big issue everywhere but there are differing factors which drive immigration in different parts of the world, despite the fact there is a common underlying economic system. Also, the impact on the societies which immigrants end up in can be primarily positive, negative or a combination of both. That’s the complex reality.

When local working people perceive they have largely been forgotten it should not come as a shock when their reaction to immigrants is far from welcoming. It should come as no surprise when they vote for demagogues and political parties preying on their fears. It should also not be a major revelation when liberals end up being abused for their willingness to open up opportunities to these migrants. After all, they aren’t moving into the nice middle class neighbourhoods where most liberals live or applying for the types of jobs that most liberals are employed in.

The migrants risking literally everything to get to Europe are not to blame for the situation they find themselves in. Blaming them and running them out of town (literally in some cases) is not the solution. Nor is electing racist and ultra-nationalist leaders and political parties into office. The only solution in the longer term is to sort out the mess that colonial powers of the past, primarily France and the United Kingdom, and various current local tyrants, despots and rival regional powers have created. That means people at the grassroots working hard to alter the map of the area in their own favour, to amend the artificial boundaries and hierarchical structures in place now and finding more fitting alternatives. These islands would also benefit from a similar process.

We also need to address the built-in inequalities and injustices of a Capitalist class system that pits local workers against migrant workers for the same jobs and resources. This same class system also entrenches many of the tyrants and despots whose actions have forced millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa to flee to Europe. It also divides immigrants into various classes of desirable and undesirable people with working class people often being relegated to the ranks of undesirables who never get selected for refugee or points systems quotas.

In this country immigration control is relatively easy because these islands are so remote and so it’s difficult to get here. As noted, the people who migrate here mostly want to be here and they are, for the most part, accepted by the local people. It is worth noting however, that the points system and, therefore, those who can get into Aotearoa, is weighted heavily in favour of the middle classes and petty bourgeoisie classes.

To conclude, we need to put our heads together and work out methods for dealing with both the differing and shared aspects of the immigration phenomenon that exist in the antipodes and Europe. Perhaps then we might get real solutions to the challenges posed by immigration and the bigger threat that lurks behind most of the world’s injustices: Capitalism.

Posted By

LAMA
Sep 15 2018 23:22

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  • ...we need to put our heads together and work out methods for dealing with both the differing and shared aspects of the immigration phenomenon that exist in the antipodes and Europe.

    Pink Panther

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Comments

Mike Harman
Sep 19 2018 13:06
LAMA wrote:
Their arrival in Europe was initially mostly welcomed but the sheer numbers of people arriving quickly began to overwhelm local housing providers, social agencies and other organisations.

This is missing a lot of context on the European situation. As you point out in the article, most refugees have ended up in Italy, Greece, and Germany.

Somewhere like Denmark where there is a large far right/islamophobic electoral presence has not accepted hardly any refugees at all - it's in the low thousands per year: https://qz.com/1171331/asylum-seekers-in-denmark-number-of-applications-has-fallen-by-84-since-2015/

In the UK (where UKIP is restricted in MPs mostly by the electoral system, but where the Tories are happy to adopt far-right stances) it's around 30,000 applications per year from all countries: https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/about/facts-about-refugees/

But the UK has a tonne of rhetoric around immigrants taking jobs and housing etc. as well as islamophobic politics. This is partly aimed at older migrant communities from Bangladesh and Pakistan, but also against EU migrants especially from Eastern European countries like Poland (there were attacks on Polish migrants recorded after the Brexit vote).

The article doesn't mention EU freedom of movement, but this is the main mechanism of migration within the EU. There are approximately 3 million EU migrants in the UK, this is compared to the 2.5 million refugees you estimated entered the EU between 2015-2017. A lot of people moving from one area of a country to another (for example from former industrial and market towns to London) can have as much impact on local housing and services as people moving from outside the country, it's just less visible.

And the locations where anti-migrant sentiment are highest also tend to be areas with the lowest numbers of migrants / http://theconversation.com/hard-evidence-how-areas-with-low-immigration-voted-mainly-for-brexit-62138. In terms of wages, where there has been recorded pressure on wages, it has most often been on migrant communities, for example see this AWW blog post on Gate Gourmet management pitting Polish agency workers against South Asian women: https://libcom.org/blog/limits-intersectionality-angryworkers-book-review-striking-women-13092018

LAMA
Sep 21 2018 09:31

Hi Mike. Thanks for your response. As Pink Panther is an outside contributor rather than member of AWSM, there has been a delay in being able to reply to you. I contacted him and received the following:

"Tell him i appreciate his consideration of my article. Its not easy writing about this stuff from the bottom of the world, so it helps getting the perspective of someone closer to the events.

The fundamental difference between the far Right in countries such as Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Sweden and the far Right in the United Kingdom is that the far Right in the United Kingdom have not been in a position to form a government or be part of a coalition government. That is why I did not mention the United Kingdom in the article. Also, most of the Brexit campaigners in the United Kingdom appeared to be more concerned about European Union migrants, particularly those from Poland and other eastern European countries, as well as countries that could potentially join the EU like Turkey, than they were about migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. At least that was the case for much of the Brexit referendum campaign. (EU referendum: Immigration and Brexit - what lies have been spread?, Independent, June 20th, 2016).

It was an oversight on my part to overlook the freedom of movement provisions within the European Union. This definitely made it a lot easier for migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to move across Europe to countries where they thought they would be safest with little difficulty - until various countries like Austria, Germany and Hungary began to reimpose border controls as a response to the migrant crisis. (Europe starts putting up walls, The Guardian, September 19th, 2015)."

Mike Harman
Sep 21 2018 14:14
LAMA wrote:
Hi Mike. Thanks for your response. As Pink Panther is an outside contributor rather than member of AWSM, there has been a delay in being able to reply to you. I contacted him and received the following:

Thanks for responding.

Pink Panther wrote:
The fundamental difference between the far Right in countries such as Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Sweden and the far Right in the United Kingdom is that the far Right in the United Kingdom have not been in a position to form a government or be part of a coalition government.

This isn't due to different political trends between the UK and all of those countries, it is primarily because the UK has a first past the post electoral system, whereas all of the other countries listed have some form of proportional representation.

In the 2015 general election, UKIP received 13% of the vote - this is in a situation where FPTP encourages tactical voting (i.e. UKIP supporters will often vote Tory if they think it's necessary to prevent a Labour or Liberal Democrat candidate winning).

In the 2014 EU parliament elections where there is proportional representation, they received 26.6% of the vote and were the first party by vote share:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Parliament_election,_2014_(United_Kingdom)#United_Kingdom_results

So you have a situation where the Conservatives have adopted UKIP's policies on immigration, without UKIP having to have any MPs. "What Powell says today, the Tories say tomorrow, and Labour legislates on the day after." per A Sivanandan.

LAMA wrote:
countries that could potentially join the EU like Turkey

There was a lot of Islamophobia in regards to Turkey - both as a majority muslim country and its proximity to Syria. There was also significant anti-refugee imagery like the infamous Breaking Point poster. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-poster-nigel-farage-polls-michael-gove-a7089946.html A lot of this was dog whistles rather than direct, but it was still there. While it's more anecdotal, you'd get vox pops with Brexit voters talking about how they don't mind European migrants but want to keep the muslims out.

Pink Panther wrote:
It was an oversight on my part to overlook the freedom of movement provisions within the European Union. This definitely made it a lot easier for migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to move across Europe to countries where they thought they would be safest with little difficulty

It's not really about ease of movement for refugees (although there were serious exceptions to that too like the 'jungle' refugee camp in Calais), but that the 'pressure on services/jobs' argument is applied to both north african and middle eastern migrants as well as EU migrants. What concerns me about the article is that it does not really investigate whether there is actual pressure on services and jobs on refugees (as opposed to the perception of it via scapegoating) or why this manifests as anti-immigration sentiment as opposed to pressure for better service provision, social housing etc. in general.

LAMA
Sep 22 2018 05:14

I've passed on your comments to Pink Panther and will post them here when/if i receive his response. I have to admit that as editor of the piece my main focus was mitigating what i saw in the early draft versions as a slippage towards a form of 'Little Kiwi' Left-Nationalist exceptionalism, rather than the European dimension of the article. Perhaps out of feeling less qualified to judge the latter.

fingers malone
Sep 22 2018 07:15

I agree with Mike that it's really important not to just accept common narratives about migrants as fact. The article says "their arrival in Europe was initially mostly welcomed but the sheer numbers of people arriving quickly began to overwhelm local housing providers, social agencies and other organisations". This is, in the case of my area, not true. Child poverty is 28% and there are 13,000 households on the waiting list. Evictions are at record high levels. I was at a work meeting and they talked about the arrival of Syrian refugees being settled here. They announced the numbers coming to my borough: 35 families. So there is not a connection between the migrant crisis and the rise in evictions or the suffering of the 13,000 families on the waiting list.

"For all concerned in Europe the migrant crisis has been one heck of a culture shock and this has led to the rapid rise of populist anti-immigration, alt-right identitarian and other fascistic groups."
In the UK, government attacks on migrants have involved deporting Windrush people who have lived here since before I was born. The rapid rise of populist anti immigration, alt right identitarian and other fascistic groups is definitely happening here too, there have been fascist street demos which outnumber the anti fascist presence and various new groups forming. But the targets of these groups include communities settled here since the seventies, the migrant crisis has not been a culture shock in the UK as it is already, in many areas, a diverse population. This settled diverse population is under attack from the rising right as well as 'new' migration.

fingers malone
Sep 22 2018 07:44

If I understand right the author's response, they are saying they see the UK as somewhat outside the processes they are describing. I would say we do have a rise in far right activity and also in anti-migrant and anti-ethnic minority politics by the government, so experiences in the UK are relevant.
Poland and Hungary have far right electoral success but have not had large numbers of refugees settling there so this link between the recent arrival of migrants and the rise in the far right needs to be questioned more carefully.

fingers malone
Sep 22 2018 10:20

"When local working people perceive they have largely been forgotten it should not come as a shock when their reaction to immigrants is far from welcoming. It should come as no surprise when they vote for demagogues and political parties preying on their fears. It should also not be a major revelation when liberals end up being abused for their willingness to open up opportunities to these migrants. After all, they aren’t moving into the nice middle class neighbourhoods where most liberals live or applying for the types of jobs that most liberals are employed in."

Hang on, who are 'liberals' here- people who support FoM? People who support pro- refugee campaigns? Members or supporters of parties with 'Liberal' in the name? People who support the political ideals of liberalism? (this can mean a lot of different things). Anti racists? And who are 'local working people'? And in what way are they different from those other liberal people?

I don't think that anti racists or people with pro-migrant or pro-refugee politics, if that's what liberal means, live predominantly in 'nice middle class neighbourhoods' or that we are not 'local working people' and views around this supposed division are getting expressed in the left all the time now so I think this is worth examining a bit.