Immigration: Many Myths and Little Reality

By Roberto Savio*

ROME – According to the latest statistics, the total flow of immigrants so far in 2018 is 50.000 people, compared with 186,768 last year, 1,259,955 in 2016 and 1,327,825 in 2015. The difference between reality and perceptions is so astonishing, we are clearly witnessing one of the most brilliant manipulations in history.

The latest survey carried out of 23,000 citizens of France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States shows an enormous level of disinformation. In five of those countries, people believe that immigrants are three times higher than they actually are.

Italians believe they account for 30% of the population when the figure is actually 10%, an average which is lower than the media of the European Union. Swedes are those closest to reality: they believe immigrants account for 30%, when in fact the figure is 20%.

Italians also believe that 50% of the immigrants are Muslim, when in fact it is 30%; conversely, 60% of the immigrants are Christian, and Italians think they are 30%.

In all six countries, citizens think that immigrants are poorer and without education or knowledge, and therefore a heavy financial burden. Italians think that 40% of immigrants are jobless, when the figure is close to 10%, no different from the general rate of unemployment.

Meanwhile, the 7th report on the economic impact of immigration in Italy from the Leone Moressa Foundation, which based its research on Italian Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) data, has presented some totally ignored facts.

The 2.4 million immigrants in Italy have produced 130 billion euros, or 8.9% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) – an amount larger than the GDP of Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia. In the last five years, out of a total of nearly 6 million Italian companies, 570.000 – or 9.4% of the total – were started by immigrants. Tito Boeri, president of Italy’s national pension agency INPS, has told Parliament that immigrants give 11.5 billion euro to the system, more than what they cost. He also stressed that Italy is going through a demographic crisis, with only seven births for every eleven deaths.

Well, Matteo Salvini, the emerging Italian leader, who has based all his political success on making immigrants the greatest threat facing Italy, answered on Twitter: Boeri lives on Mars. And that was the end of the story. For more than 50% of Italians, Salvini’s tweet was more conclusive than real statistics.

The same happened with the outgoing Director General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), William Swing, who quoted a study conducted by the IOM and McKinsey Global Institute which “determined that although only 3.5% of the world’s population are migrants, they are producing nine percent of the global wealth measured in GDP terms, which is more than four percent than if they stayed at home”. This made no impact on Trump electors, white rural and red collars, who are convinced that immigration is a threat to the country, even though they all have immigrant roots.

In other words, facts are irrelevant. Perceptions count more.

Let us take Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is being weakened by the immigration issue, barely escaping a revolt of her Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, who is leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Merkel’s party.

The shy and timid Trump was glad to come to Seehofer’s help, tweeting that the people of Germany are “turning against” their government over the issue of migration, which has led to an increase in crime. The fact that Germany has witnessed a strong decrease in crime is, of course, irrelevant for someone who has made more than 3,750 false statements over his 38.187 tweets (as of July 14).

Now, Trump’s tweets have 53,111,505 followers (as of July 15). The total circulation of the 1,331 dailies newspapers in the United States is close to 62 million, but the total circulation of the 100 largest dailies is below 10 million copies. So, whatever they write is massively overwhelmed by Trump’s tweets.

Trump is not alone in his campaign … he has allies in Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kazynscky, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini and the Czech Republic’s Milos Zeman, all in power. Then, in the wings, we have Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in Great Britain and so on for nearly every European country, with the exception of Spain and Portugal. All together, they have been using immigration, nationalism and xenophobia as the tool of the new “alternative right” for success.

Let us go back to the case of Germany. Bavaria, which is threatening Berlin’s government, is the richest state in Germany, with a population of 12.2 million people. Munich is the third largest city, after Berlin and Hamburg, with 1.4 million people, is the second largest employer in the country, and has attracted immigrants, which are all together less than 200,000. The local daily, Suddeutsche Zeitung, estimates Muslims at 32.000.

Alternative for Germany (AfD), the extreme right-wing party that won 13% of the vote (and 92 seats in parliament) in the last elections, is essentially based on an anti-immigrant platform. In a poll in March it narrowly surpassed the centre-left Social Democrats for the first time in history. The poll, by INSA and commissioned by the newspaper Bild, showed AfD support at 16% compared with the SPD’s 15.5% – a  new low for what has traditionally been one of Germany’s largest parties.

In the last polls, AfD appears to win over CSU in Bavaria, where Muslim immigrants are rare. But the main base for AfD comes from the old East Germany, where immigrants are one-quarter of those in West Germany. So, there is no rational link between reacting to the presence of immigrants and votes. AfD wins more votes where there are fewer immigrants.

The CDU is now running frantically towards extreme right-wing, xenophobic positions in order not to lose out to the AfD. It will probably lose anyway since history shows that voters always prefer to vote the original than copies. But Germans, and Bavarians, are thought to be rational people.

The statistics are clear. Each year there are 300,000 less working people. Of the 80.6 million Germans, only 61% is of working age. In 2050, this will shrink to 51%, and those older than 65 will increase from 21% to 33%. The birth rate in Germany is 1.5%, while a birth rate of 2.1% is necessary to keep the population at the same level. The huge influx of immigrants has increased the birth rate to a modest 1.59%. Immigrants tend to imitate local trends and do not have many children.

Therefore, it is clear to all that within two decades productivity will decline dramatically (some say by 30%) because of less people working, and there will be not enough payers to keep the pension and social security systems going. It will be the end of the German locomotive.

The same consideration applies throughout Europe, which has a statistical birth rate of 1.6, meaning that it will lose close to one million people each year. The UN Population Division considers that Europe should have an influx of 20 million immigrants just to maintain its course. This is clearly impossible in today’s political system.

With impeccable observation, Spanish philosopher Adela Cortina has noted that football players, artists and rich people, even those who are Muslims, like princes are most welcome in Europe. Those who are not welcome are the poor. So, she wrote a book on why we are not faced with real xenophobia. What we face, she wrote, is aporofobia, a term she coined using the word ‘apora’, the Greek word for ‘poor’. In fact, this defence of European civilisation is an updated version of colonialism.

And yet we have plenty of data about the positive impact of immigration. The last is a very complex study over 30 years of immigration, carried out by the very respected French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and published by Science Advances, on the 15 European countries which received 89% of demands for asylum in 2015, the year of the great influx from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

After four years, partly due to the length of the bureaucratic process, GNP rises by 0.32%. Impacts on the fiscal system are also relevant. Prof. Hippolyte D’Albis, one of the authors, observes that initially immigrants are of course a cost, but this public money is reinvested in society, and for ten years they produce more wealth than the general population. After ten years they melt into the general statistics.

It is obvious that the dream of people who come in Europe to escape hunger or war is to find a job as soon as possible, pay taxes and contributions to ensure their stability and future, and work hard. At least for a decade.

And it is interesting to see the difference between the new right and the old right. The old right was not against immigrants, also because they provided cheap labor. It was mildly nationalist but was never xenophobic (Jews apart). The alternative right is not interested in statistics and economics. It is interested only in stirring fear, to get to power.

Reality is fake news. Trump has claimed that the 250,000 demonstrators opposed to his visit to Great Britain and kept him out of the centre of London, were in fact his supporters. You need not be only a narcissist, you also need to reverse reality.

The question, therefore, is what has happened to people? Trump’s changing the intention of 250,000 demonstrators would once have attracted ridicule. Not now: for Trump’s supporters, his tweets are undisputed truth.

His meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought the vaguest of results, He walked out of the Iran deal, which had several pages of agreement, saying it did not address issues. At the July NATO summit in Brussels, he attacked everybody, and then said that all had engaged to increase to their military budget  to 4% (the United States stands at 3.6%). In his visit to the United Kingdom, he scolded beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May, defended a hard Brexit and saluted resigning Minister of Foreign Affairs and hard Brexiter Boris Johnson as his favorite. He told May that he had not come to negotiate, but to obtain what he wanted. He then met Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that the United States was responsible for the bad relations between the two countries, that Putin was to be believed when he said that there was no Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections, and that the intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice, with the probe into those elections by special counsel Robert Mueller, were an American disgrace. When in US history has a president scolding his allies and praising enemies of the United States raised not even an eyebrow from the Republican US electorate, which is now Trumpian over and above anything else?

The fact of the matter is that, as a survey released in June last year by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) shows, the concept of democracy itself is in danger.

The survey asked more than 3,000 scholars and country experts to evaluate each of 178 countries on the quality of core features of democracy. At the end of 2016, most people lived in democracies. Since then, one-third of the world population, or 2.5 billion people, have gone through “autocratisation”, in which a leader or group of leaders begins to limit democratic attributes and rule more unilaterally.

Four of the most populous countries – India, Russia, Brazil and the United States – have been affected by autocratisation. Other large countries in democratic decline in the past !0 years include Congo, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland.

The United States fell from 7th to 31st place in just two years. The US Congress does not like to be able to put reins on the president, the opposition party appears unable to have any influence over the governing party, and the Judiciary is becoming much more partisan than balanced. The US Supreme Court looked like a counterweight to the Executive, but now its ranking has slipped to 48th place.

A poll by the McKinsey Institute found that today a full 41% of Americans would not mind not living in democracy if the leader they liked were to remain in power beyond the constitutional term.

It is fact that people elect those they like, and therefore any country has the leader its voters elect, be it Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Trump … and not centuries ago Mussolini and Hitler. If they want to listen to saviours sent by God, who care nothing about reality, that is their right. We can only mourn the growing somnambulism of people.

The serious problem is that this view of the world will only bring with a disaster in the not too distant future. It is really urgent, for example, to create an immigration policy, to establish criteria for those that the industrialised countries need to be able to to remain in global competition.

This will not happen. All immigrants are presented as a threat, just as a cynical road to power, regardless of reality. Africa’s population will double in the next few decades. Nigeria will grow to 400 million, the present population of Europe. Sixty percent of Africa’s population is now under 25, compared with 32 percent in the United States and 27 percent in Europe.

Are Europeans going to machine gun the immigrants, (as some xenophobes are already asking) and decline to a region of old people, with little if no pension and a non-existent social system? Is Europe going to lose its original identity, and the values that are enshrined not only in the European constitution, but also in those at national level?

The French Parliament has eliminated the term “race” from its constitution, and the Portuguese government will give Portuguese citizenship to immigrants who have a stable job after one year.

On the other hand, the government of the Netherlands, with the support of parliament, has decided that will refuse to allow children born by Dutch parents enrolled with ISIS to return on the grounds that those children have been born and raised in a climate of hate and violence, and thus constitute a danger for Dutch society.

The Netherlands was once a symbol of tolerance, and for centuries refugees went there, fleeing from religious or political conflicts. Today, the Netherlands has a population of 17.2 million people, with a high standard of living. How many such ISIS children are there? The astounding number of 145! Would it not be possible to find 145 families where those children – who have no responsibility for their situation – could forget the horrors they went through and enjoy the benefits of their nationality which, by international law, is considered non-waiverable? Meanwhile, the United States is separating more than 5.000 children from their immigrant parents.

Under this unprecedented face of the West, is this the new Europe and United States that their citizens want?

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*Italian-Argentine journalist, Roberto Savio is the publisher of OtherNews, adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is also co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.