Thursday, 24 April 2014

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The maze of migration myths

Lampedusa. UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

We've all heard the usual arguments: migrants are stealing jobs from locals, migrants drive up crime rates, migrants burden public services, migrants don't integrate, migrants only want to get their hands on our welfare system. Widespread negative public opinion about migration and migrants is, however, often driven by a raft of misperceptions rather than by facts.

Several studies by academics and researchers have produced evidence disproving many of these misconceptions and common myths surrounding migration, and presented facts that challenge them.

1. MYTH: The majority of migrants come from the poorer South and head for the richer North
FACT: Less than half (40 percent) of all migrants worldwide move from the developing countries of the South to the developed countries of the North, according to data published in the International Organization for Migration's 2013 World Migration Report.

2. MYTH: Migration is increasing
FACT: The number of international migrants has grown to 232 million in 2013 (from 175 million in 2000 and154 million in 1990), but this is mainly the result of population growth. Migrants as a share of the world's population have remained fairly steady at between 2.5 and 3 percent.

3. MYTH: Combating poverty and lack of development in migrant-sending countries would reduce migration to wealthier countries
FACT: Social and economic development in poor countries leads to more migration, not less, at least in the short- to medium-term. While migrants are often portrayed as poor and desperate, it takes significant resources to migrate over long distances.

4. MYTH: Stricter border controls and regulations reduce irregular migration
FACT: Migrants and asylum seekers are more likely to resort to entering a country irregularly when there are no legal alternatives. This often means relying on smugglers and using routes that expose them to numerous dangers and even death. Tragedies like the recent shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa tend to result in calls for yet more border controls that often deflect irregular migration flows rather than significantly reducing them.

5. MYTH: Migrants take jobs that would otherwise go to natives
FACT: The effects of immigration on labour markets are complex and varied, depending on time and place. In developed countries, especially during periods of economic growth, migrant workers often hold low-skilled, low-paid jobs that natives are unwilling to do. Although competition for such jobs may become fiercer during an economic downturn, immigration can also create jobs by stimulating economic growth, and because migrant-run businesses often employ locals.

6. MYTH: Migrants are a drain on social services and public resources
FACT: In many countries, migrants – particularly irregular migrants – have no access to social services such as public healthcare and housing. Where they can access the welfare system, they are much less likely to do so than locals, partly because a larger proportion of them are young adults with fewer health and educational needs. A study by University College London found that immigrants put 34% more into public finances than they take out.

7. MYTH: Individuals who enter a country irregularly are illegal immigrants
FACT: While crossing a border without documents may constitute an infringement of immigration laws, it does not make an individual "illegal", particularly if that individual is an asylum seeker. The UN Refugee Convention recognizes the right of people fleeing persecution to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum, regardless of whether they hold valid travel documents. In the past year, a number of media outlets have stopped using the term "illegal immigrant" and replaced it with undocumented or irregular migrant.

Source: IRIN News

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