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The Good, The Bad and the Ugly : deconstructing the negative migration narrative

Photo of Sovit Chetri from Pexels

One of the first images that immediately comes to mind when discussing the theme of migration is that of African and Middle Eastern misery. Extremely poor countries, arid, with no prospects for the future, pushing their citizens to dream of elsewhere. On the other hand, Europe looks like a dream of a new, rich and prosperous Eldorado. This is what we call the European Dream. This dream offers a metaphorical representation of the foreign land as "prosperous" and refers to a place where it is relatively easy for migrants to start a new and successful life.

The notion of collective imaginary is the set of elements that organize themselves, for a given group but without its knowledge, into a significant unit, according to the author Florence Giust-Desprairies in her book L’imaginaire collectif. This imaginary influences us as a society and guides perceptions and interpretations of what forms our world. It then influences how we, as a society, perceive phenomena such as global immigration.

The migrant is said to be desperate, profiteer and greedy. He would be thieving and violent. He is an unwanted criminal. He is portrayed in an apocalyptic way, making the choice to put his life at risk by crossing the ocean in a rickety boat. This imaginary is influenced by clichés and stereotypes and feeds the myth of the Bad Migrant. These clichés are riddled with erroneous interpretations that are greatly fuelled by the sensational press and thus take an important place in the collective mind.

These interpretations are therefore not entirely based on reliable data. But shouldn't we pay attention to how they influence our political decision-making system? These misconceptions can influence voters and consequently the anti-immigration parties that have a say in European migration policies. It is necessary to question the contemporary concept of this negative imaginary of the Migrant in order to deconstruct it in our minds.

The anti-immigration discourse puts forward social and economic reasons as justification. Multiculturalism and the difficulty of integrating immigrant communities into native communities would not be good for the nation. This way of thinking, influenced by the narrative of the Bad Migrant, leads to a loss of empathy that can go from discrimination that has become systemic to abuses such as the violation of their human rights.

Yet the positive impact of immigration for the host country is not negligible. "Immigration is not a danger to growth, employment or public spending," say economists. It can help reduce any labour shortage. Immigrants also contribute more than just their labour: they also invest in their host country and help create jobs, says a report on the Perspectives on Global Development 2017: International Migration in a Shifting World from the OECD.

When we look at Germany, we realize that the reality on site does not match this anti-immigration discourse. The country has experienced large waves of migration in recent years, yet its unemployment rate has been declining since 2010. Indeed, Germany is experiencing a shortage of workers and the arrival of migrants, qualified or not, helps support the German economy. The former director of the Institute for Empirical Research on Integration and Migration in Berlin confirms this: "If Germans want to maintain their economic well-being, we need about half a million immigrants every year".

Italy is also worth observing : migrants have supported 600,000 pensions annually through their social contributions. They also support Italian companies. According to Stefano Solari, director of the Leone Moressa Foundation, they are responsible for the creation of one in five new Italian businesses and allow many others to survive. In total, the contribution of foreigners to wealth creation is 125 billion euros.

We can then come back on several myths:

No, migrants do not come to steal the work of others more deserving and therefore do not increase the unemployment rate. Rather, they are more likely to accept low-paying and low-skilled jobs.

No, migrants do not burden public spending. Many are employed and therefore pay taxes to the government. In fact, they cost the taxpayer more when they are poorly integrated.

No, cultural differences are not impossible to conjugate and integrate into one society.

"Migration is a natural result of economic development that can benefit both countries of origin and destination. This trend is here to stay, so it has to work for all countries," said Angel Gurría, the OECD Secretary General. The United Nations’ proposal Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a positive development towards promoting more effective international co-operation.

Rethinking the negative narrative around migration must be a joint effort. It is a vital question that everyone should ask themselves so that we can take the countercurrent of the media and ensure that no more people are prejudiced in our policy making.

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