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Myths about migration

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Migration can be an emotional and divisive issue – within the politics
of many countries, within the communities it affects and even within
families and friendship groups. Below are some common myths
around migration and the facts behind the myths.

There have never been so many
migrants and refugees

This is often stated as fact, in emotionally-loaded language. We sometimes hear of “invasion” and “swarming” migrants and refugees, of people trying to force their way into the developed countries of the EU and North America.

The number of migrants as a percentage of the world’s population has remained constant

For over half a century, the number of migrants has remained at roughly 3% of the world’s population. But, global population also rose – from 3 to almost 7.3 billion. The number of refugees actually fell between 1990 and 2010 (from 18.5 to 16.3 million), increasing (to 21.3 million in 2016) largely because of the war in Syria.

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Migrants and refugees live off
welfare benefits and steal

This is also heard frequently as a reason why we should not welcome people who move countries - local people can’t get jobs because of foreigners, who have previously been on state benefits.

Migrants pay more tax than the benefits they receive and do jobs that locals reject

Research shows that migrants often do jobs that local people don’t want or don’t have the skills for. In many countries, they pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Migrants from mainland Europe have paid 64% more in taxes than benefits since 2000 in the UK.

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Shutting the borders will stem the
tide of migrants and refugees

Again, it’s a “solution” often voiced – from Europe’s increasingly restrictive policies, to the USA’s wall along its border with Mexico, to Australia’s removal of asylum seekers to inhospitable islands. Lower income countries are following suit, saying their citizens are “losing out” in their “overcrowded” nations.

Slamming the door can actually increase migration

Harsh restrictions can have unintended consequences – a surge in migration in advance of new laws, temporary migrants becoming permanent if they fear they can’t return, migrant flows diverting to new routes and into the hands of criminal and inhumane traffickers.

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Forceful restrictions on migration
have actually worked

Some countries which say they are being “overrun” have stopped the inflow by putting barriers in place. If other countries followed suit, migrants would give up.

Migration policies haven’t become more restrictive

Over the past 65 years, migration policies have actually become more liberal. Research shows that there was a liberalising trend for labour migrants, students and families in 45 countries from 1945 to 2010 finding. In some countries, border controls are more visible and visas sometimes harder to get for irregular migrants coming to the EU and North America. But they are in the minority – many more people who move are regarded as what’s called “ex-pats”. It’s a term largely used for people who are middle class, skilled and often white.

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People from poor countries
migrate to rich ones

Developed countries in the North are being swamped by a massive flow of migrants from the Global South.

Most migrants move between developing countries

The claim that the vast majority of migration is from South to North, poor to rich, is one of the biggest clichés – and the most unfair. In 2013, over 35% of all international migrants moved between developing countries. The 82 million migrants from the Global South made up just one third of international migration, while 67 million people migrated from the North to another developed or developing country.

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Migration causes a “brain drain”
in developing countries

Well-educated and skilled people take their qualifications abroad for their own benefit, leaving shortages in their own country. They send money home but that creates dependency rather than development.

Migrants often return home with further skills learned abroad

The term “skill flow” is more appropriate to describe the movement of workers. Remittances may be invested in the education of family members, and the migrant themselves may also return, with enhanced skills. The World Bank estimates that in 2015, US$440 billion were remitted to developing countries by their migrant citizens – three times the amount of global foreign aid. Opening up regular, safe channels for migration would allow people who move to contribute further.

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If poor countries get more aid,
people won’t migrate

Some political leaders say that if we give more development aid to poor countries – especially in Africa – then their citizens won’t want to move away.

Economic growth leads to more migration

When countries develop, their citizens have more resources and skills, which allow them to migrate. This is called the “migration paradox”. Mexico, the Philippines and Turkey – all middle-income countries – produce substantial numbers of migrants. Very poor people don’t have the resources to migrate. The right to migrate is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Migrants erode countries’ identities and lead to culture clashes

Mass migration to Europe is changing its civilisation, its culture, its religious base.

Migrants help societies become more
diverse and vibrant

The migration myth that cultures are put under threat is one of the most insidious, playing on fear and xenophobia. Europe has benefitted hugely from centuries of people moving and the United States was built on immigration. Migration is how Europe got its language and number system.

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Countries don’t get any benefits
from migrants

Migrants create an economic burden for the countries they settle in – they put huge pressure on education and health services for a start. Taking them in doesn’t benefit a country.

Migrants bring skills, economic growth and
social enrichment

Two thirds of migrants and refugees are workers, who boost economies. The independent OECD says migrants account for 70% of the increase in the European workforce in the past decade, a great benefit when populations are ageing. Workers need replacing and caring for when they retire. If migrants are socially included in host countries, they can bring innovation, new businesses and a richer environment, which can drive positive change.

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Rich countries don’t need
migrants with low skills

We should only allow in the ones we need – like doctors or IT experts. We don’t need any more migrants working in food takeaways or cleaning our houses – we’ve got enough of them already. They don’t have the proper legal papers anyway.

Rich countries need migrants
of all skill levels

Low-wage occupations are expected to grow in a number of counties and people will be needed to do them. Local people often don’t want to do these jobs. People smugglers also thrive when more restrictions are in place and ironically will end up smuggling skilled people who end up working undocumented in low skilled jobs, their skills wasted.

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