In 2015, an estimated 1.8 million refugees attempted to seek asylum within the borders of the European Union. Most of the refugees trying to enter EU countries were smuggled across the Mediterranean Sea – an extremely dangerous journey, where at least 3,771 drowned or went missing at sea in 2015 alone. The smuggling of refugees is illegal under international law, as smuggled refugees are highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Almost 20% of refugees in 2015 were Syrian, escaping the Syrian civil war and the rise of Daesh or the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL). Most of the refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict moved initially to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, but unemployment and other factors are driving many to attempt the trip to Europe to seek better economic prospects. Other countries of origin for the refugees include Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, and Eritrea. The refugee crisis has become very destabilizing for the EU, as the refugees have been received lukewarmly at best and with outright hostility at worst. It has reached the point where Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has openly fretted about the potential closing of the EU’s open borders. What the people of the EU fail to understand is that accepting refugees can actually help the EU’s economy, and turning them away, even from a self-interested economic perspective, is actually a bad idea.
In order to properly adapt to the situation, the EU must create and fund integration programs that will increase economic prospects for the EU in the long-run, offer the employment and stability that both EU citizens and the refugees are looking for, and allay fears among the European population that multiculturalism cannot work. While European far-right and Eurosceptic groups tend to claim that immigration hinders domestic employment and shrinks the economy, this is not actually the case. Between 2004 and 2014, immigrants accounted for a 70% increase of the workforce in Europe. The same report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) notes that because immigrants tend to receive less state benefits than they pay through taxes, the state actually makes a net gain, and immigrants tend to arrive with skills that improve human capital in their new country. Most if not all refugees are willing to work – after all, it is part of the reason why they left their old refugee camps. Similarly, the IMF has stated that the acceptance of refugees will actually provide a boost in growth to the economy of the EU. All of these reports are in direct contradiction to the claims made by xenophobic Europeans, who say refugees will just collect benefits without contributing employment, taxes, and capital while not integrating, and that “multiculturalism is a sham.”
The refugees should also be provided culture and language classes, as well as the opportunity to gain citizenship to better integrate into society and counter preconceived notions that the refugees will willingly segregate themselves in “parallel societies.” Integration is a better option than assimilation because assimilation forces non-ethnic Europeans to adopt European cultures while renouncing their own. While the refugees should certainly be encouraged to learn European customs, forcing them to give up their cultural backgrounds at the same time can only heighten resentment. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France, some French people are beginning to realize that assimilation policies might have a negative effect. Other fears regarding refugees include fears that terrorists are hiding among refugee flows – which is not quite true; while some Paris attackers entered Europe through refugee routes, all were EU nationals. Instead of shutting them out entirely, more resources should be placed into screening refugees.
Some might say that spending so much on the refugees will outweigh any benefits that they could bring, considering that even without these new measures, according to some figures, accepting refugees can be a little costly for government welfare services . While that may be true in the short run, the long term benefits can be seen quite clearly – in some advanced EU economies, “investing one Euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two Euros in economic benefits within five years.” Moreover, the aforementioned article notes that most refugees are young, and therefore have a lot of time to offset any costs they might incur upon the governments of the EU.
Thus, in order to ensure the economic and political stability of the EU, encouraging the creation and funding of EU integration programs ensures that the EU can still prosper in the face of the refugee crisis, while addressing the humanitarian needs of refugees. However, the people of the EU must be willing to allow their governments to invest in the refugees, a sentiment which, in light of the rise of the far-right, might fall on deaf ears. However, considering the fact that many supporters of the far-right are driven in part by economic grievances, the leaders of the EU can demonstrate that accepting refugees can offer benefits to a lot of people (including non-refugees), which might be more effective in delegitimizing these xenophobic beliefs.