One million refugees per year

Richard Parncutt

August 2021

Refugees, we are told, are bad news. Granting asylum to refugees is bad for the country. Our borders need to be defended against refugees, as if they were some kind of foreign army. Otherwise they will flood into the country in endless waves, stealing our jobs and our daughters. 

That is more or less what we are being told, again and again, by media and politicians (not only the conservatives). Seldom was so much nonsense believed so unquestioningly by so many people.

In fact, refugees are exactly what today's rich countries desperately need to finance their pensions and diversify their stagnating culture. Why fly to exotic destinations when you can experience cultural diversity at home? Ask anyone in a city like Montreal or Melbourne what they think of migrants, without whom they would still be eating meat and potatoes. Going back another few centuries, everyone except the indigenous First Nations were migrants.

If Europeans were intelligent (evidently we are not), the European Union would be offering asylum to at least one million refugees per year. The refugees would be free to choose which EU country to live in. Each country would benefit, financially and culturally, in proportion to the number of refugees who chose to stay there. EU member states that understood the benefits of receiving refugees would compete to attract them. EU member countries that refused to cooperate would leave the EU, and we would be better off without them.

Europe needs refugees. Life expectancy is increasing, as is the number of retired people. The total cost of pensions is increasing, but retirement age is not increasing proportionally. At the same time, the birth rate is decreasing in rich countries. That is a good thing, because it will make it easier to reduce global carbon emissions in the future. But the group of workers that is financing pensions is shrinking at the same time as the total bill for pensions is increasing. 

Clearly, the EU needs more taxpayers. Refugees are the perfect solution. It's win-win all round. The EU also needs people who are willing to do the work that Europeans are unwilling to do, such as caring for the elderly. 

Refugees need the EU. The number of refugees that are granted asylum anywhere in the world is increasing steadily. There were 15 million in 2012, 17m in 2013, 20m in 2014, 21m in 2015, 22m in 2016, 25m in 2018 and 2017, and 26m in 2019. The reasons for this gradual increase are complex, but the ultimate reason is probably global warming. Migration is increasingly caused by extreme weather, forest fires, hunger, water shortages, and rising seas. These things cause or exacerbate conflict in complex ways. That being the case, we can confidently expect numbers of refugees to continue to increase for the next few decades, depending on the extent to which humanity manages to get global warming under control. 

Europeans care about refugees. A minority of people do not care about refugees, it seems. Nor do those people care about anyone in a difficult situation, or anyone who looks or sounds different. The trouble is, this particular minority tends to shout the loudest. It is only when they shut up that things look different. If we weren't constantly being told in the media that refugees are a problem, the silent, normal, caring majority would have a more positive attitude. The truth of this became clear in 2015, when over a million refugees came to Europe, mainly from Syria. On that occasion, the world witnessed what solidarity looks like. Countless European citizens spontaneously volunteered to make the refugees feel welcome after their long and strenous journey. There was a new spirit of respect and caring in the air. Suddenly, it did not matter what you looked or sounded like, or what part of the world you came from. Suddenly, we were all sisters and brothers. After that, the problems that we were told would ensue from an influx of so many refugees never happened, because the refugees made up such a small proportion of the population (1.3 million refuges among 450 million Europeans -- that's 1 in 350). For our positive response to the 2015 refugee crisis, we Europeans earned worldwide respect. We showed how a truly democratic civil society works. We showed what really counts in life: helping people when they need help. Why can't that happen every year?

It's partly the EU's fault that the numbers are increasing. The main causes of forced migration are economic and political. The richer countries have been exploiting the poorer countries for centuries (colonialism) and the global economic system is still fundamentally unfair. The richer countries are also primarily responsible for global warming, which is increasingly driving forced migration. Are we going to be accountable for that or pretend it never happened?

The EU is not pulling its weight. Countries with stronger finances should be taking on more refugees, simply because they can better afford to do so. The opposite is the case. There are more refugees in the Global South than the Global North. According to UNHCR and the UK Refugee Council, in 2019 Turkey was hosting 3.6m refugees, Pakistan 1.4m, Uganda 1.4m, Germany 1.1m, and Sudan 1.1m. 

The rich countries should also be taking advantage of refugees to finance future pensions. Again, the opposite is happening. In 2020, there were only 420,000 asylum applications in the EU. Many who would otherwise have applied for asylum did not, following scare compaigns by populist politicians. Of those that applied, only 41% were granted asylum -- too few, given the benefits to the EU of accepting applications. Given the clear financial and cultural benefits of accepting refugees, we Europeans need to do two things: first, encourage more people to apply for asylum in the EU, and second, be more generous when evaluating their applications. 

One million refugees per year is not many. The population of the EU is 450 million, so we are talking about one in 450 people arriving in a given year, another one in 450 having arrived in the previous year, and so on. Individual citiizens would hardly notice such a small influx of new faces. It's like having 450 Facebook friends and accepting a request for one more. One million refugees per year for the EU would be only about 1/30 of the total number of refugees worldwide. It would be more appropriate for the EU to take 1/20 of all refugees per year (1.5 million) given that the EU has about 1/20 of global population, but given the average European's irrational paranoid fear of refugees, it is pragmatic to start with one million per year.

In 2014 and 2015, the EU absorbed about a million refugees. Most were fleeing conflict and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Today, many people still think that the so-called "refugee crisis" was a bad thing. Those people have not studied the benefits. Most of those who were granted asylum status in the years following 2015 are now taxpayers. Germany benefited the most, because the greatest number of refugees decided to stay in Germany.

Preventing a future Holocaust

Looking further into the future, the EU will repeatedly have to decide whether to allow large numbers of refugees to enter or leave them to die on the borders. How should one react to such a situation? 

Today, extreme-right political parties tend to treat refugees as having no worth or value. For them, it is ok if refugees drown when crossing the Mediterranean, or if European NGOs are prevented from saving their lives. 

If attitudes of that kind do not change, we can reasonably expect extreme-right parties of the future to develop new technologies to kill millions of refugees and hygienically dispose of their bodies. We can also expect far-right parties of the future to blame the people of today for having failed to slow global warming to a manageable rate. 

If we want to prevent horrific future scenarios of that kind (and hopefully everyone can agree with the importance of that), we have to start get used to accepting large numbers of refugees now. That bears repeating: If we want to prevent horrific future scenarios of that kind (and hopefully everyone can agree with the importance of that), we have to start get used to accepting large numbers of refugees now. 

Conversely, if we don't start accepting large numbers of refugees now, we will be co-responsible for causing the premature deaths of millions of people in the future. That is not much different from mass murder. 

If we don't want to be almost-mass-murderers, we have no choice but to solve this problem urgently. The solution is not to ignore the problem or to pretend it doesn't exist, which is what most people are currently doing. The solution is to talk about the problem, openly and publicly, and solve it. 

The opinions expressed on this page are the author's personal opinions. Readers who know and care about this topic are asked to contact the author with suggestions for improving or extending the content: parncutt at gmx dot at. Back to Richard Parncutt's homepage