The migration debate isn’t really about migrants

The east-west divide on migration speaks to far more fundamental anxieties.

Peter Ungar

Topics Politics World

The migration debate has become one of the fundamental debates in European political life. But the question of migration into Europe actually has little to do with migration policy. Instead, it is based on competing moralising discourses.

The European right – particularly in the east – claims it is fighting an underdog battle against the decline of the West. It claims it has to exert enormous pressure to overcome the power of Guardian opinion pieces from its oppressed position of… running national governments and media monopolies.

Those on the left feel like they are the best person in every room they walk into. The left sees itself as the only political force against inhumanity and war. It wants to build a world in which borders are consigned to the past and ‘friendship is magic’, to quote My Little Pony.

The row over what to call the EU commissioner responsible for migration shows how identity and symbolism are key to understanding this debate. Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, has decided that there will be a new vice-president for ‘protecting our European way of life’ – a portfolio that includes migration. National Rally leader Marine Le Pen hailed this as an ‘ideological victory’. And she has a point. It signals that some in the EU agree that the way we live in Europe is under attack from outsiders and needs to be protected from them.

According to the right, mass migration is a threat to European life because it has the potential to smuggle in political Islam. But this would only make any sense at all for countries with large numbers of Muslim migrants. Yet the loudest warnings against this perceived threat come from the central European ‘Visegrád Four’ (V4) countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – where Muslim migration is practically non-existent. So why does this threat exercise them so much?

It has become a truism in the V4 countries that we are living through a tide of anti-immigrant sentiment without migrants or immigration. The migrants that entered Hungary in 2015 during the migrant crisis never intended to stay here – they were on their way to the western and northern parts of the EU. The symbolism, however, was significant. Migration is the clearest manifestation of how globalisation is experienced by many people. People who feel like they have no say, no way to control how globalisation changes their surroundings, pin this loss of control on migration. And they pin their hopes of taking back control on stopping migration.

The fact that the fruits of globalisation have not been shared equally cannot be waved away by the do-gooders’ prerogative to accept all-comers. This instruction does not answer the most basic desire of most citizens: to have a political body which belongs to them, is responsible for them, and is accountable to them. One question that must be asked is whether we think that the primary moral purpose of a national government is to create the most welfare possible for its own citizens. For some on the pro-immigration side, any prioritising of citizens above migrants is seen as illegitimate. But most people do not see it as their government’s job to solve the world’s problems.

A key problem of the pro-migration side is that its arguments are rarely framed in terms of a national interest. Of course, from time to time it is argued – correctly – that is in the Hungarian national interest that a certain number of well-qualified migrants can come to work in our country. But most arguments for more migration have been framed in terms of humanity as a whole, of moral decency and of righting great moral wrongs. The question is rarely posed in terms of what is best for us, the citizens.

This alone cannot explain why the V4 countries fear migration despite not having many migrants. It also has a lot to do with our place in the EU. Put simply: when we joined the EU, we were promised an equal place in the winner’s club for once. In 1990, we all thought we were on the right side of history and that our complexes would vanish and our living standards would rise. And to a large extent those things have happened. Life is better than it was before.

But in one fundamental way, the process of European integration did not feel like it should have: we were not treated as equals. Or at least that is how the V4 see it. A great deal of pro-migration sentiment in western Europe stems from a feeling of (deserved) guilt from centuries of colonialism. This is something that the former eastern bloc countries had no part in ̫ on the contrary, these countries were themselves colonised. Eastern states have, however, been grappling with their recent past of communist dictatorships. And when we joined the EU family, we were expected to take on the West’s colonial hang-ups on top of that. We married into a family with a past. So did western Europe – though there has been little recognition of our past.

Migration has come to embody a clash between two incompatible ways of seeing the world. To put it crudely, Western moralism is poised against an Eastern sense of victimhood. This has hugely deepened the divide between east and west. It has created a political right in the east that runs national governments that feel they are the most oppressed minority in the history of the world. It allows politicians like Victor Orbán and Matteo Salvini to be in opposition to the world instead of behaving like responsible statesmen.

In truth, migration is the debate we are having in order to avoid other debates. It masks the much larger debates on national sovereignty, on the successes and failures of EU expansion, and on whether there is such a thing as European culture as a basis for building a European Union. Migration is what we debate so that each side feels comfortable, at home in its barracks, with the soothing sound of insults thrown at the other party. The goal of this debate is not to change policy at the national or European level. Rather, it is a performance that allows people continuously to remind themselves that they are on the right side of history, as either the protectors of the homeland or of vulnerable people. It is a way to signal to society which camp you belong to in the culture wars.

This post-2015 debate on migration has produced a huge amount of hysteria that has masked major debates with its loudness and pervasiveness. The result is that, four years on, the migrant crisis has only been half-solved. A compromise could still be reached on policy, but only if we refuse to see migration as a question of virtues and vices.

Peter Ungar is an MP for the Hungarian Green Party

Picture by: Getty.

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Iftikhar Ahmad

24th November 2019 at 9:05 pm

Immigrants, fixing the problems caused by the native Brits, no need to thank them.
Immigrants take less benefits than UK citizens and put more into the pot.
Our old people would be in an even worse situation if we didn’t have immigration.
It’s the only way we will pay for the massive costs of our aging population, you clearly don’t like it, but you should get used to it.
From the various ONS reports and such. They pay tax and use relatively less services than aging folk, thus help pay.
We have open borders, that’s not quite the one way stream you suggest. Maybe in a generation or two the movement would be greater, assuming we bother teaching languages to our kids.

I know of many people who have migrated to the continent, some permanent and many older folk for the bulk of the year.
Isn’t that great 🙂

It looks to me that Europeans do not want immigrants in the West since they see them only as a problem?.

Just reflect on what you guys in the west have done in other countries.

Think of Africa and the sub-continent in particular. Do you guys really have a reason to complain?. Or are you the elites that always should have it better than anyone else?.

To be honest, no group of people has damaged the world, other people’s societies more than you in the west.

The migrants don’t want to integrate or abide by western law. Just because they don´t want to wear nude clothes or at least cloth that can show how big her breast are… so these people failed to integrate. Just because they don’t like free sex, then these people failed again.. what a dirty Bush mind you have!

The second generation of Muslim migrants is facing a huge challenge because they did not think even for a second before that someone would say, ‘You are not welcome.'”

Continue to moan about immigration. You want Turkey and India to do business with Britain and you don’t want their citizens in Britain. What a contradiction!

A cap on immigration from third world countries will be imposed despite cabinet concern that the policy could harm the economy. The school secretary and university minister have raised concerns that the cap could deprive the economy of skilled labour. Baroness Valentine said that the word cap is a very negative word to put out to the global market place.

EU requires 40 million immigrants from outside its borders by 2050 in order to maintain itself, as the current population is ageing. Britain colonised half of the world, we imposed our laws and way of life on impoverished countries and made slaves out of its citizens. Now we still plunder the wealth and resources of other countries, oil, diamonds, gold etc. Countries where people work 12/14 hour shifts in abhorrent conditions for next to nothing supply us with goods so we can have the latest clothes/iPhone, we sell arms around the world and create wars and instability in the middle east. The west takes so much from developing countries in the name of profit… then some migrants come here to work or to flee war and people complain, GET A GRIP! On top of that, we are all children of immigration. If you take the “get back to your own country” rhetoric to its logical conclusion we’d all return to Africa, devolve into monkeys then go crawling back into the jungle.

Why will people migrate from their homes to strange lands under risks and uncertainties? This is partly due to discomfort caused by poverty. Why should people be poor when the resources of the world are so abundant? Because a few minority have aggressively taken control of all the resources due to avarice, greed and selfishness not willing to share. People migrate to share in part of the wealth of the world not created by anybody but by the Supreme Creator of everything. The vast majority are in abject poverty while the few minority live in opulence. To continue the status quo, the sponsor and unleash wars on the vast majority already living under life threatening conditions. To say the least, the good things of life must be shared by all or enjoyed by none. I rest my case for now. Since British taxpayers never spent even a single penny on the education of immigrants, therefore, they should be exempted from paying all direct and indirect taxes for five years for the betterment of community cohesion. In my opinion, all immigrants since the end of the War should be refuned their taxes for five years. Native Brits must be grateful to them for their contribution.

Here’s a new idea – get the f**k out of every Muslim country, stop killing Muslims with your bombs, soldiers, funding and discriminatory policy and let the Muslims sort out their own affairs without Western interference. Then the flow of refugees will stop… Terrorism and fight for freedom has always been there too. Unfair to single out Muslims. Germany, we Muslims will not forgive you for selling nuclear weapon submarines to Israel and giving that racist country a second nuclear strike capability. If you like Jews so much, give a piece of your own country to them as a homeland. The more Muslim countries are attacked, the more you can expect more asylum seekers to come to white countries. You only have yourself to blame. The overall problem when dealing with immigration, is the need to first ascertain where these people have come from:- If they are from Commonwealth Countries (most likely not Australia, Canada, or New Zealand – there the immigration goes the other way), this can be seen as 200 years of imperialism coming back to bite us. If they are from Eastern Europe, this can be seen as 20 years of moronic EU policy coming back to bite us. If they come from the Middle East, this can be seen as 100 years of never ending scheming and meddling in that particular region coming back to bite us.

Western colonial powers made a mess in Africa, the sub-continent and in the Middle East couple decades ago. The least they can do is to accept people from the countries they have robbed and ruined. The western countries which colonised the world .Yes it is a duty to give them back some pieces of what they have stolen !

One in 33 people on the planet is a migrant in search of dignity, safety, a better future, and sometimes even adventure. With 232 million people living outside their country of birth, this is not a small number. Put together, they would form the fifth most populous nation on earth. International Migrants Day on December 18 is therefore a good time to acknowledge their role in our societies and economies. Rapid demographic changes can also create friction in communities. Some long-time residents resent the change and newcomers feel unwelcome as a result. The Town of Richmond Hill, north of Toronto in Canada, faced this problem when its population doubled to 185,000 within 20 years, and the visible minority population grew to constitute almost half of the town. Outreach to diverse communities soon became a top priority.

Immigrants, legal or illegal are the creators of Britain new wealth, otherwise, inner cities deprived areas could not get new lease of life. The native Brits regard such areas as ghettoes. Integration is not religious and cultural, it is economic and Muslims are well integrated into British society and at the same time they are proud of their Islamic, linguistic and cultural identities, inspite of discrimination they have been facing in all walks of life. According to UN, 80% of British Muslims feel discriminated. They are less burden on social services. Immigrants made up 8.7% of the population, but accounted for 10.2% of all collected income tax.

Anyone who arrives from overseas, to work, to pay income tax , national insurance, who wants to contribute to our economy and society should be made very welcome in our country. The vacancies they fill are mostly the jobs that most local people avoid like the plague. A vast majority of economic migrants are ambitious, resourceful, possess, “A Can-Do” attitude and a very strong work ethic. just like the ones who leave the U.K. to make their fortunes in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The U.S.A.Dubai etc. So the next time we are served in a shop, or restaurant, when we are cared for in a hospital or taking the night bus home, or ask directions from a stranger and,” Shock of Shocks” they turn out NOT to be a White Anglo Saxon native English speaker. Perhaps we can be a little more compassionate, welcoming, considerate and refuse to, “Buy in” to the hysteria that the DM,U.K.I.P and all the other bigots would like to create. It’s funny how British people complain about Europeans. But Europeans are not the ones on benefits. Europeans that come to Britain cannot afford to be on benefits and that is not how they were raised in their countries, that is why they migrate don’t you think??? Otherwise they could sit on benefits in their own countries and still have (most of them) sun all year round! If it wasn’t for foreign workers, Britain would be far worse than it is. Employers have found that foreign workers are prepared to work much harder than the locals so he employs mostly foreigners. This is not to say that the Brits are lazy, but I would say that people who immigrate from their home country do so in order to earn money and therefore they are prepared to work harder. The vast majority work hard, pay their taxes and contribute to the British economy. How are they able to move to the UK and get jobs? Simple – the 2.5 million Britons who are parasites on capitalism and too lazy to get a job. If the Britons who are state scroungers got off their lardy arses and got a job, there’d be no jobs for immigrant workers and they’d go elsewhere. The root of the problem is that state benefits in the UK are too high and people see no economic reason for becoming a decent member of society.

I have to say that this really can only be a good thing. If they are here for work, then great. These people provide better levels of service and are much more attractive and cosmopolitan. I have to say that I prefer the Mediterranean attitude to life. The Brits with their binge drinking, kebabs, street fighting and vomiting could really learn a thing or two from their new guests. So welcome, one and all. People from foreign countries have a reputation for working for a living, so what’s the problem? It’s people with a culture of thieving and dishonesty that I would baulk at.

Eight illegal immigrants are better than all those natives who spend all their lives on benefits. They are not illegal because they earn their living by working. They should be allowed to stay in this country. They are not doing anything illegal.

Stephen Gwynne

23rd November 2019 at 12:58 pm

“Migration has come to embody a clash between two incompatible ways of seeing the world”.

In basic terms this is the cosmopolitan model and the communitarian model with the former more globalist and social liberal in outlook and the latter more nationalistic and social conservative.

However, what is largely avoided in these debates, which ties in with the political issues that are avoided, such as national sovereignty and self determination, is the ecological debts that are accrued under different migration regimes.

In general, the Left seeks to maximise human growth and prosperity which in deep ecological terms translates as an extreme form of anthropocentism in which human population growth and human prosperity growth is ideologically seen as an inherent good. However, human population growth and human prosperity growth directly leads to the degradation of the ecospheric integrity of the planet, both at national scales and at the global scale.

Hence, open borders inevitably increases the human impact on the ecological integrity of rich nations as a result of the land use changes required to facilitate population growth and consumption growth. In other words, the cosmopolitan globalist ideal of maximising human growth and prosperity directly results in increased ecological debt in rich nations which has a direct impact on the nation’s capacity to sustain itself ecologically, whether in the form of food production or ecosystem services in general, with biodiversity loss and ecological degradation impairing ecosystem functions and resilience.

As such, the cosmopolitan worldview is intrinsically ecocidal in its outcome which not only actively seeks to increase carbon emissions, biodiversity loss and ecological degradation globally through its prosperity maximising moralism but also nationally in respect to rich Western states.

Clearly the cosmopolitan worldview with its prosperity without limits moralism is ecologically unsustainable and as such, the endeavour to maximise human population growth and human prosperity growth will destroy the ecospheric integrity of the planet.

The Right recognises the fundamental flaws of the Left’s progressive moralism of maximising human prosperity as being bereft of ecological awareness and acutely anthropocentric and as a result is more cognisant of the need for limits and restraint. These limits and restraints may seem heartless, cruel or inhumane to the maximising Left but are necessary to limit the degradation of our ecological means of survival both nationally and globally. Hence the Right is more cognisant of the (bio)capacity of its national systems ranging from the ecological, to the economic, to the cultural and finally to the political. Similarly, the Right will accept or tolerate humane levels of relative poverty, austerity and limits to human population growth and human prosperity growth with the view that restraining either builds longevity and resilience into systems rather than degrading and deteriorating them even if that means accepting reduced human life expectancy, reduced human immigration or reduced human expectations, since limits and restraint protects rather than destroys our ecological means of survival and the ecological integrity of our ecosystem services.

In other words, when it comes to ecological survival and the longevity of our ecological systems, the Right with its emphasis on communitarianism, national sovereignty, social conservatism and acceptable limits to human suffering is on much more surer ecological footing than the maximising Left whose limitless attitudes towards human population growth and human prosperity growth are causing irreparable harm, loss and damage to the ecospheric integrity of the planet whether at national scales or at the global.

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