There has been some disgraceful treatment of refugees across Europe in recent days. The Danish parliament has passed a law forcing refugees to surrender their valuables on arrival. Asylum-seekers in Cardiff have been required to wear coloured wristbands to receive food. Our own Government is still “considering” whether to take in 3,000 unaccompanied children who have fled the Middle East’s war zones. Quite a way to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
Great currents of fear about refugees are swirling around the Continent. Some of this anxiety relates to culture, some to crime, some to terrorism, but much is economic in nature. And there are many economic myths around asylum-seekers.
First, the numbers. One prevalent idea is that Europe is bearing the brunt of the human fallout from the conflicts of the Middle East. There has certainly been a pronounced pick-up in asylum applications in the European Union: 995,000 in 2015 alone, double the previous year. Yet that still needs to be put in a global perspective. Of the 14 million cross-border refugees worldwide just one million are in Europe. There are two million Syrian refugees in Turkey alone. Jordan is also home to two million displaced people, equivalent to around a third of the native population.
Another perception is that refugees are all indigents who can’t work or contribute economically. But the experience of Nordic countries in recent decades suggests the labour market participation rates of refugees show the greatest increase over time of all migrant groups. While on arrival only around 15 per cent of refugees in Sweden worked that ratio ultimately rose to more than 60 per cent.