Globalisation, Crises, and Migration; Challenges to Democracy and Development

While world attention has focused on a surge in refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, the crisis in Europe is less one of refugees and migrants but more of governance.

The perception and reality of crisis are deepening in many countries worldwide. However, while economic, social and political crises are indeed accumulating, the fixation on migration as the cause is misplaced; the problems lie elsewhere. In fact migration has long played key roles developing and sustaining economies, populations and societies worldwide.

While migration numbers remained proportional at 3 percent of world population over the last half century, rising demand for foreign skills and labour worldwide and increased displacement caused by war, absence of decent work and unsustainable living conditions are driving increased migration.

Migration is in essence the movement of people bringing labour and skills, and industrialized countries increasingly need both. Technological evolution, changes in the organization of work and demographic factors are driving demand for labour and skills that cannot be met by aging populations and declining workforces. Today, migrants and 'migrant origin' people constitute 16% of the population of the EU; their proportion in workforces higher still, similar to proportions of foreign born in workforces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA. Proportions are ten percent or more in workforces of Kazakhstan, Russian Federation and the Ukraine.

Infographic: Labour Migration from Central Asia to Russia

While world attention has focused on a surge in refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, the crisis in Europe is less one of refugees and migrants but more of governance, the unwillingness of governments to apply resources and European values of solidarity and human rights to meet a humanitarian emergency no greater than others Europe has faced –and resolved - several times over the past century. The actual increase in migrant arrivals to the EU in 2015 was on the order of 20 percent over previous years, annual immigration into EU member States being consistently around 3 million over the last decade –nearly half from other EU countries. Net immigration is around 1 million (in a region of 560 million people), taking account of emigration.

Migration rejuvenates workforces, maintains viability of agriculture, construction, health care, hotel, restaurant and tourism; it meets growing demand for skills, and promotes entrepreneurship. Many studies demonstrate that migration creates jobs, generates demand for goods and services, enhances tax revenues, and contributes to innovation that sustains development, growth and welfare. [1]

The major part of migration today takes place within regions, not between, 40 to 80 percent within regional economic integration communities, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the EU, and South America's MERCOSUR whose respective human mobility regimes put labour and skills where they are needed by capital --investors and employers—to develop and maintain economic activity.

Over the next 15 years, the majority of the world's countries experience declining work forces. [2] Germany loses 5 million of its work force, Italy 3 million. The Russian Federation lost 10 million since 2000. Some 120 countries face increasing departures from their work forces uncompensated by declining numbers of youth entrants. A forecasting study estimated that the global shortage of high skilled and trained technical skills may reach 85 million by 2020. [3]

On the other hand, human displacement has increased dramatically in countries across the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere devastated by warfare, many fuelled by foreign military intervention and arms supplies. Elsewhere, emigration is on the rise, compelled by absence of decent work and livelihood opportunities and exacerbated by failed development and corrupt governance as well as climate-change related environmental factors rendering untenable agricultural production and human habitat. The emigration of trained talent as well as working age adults compounds political, economic and social factors impeding sustainable development and human welfare.

Migration as Regulatory Issue and Security Threat
António Guterres’: Migration is a natural activity and part of human history, which countries should seek to accommodate and regulate, rather than ban it and have the situation resign to chaos.

Nearly all countries around the world face the paradox of needing and relying on increased immigration but facing daunting challenges of integrating newcomers and diversity with established populations. Countries facing greater difficulties are those which marginalized immigrant communities, relegating immigrants and their children to specific neighborhoods characterised by lower levels of public services, health, schooling and police protection. Political and media discourse denigrating and stigmatising immigrant social, cultural, racial and religious identities aggravated the denial of policy support for integration. In contrast, countries deliberately facilitating equality of treatment and respectful participation have fared well in integrating immigrants into productive activity and socially cohesive society.

Nonetheless, rising unemployment, insecurity, declining public services, increasing crime and marginalization especially affecting working classes, older people and youth have been readily blamed on immigration. Political misinterpretation and manipulation of those factors increases insecurity and drives support for demagogues offering easy solutions to false claims and oversimplified problems.

Key underlying challenges are deregulation and intensified international competition in the context of globalization, driving a race to the bottom in pay, benefits and conditions of work. Employers find themselves compelled to recruit cheap, docile, unprotected labour to stay in business. For some businesses and government allies, that means recruiting foreigners and/or retaining them in undocumented situations in order to work in substandard conditions with lower pay, in what some describe as the cost-cutting twin of exporting production. [4]

Rabid xenophobic and objectively racist discourse –and resulting violence-- feed on and encourage increasingly restrictive policies and ad hoc measures. They increase divisions and tensions within societies, which in turn undermine economic performance and discourage productive investment. Police control responses, restrictions on public space, on travel and mobility and on healthy public debate all contribute to narrowing the expression of and participation in democracy as well as democratic governance.

Getting it wrong on migration –and on refugee emergencies-- has raised costs in deteriorated social cohesion and marginalization of ethnic minority and migrant-origin populations in several countries. Furthermore, countries with restrictive approaches and hostile societies will be unable to recruit or retain the skills and workforce they need. Instead, they face “slow onset” vicious cycles of lost productivity, economic decline, unemployment, scapegoating, and social disruption.

The only way out is to get it right on migration. This requires an accurate narrative and public discourse recognizing that migration is a key factor for sustaining dynamic economies and functional societies. Getting it right is treatment of all persons as rights holders and participants in democracy and community. It is stopping wars and the interventions and arms feeding them. Getting it right is ensuring decent work and social justice for all –in origin as well as destination countries. Right –and viable—governance means regulating and facilitating mobility fairly. It means promoting integration among all denizens of local communities, of cities, and of countries. In the bigger picture, getting it right on migration also entails effective implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose realization would go a long way to making migration a choice rather than a necessity. These points merit becoming the predominant narrative and paradigm on migration.

1. See: Is migration good for the economy? OECD Migration Policy Debates No2, Май 2014. Available at:

2. For a corporate view on the phenomena, see Ernst & Young report: “Tracking global trends: How six key developments are shaping the business world” (2011).

3. Dobbs, Richard, Anu Madgavkar, Dominic Barton, Eric Labaye, James Manyika, Charles Roxburgh, Susan Lund, Siddarth Madhav. The World at Work: Jobs, Pay and Skills for 3.5 Billion People. McKinsey Global Institute: 2012.  See: 

4. See discussion on labour market demand for and insertion of migrants in: Taran et al, “Economic migration, social cohesion and development: an integrated approach.”  Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 2009. Pages 34-37.


Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.