13 December 2019

Demystifying Migration: a Call for an Evidence-based Narrative

Mass hysteria has taken over migration. As a result of the moral panic spurred by the media and politicians, emotions and perceptions prevail over facts and rationality. Migration has been polarised and instrumentalised before being analysed and understood. 

The current misperceptions say more about the vacuity of the mass media and the mediocrity of the politics than they do about the reality of migration. When assessed from an evidence-based perspective, the reality is the exact opposite of the prevailing stereotypes. 

First, migrants only account for 3.5 percent of the world’s population. Although the relative number of migrants has increased since 1990, a rise of 0.6 percent is very far from being the invasion of the Global North so frequently depicted by mass media and politicians. In fact, since 2010, South-South migration has even surpassed South-North migration

Second, in contrast to the disproportionate focus on irregular migration, the vast majority of migrants are travelling in a safe and regular manner, for reasons related to work, family and study. Albeit impossible to quantify with accuracy, undocumented migrants are estimated at around 10-15 percent of migrants worldwide. Similarly, the myth of the male migrant from a developing country leaving his family behind in pursuit of a better life does not reflect reality. Here again, statistics speak for themselves: women account for 48.4 percent of the world migrant population, with higher percentages in Europe and North America. 

Third, the current narrative spread by media and political discourses hides the important contributions of migrants to countries of destination and origin: they are a catalyst for the economic growth of their host countries, providing the labour and skills needed in critical occupations and sectors. Even if this may surprise some, migrants pay more taxes and social contributions than they receive. They are also drivers of entrepreneurship and innovation. In the US, they comprise nearly 30 per cent of all entrepreneurs, while representing only 13 percent of the total population. Conversely, remittances sent by migrants contribute to the economies of their own countries and represent more than three times the total of development assistance

The enduring gap between perception and reality calls for demystifying migration as the evil of the century. While being more visible than ever, it is both a challenge and an opportunity for migrants, as well as for their countries of origin and destination. Migrants, however, provide the perfect excuse to mask the failure of politicians in addressing the socio-economic difficulties and anxieties of voters. 

Racism and xenophobia have become so mainstream that calling for an evidence-based approach to migration is viewed at best as partisan and at worst as an affront to democracy. In such a politically toxic climate, there is more than ever a crucial need for developing a pedagogy of migration; not only to better understand the normality of being a migrant, but more importantly, to inform public debate and avoid democracy being hijacked by demagogues. 
Vincent Chetail has recently published a book on International Migration Law at Oxford University Press.