The New York Times recently titled “Perceptions of Migration Clash With Reality”. The article analyzes the recent World Migration Report published by the International Organization for Migration and finds that “citizens estimate that there are as many as three times the number of immigrants living there than is actually the case.” The difference in perception is especially high in the USA, Canada, Italy and Britain.
You know how in the American movies – whenever somebody moves to a new neighbourhood – the housewife from next door brings some home made cookies? It’s a nice idea which couldn’t be further away from reality, though. Reality is not a white middle class neighbourhood: it’s cities which become more intercultural every day. The thing is, however, that the cultures don’t actually meet. It’s the problem often simply called “integration” without really specifying who should be doing what to make it possible. In such a reality, it is normal that we actually don’t really know how many people around us are “immigrants”.
This year’s report by the International Organization for Migration focuses on the perception of migrants and finds that “one of the most consistent findings is the over-estimation of the absolute numbers of migrants in a given country/region or of the proportion of the population that migrants represent.” These misconceptions depend highly on the people’s socio-economic background and their age, education and political inclination.
As a result or maybe as a driving force of these overestimations, right-wing and nationalistic discourses seem obvious. The rise of this kind of xenophobic tendencies can be observed in most European countries. The Jerusalem Post wrote this year emblematically: “It is time for European leaders to deal with issues of intolerance, because while their economies will eventually be restored, Europe’s soul may not.” The negative views on migrants clearly continue to be fueled by the current crisis. The IOM writes: “During periods of economic recession when unemployment levels are high, or in times of political turmoil or conflict, doubts about the value of migration can and do arise.”
Nevertheless, migration is a fact and it will not decrease but rather increase in the future. The report writes: “With international migration likely to continue increasing in scale and complexity over the next decades, societies of the future may be expected to exhibit increasing social and economic diversity. The successful integration of migrants into the host society and, more broadly, the manner in which the community at large experiences migration will constitute one of the major policy challenges”. Besides, it will also be a major challenge for people. The challenge to overcome fears and prejudices in order to go out there and get to know the new neighbours. They will not leave so you might just as well get to know them. Personally, I would not mind having my international neighbours bring over a plate now and then. I better get started with the cookies.
Picture by Anuska Sampedro, thanks.