Migration and the New Europe

By James Walsh
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 2, Number 2 (Winter 1991-1992)
Issue theme: "Getting past the immigration taboo - an international perspective"

Migration experts, meeting at Turin, Italy, in late November 1991, agreed that the major part of migration to Europe today is economic and environ-mental rather than political. Debate focused on whether most migrants today qualify for asylum as defined in the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees. The experts suggested that the UN Convention on Refugees may need updating.

The New Europe, from the Urals to the Atlantic, is receiving four major migration patterns East to West within Europe, East to West from Asia, South to North from the Middle East, and South to North from Africa. While many Turin conferees were con-vinced that Europe cannot absorb Third World immigrants at the current rate, others pointed to Europe's low birth rate and need for workers.

The Center for Migration Studies of Staten Island, NY, publishers of Migrationworld magazine, co-sponsored the conference with the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli of Turin. Lydio F. Tomasi, Executive Director of the Center, and Sylvio M. Tomasi, Director of International Migration Review, organized the conference with the theme The New Europe and International Migration. The purpose was to discuss draft articles for a special issue of the Review. A panel of experts from 17 nations, inclu-ding the authors of the draft articles, represented the United States and the European Community (EC) as well as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the USSR. Of forty panelists, ten were from the US, and the majority of these were university professors.

Over the three days, participants heard detailed reports by each country. The Soviets described a brain-drain from their nation to western Europe and North America. Estimates in the West are that up to 10 million Soviet citizens will migrate in 1992, while the Soviets put the figure at closer to 1.5 million.

In discussions of post-partition Germany, old questions were heard again over what constitutes a German, French, Pole, Hungarian, or Czech national. Two world wars haven't resolved this, and neither did the conference.

Thomas Straubhaar, a Swiss professor of economics, proposed the institution of a General Agreement on Migration Policy (GAMP) similar to the existing General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Such an agreement, on the lines of a migration impact study, could redefine and control future migration patterns.

It was my impression that, across Europe today, electorates are telling their governments to stop the flow of migration into their countries. As this closed door policy spreads, migration issues are moving from low politics (national and domestic concerns) to high politics (foreign affairs, international trade and commerce, national security). The generic history quiz answer - the rise of nationalism - is raising its head once again. Although communism, over the past 45 years, effectively froze eastern and central Europe in time, it merely suppressed nationalism rather than eliminating it. Is it possible for the new nationalism to be the glue that will unite ethnic groups within newly emerging countries?

Pegging the root cause of migration from Third World nations as poverty and frustration with living conditions, the conferees centered their humanitarian concerns on what they saw as the right of all humans to a healthy environment and standard of living. The Turin conference weighed the benefits of aid to Third World countries against aid to immigrants themselves.

The question is whether the New Europe can resolve the conflicts between nationalism and humanitarianism, and whether it can introduce reason into the chaotic global migrations that face us in the coming century.

About the author

Mr. Walsh is Associate General Counsel with the Immigration

and Naturalization Service in the U.S. Justice Department.

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