Eric Ahlberg listens to old Jamaican reggae tunes on vinyl records. He enjoys sampling exotic cheeses and international pastries, slowly. One Halloween, Eric went as his superhero: Wikipedia. He likes exploring and loves cats. He hates closing time at the museum.
Eric and I sat together in our first-year class, Intro to Reporting, at university. We’ve crossed a few borders together, wandering for months in the Middle-East and trekking a season in India.
Eric is now doing his Masters on National and Transnational Studies at Wilhelms Westfälisch Universität Münster in Germany. We spoke earlier this week.
During one of our conversations last week, we talked about the EU financial crisis and it’s potential effects on migration.
Well, you can sometimes tell how well a country is doing by how many people are trying to get in. For example, as much as the US wrings its hands, the number of Mexicans, legal or otherwise, is down over the last few years. They fill a niche of course, the so-called 3-Ds, dirty dangerous or demeaning. But numbers have been down which is telling of the US economy. In the European context, there is also a certain amount of fear of new Eastern European EU members rushing to the more (at the moment) prosperous parts, and “taking jobs”. But its also interesting to note that Germany has been sending out more of its citizens to other countries than it receives in reverse.
Is there a reversal in migration patterns then? Would we see larger movements of people from ‘developed world’ to ‘developing world’ countries? People from Europe may now move to countries outside the West to find work…places like Turkey, Asia, Africa even. How realistic is the potential for this scenario?
Well, there are already many examples of this reverse trend in migration patterns. Many many young people these days do a stint of teaching English in China, Korea or Thailand. Some stay only several months, some stay years, some perhaps forever.
There is a neighbourhood of Guangzhou (is that a household name, that everyone can picture on a map? Yet 13 million people live there!) with a neighbourhood called, ahem, “Chocolate City”, where Nigerian and other Africans live, solely to buy goods direct and ship them back to home markets.
I mean, basically, most people (those who aren’t international jetset movie stars, businessmen or golfers) move and migrate for economic reasons. And in the past generation or two, there have indeed been new and multiple centres of migration. That includes internal migration as well. All the world’s fastest growing cities are in the so-called “developing” world.
So, whether Europeans would move in large numbers, it depends who you ask, of course! As an outsider in Germany, or Europe, my attitude might be a little radical compared to the native sentiment. But I do think Europeans are generally open to opportunity abroad. An economist would tell you there is no real difference in sending millions of euros to Greece, for example, or spending the same amount on Greeks moving to England or Denmark or somewhere else in the EU. Politically of course, it’s a whole other issue. So maybe it’s a matter of will. But I could imagine a scenario, if there were enough momentum, where for example, tens of thousands of EU citizens (maybe even Greeks?) moved to a place that has a more thriving economy. Easy, right? Well, what if that place were Turkey? Or China? Or Nigeria? I think 20,000 underemployed and overeducated Greek citizens could have a profoundly beneficial impact on the development of say, Turkey, Brazil, China or Nigeria.
Not that that would be problem free! And I can imagine every Greek grandpa just rolling in his grave right now…
But why not?
Today’s world is more and more globalized (a buzzword of our era, to be sure!), and some say borders matter less. And that’s somewhat true, but more so if you’re a dollar bill. Not to turn this into a debate on the merits and consequences of neo-liberalism! But one should ask why it’s easier for capital to flout borders and conventions than it is for labour, that is, people.
And there are also issues with perspectives on colonization and re-colonization when we talk about Western countries sending ‘workers’ to non-Western countries.
That’s certainly true. China for example, is heavily involved in development in Africa, but is frequently criticized because it seldom hires local Africans. They will ship in a hundred or two Chinese labourers to build roads, often simply from mine site to transportation depot, and leave locals wondering what benefit they get. But I suppose all countries need to balance the pros and cons. And naturally, post-colonial sentiments factor heavily into that, some places more than others.
And there’s also some classification of migration based on socio-economic status. It’s one thing to have directors and project management staff moving from the West to developing countries, it’s another to have physical labour-intensive workers move. I’m thinking of Dubai as an example. A lot of the Western migrant workforce is moving there into the high-salary management positions whereas the construction work and manual labour sectors are filled with low-paid migrants from South Asia. It’s difficult for me to envision 20,000 Greek workers in construction/factory/physical labour sectors moving to Nigeria to do the same work.
Exactly. And local Nigerians might not be too happy about taking orders from Greek transplants! So, it’s not without problems, but I think there is a way to equitably move forward in a win-win situation…
See, if only those go who fill roles or quotas that the government sets, or says it needs for particular projects, just from what I’ve studied and am seeing, there is still room in the world for more equitable global labour movement. Imagine the impact just 20,000 underemployed (and willing!) Greek teachers could have on somewhere with a weak education system, such as say, Nigeria, Africa’s fastest growing economy. The possibilities are there, that’s all. Political and individual will is another thing.