A LETTER FROM GERMANYA LETTER FROM GERMANY
Immigration through an Immigrant’s Lens
– Prof. Brando Okolo
“It is hard not to be ambivalent about immigration issues. Illegal immigrants in Europe are in the labour system. They have no choice but to work once an opportunity to do so is presented. While punishing people who employ illegal immigrants might appear attractive, the truth though is that punishment will not stop the process of hiring illegal immigrants. If the European Union keeps working-class illegal immigrants disenfranchised from the economic system it will be paying a huge economic price as in lost tax revenues and accessible talents”
For this African Heritage edition, I had thought about writing on the current chatter around town: the fate of Africa in an era of Food shortages or the lack of African leadership in Europe or the Obama effect or the correlation between Alternative Energy and the current Global Food crisis or the Zimbabwean depression and failure of African leadership. These are dead-hot topics but I think Immigration is still a front burner topic amongst African communities in Europe. I also think that immigration is a topic which European politicians have an agonizing time trying to create policy on.
I am a typical immigrant; Trying to work hard to make ends meet; Constantly calculating the economic and social cost of every decision I intend on making and; yes, I miss home so much that I have to sometimes home-school my two and a half year old daughter on African culture in order to connect with my African roots. In all honesty life has not been unfair to me since my arrival to Europe but I also know that it could be significantly better.
When the new European Union immigration reforms kick-in come 2010 the distinction between a legal and an illegal immigrant will become more apparent. The new law will make it much harder to keep an illegal immigrant detained or controlled on European territory for more than 18 months. It will also make it harder to live in any European society as an immigrant. This new law will give a more criminal face to immigration, causing a new social thinking on this issue to sway public opinion deep into the politically far-right-winged faction. When this happens Europe will have a brand new kind of problem in its hands. A problem that will succeed in diluting democracy across Europe in an uncontrolled fashion.
The mere expansion of the European Union must be accompanied by a policy which recognizes that human resource is a commodity worth competing for in an honourable manner. Despite some of the good intentions of this new EU immigration policy it will end up highlighting the segregative aspects of the European system. For instance that policy requires that immigrants that are identified as illegal must be isolated in special detention centres and processed within 18 months. Are illegal immigrants criminals? When an individual sets-out to explore the world for better living conditions does that constitute a criminal action?
There are an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants living in the European Union. These 8 million people are criminals by EU policy standards. Like the immigrants that set out from Italy, Ireland, Germany, Poland and Russia in the early 20th century for the Unites States of America, these 21st century immigrants bound for Europe are fleeing home because of hardship and persecutions of various forms. The truth is that migrants are hardly welcome to any society. This perception is difficult to change especially where there is a policy model that creates a dichotomy between legal existence and illegal existence.
There are however good reasons to be concerned about the effects of immigration. Mass human migration from a particular location drains that region of its human resources. While Africa will suffer the effects of this process at sometime in the future, the toll immigration is taking on Europe is rather mixed. Immigration introduces a labour force that is often not sufficiently skilled to deal with procedures within a highly developed labour sector as in Europe. It increases inequality and causes wages of the less skilled to depress. Immigration expands the social level where low income earners reside. Nevertheless immigration will help Europe on the long term to build and consolidate an enriched society where growth prospects are guaranteed because labour force is certain.
It is hard not to be ambivalent about immigration issues. Illegal immigrants in Europe are in the labour system. They have no choice but to work once an opportunity to do so is presented. While punishing people who employ illegal immigrants might appear attractive, the truth though is that punishment will not stop the process of hiring illegal immigrants. If the European Union keeps working-class illegal immigrants disenfranchised from the economic system it will be paying a huge economic price as in lost tax revenues and accessible talents.
The 8 million illegal immigrants in Europe need to be offered an honest opportunity to legalize. Not an opportunity that makes it almost impossible to legalize. If the process to legalize is cumbersome and difficult to navigate they will not come forward to legalize. They will remain below the radar, working very hard under a tax-free labour system until circumstances change.
A progressive thinking Europe needs to immediately make and enforce laws to enfranchise the illegal guest willing to remain in Europe. Shutting the door against illegal guests may be working but for those that are already in the system and may never be accounted for, retain them, give them a feasible chance to exist in the European system and convert their abilities into European strength, for the Union will be far better off with them than without them.
Professor Brando Okolo, African Heritage Man of the year 2011 is a full Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the German University in Cairo – Egypt. Article first published in AH 2008.