8th Annual Bertelsmann Foundation/Financial Times Conference
Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General
13 April 2016, Washington, D.C.
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Friends, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for your warm welcome. I am honoured to be with you to discuss the facts, fiction and politics of migration. The OECD has been leading the work on migration for decades – the 40th edition of our annual International Migration Outlook will be published later this year. I’d like to focus my comments tonight on the ongoing humanitarian migrant crisis.
Refugees can and should be part of the solution to many of the challenges our societies confront. Our analysis confirms the sizeable economic and social benefits that well‑managed migration can bring to OECD countries. Realising these benefits will depend largely on the design and implementation of integration measures.
The facts and the fiction
Migration has become a polarising issue, with extreme views reinforcing barriers between residents and contributing to the radicalisation of individuals, communities and the electorate. Extremist views on migration are often reinforced by preconceived ideas and ignorance. There is an urgent need to close knowledge gaps on migration, ensuring that relevant evidence on the potential benefits and costs is generated and clearly disseminated to the public.
So let’s start with the facts.
In 2015, more than 1 million people crossed the Mediterranean Sea in search of international protection from the deteriorating security situation in Syria and Libya. The number of people expected to be granted refugee or similar status in Europe alone will likely exceed any previous crisis since World War II.
It is important to look at these numbers in context. Collectively, they represent about 0.1% of the total OECD population, and less than 0.3% of the total EU population. It is clear that Europe ─ indeed, the world ─ has the capacity and the experience to manage the crisis efficiently, effectively and with compassion.
Many have been quick to characterise refugees as a threat, raising fears about the burden they may impose on taxpayers, local values and cultures. This is fiction!
Well-managed migration can play a positive role in the economy. Immigrants are generally not a burden to the public purse; they pay taxes, make social security contributions, and in many cases receive fewer benefits. They also contribute to innovation and economic growth.
The politics… and the economic dividend
OECD countries have responded to the humanitarian crisis by scaling up public spending to process asylum applications and welcome refugees. For example, Germany has earmarked an additional 0.5% of GDP per annum of public spending in 2016 and 2017 to meet the initial needs of newly arrived immigrants and facilitate their labour market integration; and Austria and Sweden have provided a further 0.3% and 0.9% of GDP in 2016, respectively. The Turkish government has provided aid to Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey since 2011, offering more than 8 billion dollars in assistance since the beginning of the recent crisis.
But spending on refugees is only one side of the equation! The OECD estimates that in 2016 and 2017, this additional public spending could boost aggregate demand in the European economy by about 0.1‑0.2% of GDP. In the context of the sluggish global economic recovery, the importance of this economic dividend should not be underestimated.
The OECD can support better integration for better lives
To cultivate the positive contribution of refugees and migrants to host countries, we need to look beyond the immediate humanitarian aspects of the crisis. Migrant integration in the labour market and public life is vital for ensuring social cohesion and empowering migrants to function as autonomous, productive and successful, self-realised citizens. Existing induction programmes for refugees ─ such as those in Germany, Spain, Belgium and Italy ─ should be scaled up and made widely available. They must also be calibrated to adapt to rising and diverse refugee flows.
Flagship OECD publications such as Settling In and Making Integration Work – summaries of which are available at tonight’s event – offer a comprehensive set of indicators that allow us to gauge the quality of migrant integration and develop policy recommendations for countries.
First, we should facilitate the active participation of migrants in the labour market. Early and intensive efforts to improve literacy and language proficiency, and provide adult education and vocational training, are essential to boosting migrants’ chances of employment. We also need better measures to assess and recognize foreign qualifications and skills to leverage the human capital of migrants and ensure that integration pathways meet individual needs. Indeed, many of those fleeing conflict zones have intermediate or higher diplomas: for example, the latest available data for Sweden shows that about 40% of recently arrived Syrians have at least an upper secondary education, and 15% have a tertiary diploma. It is also important to ensure that migrants are settled where jobs are readily available, and not simply where housing is cheaper or more abundant.
Second, we must recognize that there is no ‘’one-size-fits-all’’ approach to migrant integration. Asylum seekers in the current crisis are very diverse in terms of country of origin, profile and motivation, particularly when compared to previous refugee crises. We need to take account of this diversity and provide adequate support for the most vulnerable groups. In Europe, arrivals of unaccompanied minors have reached unprecedented levels, with as many as 86,000 unaccompanied children in 2015. Education and the provision of safe, stable surroundings are the top priorities for this cohort.
Third, successful integration requires fair access to social support services, and collaboration with civil society to build ties between migrant and host country communities. Many humanitarian migrants have experienced traumatic events prior to their arrival, and suffer related psychological and mental health issues. Failure to address these issues can impede integration, as they impact many dimensions of life: the ability to enter employment, learn the host country’s language, interact with public institutions, and do well in school. Host countries should systematically supply migrants with information about local health care services to improve awareness, build trust, and increase health system utilisation.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Tomorrow, you will discuss the facts, fiction, policies and politics of migration. There are obvious ethical, moral, political as well as economic dimensions. None should be overlooked. We have a clear incentive to deliver an ambitious, comprehensive, and coordinated response to harness the benefits of migration to open up new opportunities for economic and social growth. Acting together the international community can design, develop and deliver better migration policies for better lives.