Immigration and the West: All too predictable?

Generated on 26th June 2018

In 2010, Future Agenda published two chapters from “The World in 2020” that touched on the issue of immigration and how it might shape the world as we moved towards 2020. In “Imbalanced population growth” we noted the twin trends of rising populations in places with fewer resources, and growing economic challenges in the West. Two lines in particular stand out:

“It would seem clear that the majority of the world’s population growth will occur in the nations least able to sustain it.”

“On the other side of the coin, an overall increase in the working population could also result in increasing numbers of people finding themselves unable to find a job as the decade progresses, the global recession bites, and economies adapt to changing technologies, resource constraints and different methods of working. This has the potential to lead to a sense of frustration and exclusion amongst those who are unable to find work, which in turn will have significant political and social ramifications, particularly in the more vulnerable economies – probably in Europe and the West.”

These two trends perhaps created the conditions for a perfect storm. Huge pressure in some places to ‘send’ migrants, coupled with increasingly turbulent economic environments in those places set to ‘receive’ them.

How this would manifest was perhaps hinted at by one of our contributors, Professor Robin Cohen, when he said diplomatically: “the level of irregular – undocumented, trafficked, illegal – migrants is likely to remain high and probably increase as a proportion of the world’s mobile labour force … the major challenges are to predict the size, direction and character of global migration flows and to manage the social and political consequences”.

We were more blunt: “In the short term, we can possibly expect more cultural conflict”.

Whilst many in 2010 expressed hope that these challenges might be met with forward economic planning, and sincere efforts at cultural integration, the reality of ‘cultural conflict’ in receiving countries has been a rise in nationalistic rhetoric and politics, and a populist entrenchment of the idea that immigration, wholesale, is the cause of many (if not most) of society’s ills.

In 2015, a year before the UK’s EU referendum, and 2 years before the start of the presidency of Donald Trump in the USA, we again wrote about population and migration and how it might play out over the following decade to 2025:

Recent trends in Western migration policy discussion and rhetoric, from all sides of the political spectrum, all seem to point towards a coming slew of ever-more draconian laws and policies designed to discourage immigration. Further weakening of immigrant rights and benefits, tougher asylum rules and tighter border controls are a given, but formal criminalisation and harsher penalties for certain types of migrant, and even military intervention in border-lands, are not impossible in the future. Some of these measures will challenge the very fundamentals of the national ideologies and constitutions that are producing them…”

In 2018, as we see and hear children separated from their families US borders, and witness overcrowded ships full of desperate migrants being turned away from Europe’s southern ports, we can’t help wondering why, given how clear the signs have been, we have let it come to this? Our suggestion that such scenes would challenge the very principles on which nations are founded, and have traditionally understood themselves, seems ever more prescient. Migration, despite current populist rhetoric, is not the cause of the problems it so conveniently highlights, it is the emblematic symptom of them. How nations chose to deal with it, may shape the character of those nations for generations to come.