Migrants political pawns – researcher says
Migrants are being used as scapegoats by politicians as they exploit the increased feelings of vulnerability in their electorates and frustration with congestion and infrastructure overload, according to a world-renowned social researcher.
Speaking at the International Metropolis Conference in Sydney last week, Professor Stephen Castles said the political climates in Australia and in other countries were seeing the perpetuation of myths around migrants and their impact on societies.
“While 28 per cent of our population comes from overseas, it’s always been that the latest group is to blame for the problems we face on the day,” Prof Castles told the conference.
“In the 50s it was the Italians and Greeks, in the 60s it was the Vietnamese who were blamed for crime, the drug trade and so on,” he said.
Professor Castles delivered his talk hot on the heels of NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian’s announcement that she wanted the state to return to ‘Howard-era immigration levels’, which would mean halving the state’s migrant intake, due to concerns about population expansion.
Premier Berejiklian has appointed a three-member panel, including former top public servant Professor Peter Shergold, to develop a NSW population policy to take to the federal government next year.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the current high rates of population growth are putting even more pressure on our infrastructure,” she said in a statement.
Prof Shergold said: ”We need to take an evidence-based approach to ascertain how much of the problem is one of urban infrastructure and how much of it relates to temporary and permanent migration.”
”I look forward to gathering a range of opinions and data to assist in making recommendations to the Premier,” he said.
ABS figures show permanent arrivals in Australia have changed little since the time of Prime Minister John Howard, but higher net overseas migration figures have been driven largely by students, tourists and skilled migrants, Prof Castles said.
He said that while refugees and asylum seekers get a lot of attention, in numbers, they only constitute a very small part of Australia’s intake, the largest portion coming from skilled migration with permission to come here, work and stay permanently.
“We have to change the perceptions that economic migration is good and persecuted migration is bad, it is terribly short-sighted,” Prof Castles said.
“We’re hearing about pressure on infrastructure, housing and transport but in fact labour shortages brought by reduced migration will cost us a lot more,” he said
“Refugees and migrants are about three times more likely to start a business.
“Immigrants are generally healthier and use public services less than the rest of us even though they contribute more in tax per capita,” he said.
Prof Castles also raised the moral imperative of accepting migrants and refugees.
“Across the world, there are 30,000 people a day who must leave their homes to seek asylum, and Australia only takes roughly 15,000 people a year,” he said.
“Refugees have made a huge contribution to economy and society, and it isn’t fair not to recognise that.
“Australia used to be a leader in human rights, and now we have become a leader in violating human rights,” Prof Castles said.
He said that often places with the lowest levels of immigration are the most anti-immigration.
“This generates myths about newcomers, so we are engaged in a battle of ideas,” Prof Castles said.
Based at the University of Sydney, Prof Castles has had an illustrious career in cutting-edge migration research spanning 50 years.
He is a sociologist and political economist, and works on international migration dynamics, global governance, multiculturalism, transnationalism, migration and development, and regional migration trends in Africa, Asia and Europe.
He was a founder of Oxford University’s Migration Laboratory and his research and publications have made an influential contribution to the development of interdisciplinary migration research over many years.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist