At the crossroads of Europe
[b]Migration can be compared with the natural phenomenon of tectonic movement, which can lead to earthquakes. Neither is under our control; both are inevitable. In Europe, irreversible processes are taking place before our eyes; our descendants may call this period ‘another transmigration of people’ [/b]Belarus stands at the crossroads of Europe; accordingly, our culture, lifestyle and traditions are subject to powerful external influences. However, it’s unwise to study only the negative aspects of migration, regardless of Euronews reports on the number of migrants washing up on the shores of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Belarusian law enforcement agencies often detect illegal migration at the border but labour migration is necessary for a state where population is aging and reducing in numbers. Western Europe has been trying to solve this problem for many years, attracting foreigners. Belarus might also need to follow suit. With this in mind, the pros and cons of migration must be carefully studied.
Belarus stands at the crossroads of Europe; accordingly, our culture, lifestyle and traditions are subject to powerful external influences. However, it’s unwise to study only the negative aspects of migration, regardless of Euronews reports on the number of migrants washing up on the shores of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Belarusian law enforcement agencies often detect illegal migration at the border but labour migration is necessary for a state where population is aging and reducing in numbers. Western Europe has been trying to solve this problem for many years, attracting foreigners. Belarus might also need to follow suit. With this in mind, the pros and cons of migration must be carefully studied.
National security above all
The latest plan for Belarus’ national security outlines some evident facts: ‘Human potential has become the most important factor of social-economic development. Global demographic trends — first of all, ageing population in developed states against rapid growth of population in developing countries and enhanced migration flow — are more actively influencing the political situation, economic state and eco-cultural landscape of countries and regions’.
Demographic security is vital. The plan notes that, in Belarus, life expectancy is rising, with mortality — including infant — falling; on the global scale, we even occupy on of the leading position in this respect. However, our population is decreasing, though at a slower pace than observed previously. Vienna’s Institute of Demography’s European Statistical Review for 2010 forecasts that Belarus’ population will continue falling and, in 2020, will reach 8.7-8.9mln. — depending on the intensity of migration flow.
According to the National Statistical Committee, last year, 108,100 children were born (1,100 less than in 2009) and 137,300 people died (2,200 more). The natural fall in population was 29,200. However, this was offset by migration growth of 10,300. In 2010, the total population of the Republic fell by just 18,900 (against 13,000 in 2009).
Of course, the state is primarily focusing on promoting birth rate, enhancing health and social protection via its demographic policy. Meanwhile, migration needs to be regulated. “If nothing changes, we’ll see a deficit of labour resources in the future,” predicts Alexey Begun, the Head of the Department for Citizenship and Migration at Belarus’ Ministry of Internal Affairs. “A positive migration balance is observed annually, with 10,000-11,000 more people coming into the country than leaving. However, even this figure isn’t enough to compensate for the natural decrease in population. We hope to accept up to 15,000 migrants from the CIS and beyond by 2015. This step should compensate for about half of the natural fall in the population.”
According to Mr. Begun, Belarus is now ready to pay a sum equivalent to around $1,000 to labour migrants arriving in the country for residence. Minsk hopes that the CIS citizens will be the first to respond to these measures of support, which aim to promote migration. It’s easier for them to assimilate into our society, as they have no language barrier and boast similar culture and traditions. Statistical data confirms the trend: 90 percent of all migrants coming to Belarus in recent years have been born within the post-Soviet territory. In 2010, over 8,500 Russians, around 2,000 Ukrainians, 550 Lithuanians, and over a thousand Uzbeks, Armenians, Kazakhs and Moldovans came to Belarus to live and work. “On January 1st, we abolished the need for companies to have a license to employ foreign workers. Moreover, the procedure of receiving permission to work has been simplified, as immediately reflected in migration figures,” notes Mr. Begun. “For example, in January, we issued three times more special permissions for work to foreigners than three years ago. Moreover, in the first month of 2010, growth against the previous period doubled.”
Of course, we should not rely purely on labour migration to counteract the existing demographic trend. It’s impossible to say that the amount of people arriving in Belarus is the same as that of people coming to Western Europe and we must take into consideration the negative influence of huge inflows of other nationalities. “The arrival of 5,000 or, even, 10,000 immigrants isn’t noticeable,” says the Head of Dynamics and Forecasting of Population Group at Vienna’s Institute of Demography, Sergey Shcherbov. Demographers say that, to ensure the Belarusian population remains at the present level, about 2mln. migrants should be brought into the country over the coming forty years. “This is a huge number,” admits the specialist. “Taking into account the forecast decrease in the Belarusian population, by 2050, twenty five percent of the country’s citizens will be immigrants.”
However, there is no cause for concern. The major problem is the demographic burden of the elderly. According to specialists, to ensure enough labour resources by 2050, Belarus should gain an additional 10mln. residents. This would mean that our population would be totally replenished with migrants and Mr. Shcherbov considers this approach a dead end.
Migration could be advantageous if reasonably approached. At present, immigrants account for 10-15 percent of population in many European states, with the number steadily growing. Forecasts state that, in 50 years’ time, immigrants could comprise the major part of the British population. In recent months, European leaders have announced a failure in their multi-culturism policy. France, the UK and Germany have no wish to see Arabs, Africans or Asians living in ghettos, keeping to their own traditions and customs while failing to study the language and culture of the country which has given them shelter.
Middle East unrest
The present events in the Middle East threaten Europe, since a new wave of immigration from this region could follow. If ‘the Arab spring’ continues, with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi failing to come to an agreement with the rebels, and more armed conflict arise in the region — for instance, in Syria — the whole European Union could experience the same explosion of migration as Lampedusa. Some estimates state that, since the beginning of disorder in the Middle East, 400,000 immigrants have attempted to reach Europe. Illegal migration, terrorism and xenophobia are real problems for Europe, which must unite its efforts. So far, the results leave much to be desired.
Some European philosophers have begun to compare Europe’s situation with that of Ancient Rome, quoting Spengler. However, such comparisons are premature. Most of the 400,000 immigrants have been deported back to their place of origin by the EU law enforcement agencies. However, the core of the problem remains unsolved. Europe wishes to establish a zone of stability and relative prosperity along its borders, rather than exacerbating conflicts.
Europe is emerging from its financial crisis but is already facing a new challenge, as French Figaro newspaper notes. It predicts that the next crisis will be connected with illegal migration: ‘Poor Europe! It made so much effort to save the Eurozone but must now save the Schengen zone’. Joking aside, real anxiety lies at the heart of the problem. Paris and Italy are arguing over who should accept immigrants from the Middle East; it’s a true challenge to European unity.
The Council of Europe recently met to discuss the migration issue, with some Strasbourg politicians showing a certain detachment from reality. Ms. Tineke Strik of the Netherlands asserted that the shift of migration from illegal to legal is some way off (i.e. Italy has issued entry permission to some refugees). Her views were immediately attacked by those states which have most suffered from illegal migration. Edward Lee, of the UK, stressed that ‘flow would grow if we allow refugees to gain the status of legal migrants’. He noted that 320,000 Somali refugees currently reside in the UK but have failed to become integrated into society, regardless of the efforts of authorities. Mr. Lee is convinced that it would have been easier to pay a couple of billion pounds to Gaddafi. Instead, a military campaign was launched. “Only stable regimes in North Africa can save Europe from an inflow of migrants,” he concluded. Despite tough criticism, a resolution on the report was adopted.
Policing traffic at crossroads of Europe
The global situation cannot but affect Belarus, as it`s situated at the crossroads of Europe. President Alexander Lukashenko recently met the heads of the State Border Committee, ordering a report on struggle against illegal migration.
Problems relating to illegal migration and human trafficking continue. Last year, over 12,000 people with fake or invalid documents were detected at the Belarusian border, in addition to over a hundred illegal migrants (including 67 directly on the border); 74 criminal cases were instituted, with criminal proceedings brought against 16 people guilty of arranging illegal migration.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to define the difference between illegal migrants and asylum seekers. The Head of the UNHCR Office in Belarus, Sholeh Safavi, recently met her Belarusian colleagues to say that ‘the Libyan war alone has made at least 400,000 people leave their homes’. She noted that dozens of refugees originate from the Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Sudan and other African states, with Sicily comprising more immigrants than native population. “The High Commissioner for Refugees calls upon all countries to accept refugees from Libya and other states of the region,” she added.
Against events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, Belarus expects to see a rising number of illegal migrants. The First Deputy Chairman of the State Border Committee, Andrey Gorulko, says, “At present, we are registering citizens from Egypt and the Congo travelling with false documents.” He explains that Belarus has already taken measures to stem the flow of illegal migration from Libya. “We’ve set up a refugee centre at the National Airport, with another being established in Brest,” Mr. Gorulko emphasises.
Exit to… dead end
Migration is a double edged sword. Fortunately, Belarus remains largely unaffected, although our neighbours, such as Lithuania, have begun to feel its negative consequences. European TV channels show African refugees attacking EU borders while nations seem to be resettling within the EU. However, little information is provided. After the organisation’s expansion eastwards, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, Romanians and Poles have left their homelands, seeking employment and a better life in Western Europe. In May, the next wave of emigration is expected, as Germany and Austria open their labour markets to non-natives. When ten new countries joined the EU in 2004, the two states restricted labour movement, being afraid of an inflow of migrant workers. These days, the seven year postponement is close to ending. In Vilnius, German language courses are filled to brimming; nurses, plumbers and even butchers are packing their suitcases. Local experts advise applicants to consider the move carefully, since the seemingly harmless process of economic migration is hazard laden, leaving a demographic bomb for the future.
According to German Handelsblatt newspaper, by 2015, Germany will be in need of about 3mln. workers, including a million graduates from university and 1.3mln. with secondary professional qualifications. It will also require 700,000 people of unqualified workforce. Experts say that German and Lithuanian economies have a similar structure, both boasting a high share of processing enterprises. Germany will try to acquire highly qualified workers and engineers (which Lithuania also needs) to ensure further development of its economy.
Germany already enjoys major business activity, employing Lithuanians. Both specialists and non-qualified staff are needed, with Internet sites advertising jobs with Aulina company, at its factories in Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg, with per-hour payment. Those who don’t know German are offered 6.5 Euros per hour while those who know English or German can expect to receive 7.5 Euros. Moreover, all workers can rent accommodation for 45 Euros a week. Even taking into account the necessary deductions, final salaries are certainly larger than those earned at home; EU members’ development differs widely.
Many Lithuanian job seekers have trouble finding work in their homeland, as unemployment figures stand at 17.4 percent (the third highest in the EU). Looking for a job abroad seems the only answer. Sadly, Lithuanian emigration has a long history, with the past two decades seriously changing the demographic situation. According to its Statistical Department, over 500,000 people have left Lithuania since 1990. Naturally, defining the actual number is almost impossible; the figure could be much bigger.
Emigration and, accordingly, decreasing population numbers are now among Lithuania’s major problems. Professor Liudas Truska, at the Vilnius Pedagogic University’s History Department, has given a much-spoken-of interview, saying that Lithuanians’ emigration is like a mass evacuation; it began 15 years ago but is now stronger than ever. In the period between the wars, about 100,000 left the country but natural growth replenished the loss. According to the historian, the situation now threatens the nation’s survival.
The demographic problem is becoming a major aspect of security, ahead of economic issues — not only for Lithuania. Attraction of migrants is a seemingly painless solution, since the modern Europe could hardly exist without a mobile labour force, but it is a solution with further effects. Nevertheless, to ensure national security, a ‘foreign’ labour force is better than a lack thereof — especially when facing a potential economic crisis.
By Igor Slavinsky