UC Davis experts dissect Europe’s migration crisis


The wave of several hundred thousand migrants breaking over Europe this summer holds lessons for the United States, three UC Davis experts said at a panel on the crisis Tuesday.

While Europe is home to 10 percent of the world’s people, a quarter of all nations and a third of the international migrants, many European countries are shrinking due to an aging population and are desperately in need of migrant workers to shore up the labor force, said Philip Martin, editor of Migration News and Rural Migration News at UC Davis.

The largest group of migrants, Syrians, are well-educated and able to afford to buy small boats to make the journey, Martin said. About 40 percent have college degrees.

Yet different European nations are reacting very differently to the crisis, said Martin, an internationally recognized expert of migration.

Germany, the richest of the European nations with a 6.2 percent unemployment rate and a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour, has opened its doors wide. Hungary has run advertisements discouraging migrants and arrested many of those entering without proper visas.

“Each country has a right-wing, anti-immigrant party that could be strengthened by the new wave,” Martin said. “Migration tends to bring out the best and worst in people. There have been offers of food and clothing, and arson attacks.”

Over the past few years, 1.4 million migrants have entered Europe, but few have been granted work permits, Martin added. Those without college degrees or job offers on the table have a hard time getting documents.

Europe is being caught by surprise because it ignored the 3 million refugees that have been languishing in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, said Giovanni Peri, an Italian immigrant who chairs the economics department at UC Davis. As Europe’s labor force shrinks by a million people a year, the need for migrant labor is growing.

“People are assets, not costs,” Peri said. “It would be very reasonable for Europe to accept a million refugees displaced by war and fleeing persecution.”

While some European countries have moved to accept more migrants, the United States has taken a restrictive stance when it comes to mass migration from Latin America, said Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis Law School.

“We’ve made it difficult for large numbers of people to get documents,” said Johnson, who specializes in immigration law.

But while the United States has laws protecting immigrant rights and a thorough process for screening refugees, European polices vary widely by country. Northern Europe tends to have tighter immigration enforcement than southern Europe, Martin said, and while Syrians are being given priority, “A lot of people who are not Syrians are saying they are.”

Several hundred Syrian refugees are expected in Sacramento over the next year.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini