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Economic benefit of refugees continues to be ignored

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(Image via @TheFaultReport)

With several recent reports showing the economic advantage of refugees, PM Turnbull should implement his Ideas Boom by ending offshore processing and boost the economy. Adam Bishop reports.

THE START of 2016 has not been kind to the plight of refugees escaping war-torn regions of the middle-east entering Europe. Not to suggest a climate of general benevolence ever existed, however, the last couple of weeks in particular have bore witness to a significant erosion of goodwill towards asylum seekers in key European states.

Just this week, Denmark introduced legislation that will allow the government to loot the majority of possessions from incoming refugees in order to cover the resettlement costs of taking them in. Specifically, asylum seekers will now be subjected to cavity searches and baggage checks to detect anything of value that might be sold to raise revenue for the government. This is a bleak prospect when one considers how little these people have to begin with.

Even that supposed bastion of progressive politics, Sweden, is waning in their humanitarian commitment to housing refugees. The Swedish government has recently announced that approximately 45 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 are likely to be expelled from the country's borders. The official explanation for rejection at this stage remains formally murky — but tragically obvious.

The sad truth is, the message from Europe to refugees is getting louder and louder, there is no more room for you at the Inn.

Many countries continue to cynically view asylum seekers through a prism of sheer expenditure. The rhetoric and language used by politicians generally supports this view, none more so than when British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to a "swarm" heading towards the mainland.  

The general belief that refugees from countries like Syria are a “cost” or a “burden” is a pervasive and ill-conceived notion, and one that continues to get tossed around constantly in political circles, this in spite of the prevailing statistical evidence.

Ironically, university research partly carried out in Denmark suggests an influx of lower-wage immigrants into a community tend to raise the wages for everyone else. Low skilled foreign workers and low-skilled domestic workers often compliment each other instead of displacing each other — this according to a study compiled by Giovanni Peri and David and Mette Foged from the University of California and the University of Copenhagen, respectively.  

Further evidence suggesting an economic advantage to hosting refugee influxes was recorded by the OECD in a debate paper they published late last year. In the conclusions they found that past evidence on the fiscal impact of refugees can be relatively high in the short term, but more importantly, that it will also decrease rapidly over time as their labour market integration improves.

In this light, it is abundantly clear that the more pertinent question should not be how many refugees should a country take? But rather how a country can best integrate new arrivals into the workforce?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one leader who at least appears to understand this economic reality, however, it has not stopped many prominent figures in Europe from deriding her “open door policy” on refugees. Ironically, some of these barbs have come from countries whose economic state teeters on the edge of oblivion, one that would have been realized, mind you, had Germany not bailed them out.

Likewise it appears absurd to criticise the economic tactics of a leader who has steered her economy to being the most successful in Europe, and the fourth largest globally. Watching nation states on the brink of insolvency batter Germany for its economic foolishness is a bit like watching Dick Smith Electronics abuse Apple for not being innovative enough — it's tough to watch!

When it boils down to it, the sheer irrationality of the refugee debate has only really served one proposition, and that is how rife xenophobia is in most western cultures. The staunchly adverse critique of refugee arrivals has not been based on studies or economic data, but on politicians playing on the prejudices of local citizens who may be forgiven for thinking refugees are “out to get us” given the typical media narrative.

If it is the alleged “cost” of refugee arrivals we can't sustain, then consider this point closer to home.

The Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, recently claimed that Australia is currently spending a $1 billion detaining refugees offshore. According to the data, that's five times the United Nations refugee agency's entire budget for South East Asia. In other words we are leaking money right now whilst achieving very little.

If Malcolm Turnbull is serious about his innovation initiative and wanting to encourage the best minds to instigate an “Ideas Boom”, then he must support a less antiquated notion than offshore processing and be politically brave enough to ask for both a more humane and financially effective solution to the refugee crisis. With an economy on the slide, an ageing population and the mining boom well and truly in the rear vision mirror, Australia could do worse than to see what positives might be gained from what has been a horrific chapter of war, terror and abuse in recent memory.

Adam Bishop is editor for satirical website The Fault Report. You can follow TFR on Twitter @TheFaultReport.

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