In the 1970s, the industrialised countries were asked to contribute 0.7 per cent of their GDP to aid the development effort in the developing countries.
Few, except for the Scandinavian countries, made the effort to do so, and even the assistance that was given was often mis-directed, tied to procurement in the donor countries, and had little impact on capacity building and poverty in the developing countries.
The failure of the developed countries to support growth, development and political stability in developing countries sowed the winds of poverty, underdevelopment and corruption in those states. A generation later, the developed countries, particularly the United States, the UK and Europe are reaping the whirlwind. The poor from Central America are literally walking across the border of the United States with Mexico — children and women now, where before mostly able bodied young men and women made the trek. In Italy, already reeling from poor economic management and high unemployment, migrants are coming in by the hundreds in overloaded boats from the African continent. They flow through Italy to France and then some try to make it across to the UK. Europe has seen a steady flow of migrants from Eastern Europe and Turkey to France, Germany and the UK. Recently a shipping container was found to contain migrants — Afghan Sikhs — coming from a French port into England. One died.
The debate on immigration in these developed countries is now at the top of their political agendas. In the UK, the Cameron Government now proposes to limit access to welfare payments for new arrivals to three months compared to the current six months. Working Brits resent the fact that new arrivals can get generous welfare payments without working. The political pressures are mounting in the UK for renegotiating the terms of EU membership with Brussels or else to leave the EU altogether. In the USA, the Obama Administration is contemplating executive action to regularise the status of millions of undocumented immigrants even as more border patrols are deployed to stem the flow.
The urgency of the immigration reform agenda in the industrialised countries is due to the significant social, cultural and political impacts of large-scale immigration over short time periods. The vast majority of immigrants enter at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, tend to populate geographical enclaves usually in the cities, and occupy the lowest-paying jobs - maids, gardeners, nannies, sanitation workers, bus and train drivers - that no one else wants to do. Religious and political freedom in Western developed countries means that native religions and cultural practices may be preserved longer, and assimilation and integration can be resisted. On the flip side, traditional religious organisations may see an influx of adherents who have just arrived. In Catholic France, as vocations to the priesthood have declined and older priests die, the newer priests are of French West African origin, creating something of culture shock in white parishes populated by older French Catholics. It is one thing if the French soccer team is mostly black; it is perhaps another if the village priest is!
The political impact may also be significant in that the demographics of the host nation may be so altered that political calculations have to change. This is already so in the USA where the proportion of Hispanics (17 per cent) has overtaken African-Americans (13 per cent) and the projections are that the white population will lose its demographic majority before long. This is why the Republican Party is struggling to make some inroads into the Hispanic community despite the strong anti-immigration sentiment among its core support.
But the greatest, though unspoken fear of large-scale immigration is cultural. What will become of the ‘American’ way or the ‘French’ way of life? Will immigration eventually sweep away precious English traditions accumulated over centuries? Will the values, forged by struggle and conflict, be transformed and modified so as to be no longer recognisably ‘American’ or ‘British’ or ‘French’? Will the loyalties of dual citizens be divided? The national security agencies in the developed countries are acutely aware that attacks may come from home-grown terrorists as they might from those born elsewhere. The jihadi who beheaded the American journalist is allegedly British!
Equally though, immigration brings new skills and talents, drives competition and innovation and promotes inter-cultural understanding. But immigration has to be regulated and controlled lest the negative effects swamp the positive, foster intolerance and bigotry instead of tolerance and understanding. The development economists writing in the 1960s and 1970s were right. The best way of managing the problem of immigration in the developed countries today and in the medium term is to devote significant resources directly to the eradication of poverty, as well as the promotion of growth, development and less corrupt politics in the developing countries. The developed countries still need to really get this message. If not, the immigrants will just keep coming!
Dr Terrence Farrell is a
former deputy Central Bank
governor and former chief
executive of One Caribbean Media Ltd, parent company of the Trinidad Express