Good morning from sunny, roasting hot Croatia! After the wettest and coldest July in years, can you blame me for getting out to the sun? Did you know that two weeks ago, Dublin airport’s weather station recorded a temperature of 3.9C! This turned out to be the lowest July temperature since 1942.
So yes, I am all for Tourism Ireland and shopping local, but sometimes you have to admit that nature has dealt us a poor hand in the summer and travelling for a bit of sun and sea is good for the sanity.
Travelling also reveals just how lucky we are. Last night in a bar in Dalmatia, all the locals were talking about emigration. In the past year, there has been a surge of young Croats heading to Ireland for work. The media here is full of reports about the fortunes of Croatian immigrants in Ireland.
In the local hospital, doctors told me the other day of their medical friends who have upped sticks and gone to Ireland. The local barmen also jumped on the Ryanair flight from Zadar a few months back and they are now working near the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin. These two formerly clean-shaven young lads have even grown the ubiquitous South William Street hipster beards!
Last Thursday, Croatians celebrated the 20th anniversary of their victory over the Serbs in the 1992-1995 Yugoslavian war; however, with so many young leaving the country, that victory seems a little hollow.
But it’s not just Croatia. All over eastern and central Europe, the Balkan people are on the move. Emigration and subsequent immigration is the great issue of our times.
Their route is fairly simple: it’s south to north. Hundreds of thousands are on the move. This summer, Croatia and neighbouring Serbia have become transit countries as desperate people avoid travelling by sea, as a result of the disasters of ships sinking and immigrants drowning in the Mediterranean. They are coming overland from Syria, and from further south in Africa through Croatia and Serbia to western Europe.
The figures are startling. In the first three months of this year, 185,000 people have applied for protection in the EU. The figure represents an 86 percent increase from the same period the previous year.
In total, citizens from 144 countries have sought asylum in the EU in the first quarter of 2015. And the EU wants to relocate 40,000 migrants who are now in Greece and Italy in other EU countries, obviously including Ireland.
Tragically, war is still the main driver as terrified people leave their homes seeking sanctuary. For example, 131,000 Syrians arrived in the EU in the last 12 months – and thousands of Afghans, Eritreans and Ukrainians are also on the move, heading north and west.
Here in the Balkans, just south of where I am writing, nearly 50,000 people left Kosovo from January to March of this year because there are simply no jobs in the Albanian enclave.
Hungary, to the north, is erecting a fence on the Serbian border to prevent people entering Hungarian territory. This is proving hugely popular with the Hungarian electorate and goes to the root of the problem, which is that while the political class is telling ordinary Europeans that immigrants are good for the economy and should be welcomed, ordinary people feel threatened not just economically but also culturally.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Germany. Last week, the German immigration minister underlined the strain immigration is posing in certain countries when he asked rhetorically whether “it’s not okay that Germany, Sweden, and France are taking 50 per cent of the refugees while other countries do nothing”. This comes after an alarming rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany, particularly in the former East Germany.
Ironically, Greece, a country tormented by Germany over the past few months has just overtaken Italy as the country taking in most migrants. This is a country that can barely support its own population, let alone the 101,000 migrants who have arrived in Greece by sea since January.
In Britain, the Calais refugee crisis has become a political hot potato that no politician wants to touch and, all over Europe, survey after survey indicates that populations do not want more immigration, no matter what the circumstances.
But people are on the move and they are not going to stop. Think about yourself. If you and your family were from Syria what would you do?
But there’s the rub. Immigration is a class issue. Immigrants by definition compete with the poorest local people in the job market, in the housing market and for access to health and schools. This is a fact.
Economists tend to miss the central point, of immigration which is that while the economy might get workers, society gets people. Therefore the technocratic language of the economy is not able to deal with the totality of immigration and can’t deal with the fact that there are winners and losers in this game.
If you have, like me, the luxury of writing for the newspapers and working as an economist, there’s little chance that a new immigrant will take your job. If, on the other hand, I am labouring on the sites or working in a bar, there’s a serious chance that my wages and job security will be affected by new people coming into the country looking for work.
So for the relatively wealthy, immigration has been a boon. There are more taxi drivers, more cleaners, more shop assistants, more nannies; in short, the service economy, the one that services the relative wealthy, booms. But are wages in that sector booming? No.
The relatively wealthy don’t have to worry about immigrants pushing up rents because, frankly, the immigrants can’t afford to live in posh areas, so they compete for housing not with the relatively wealthy, but with the relatively poor.
It’s a similar story in schools. Immigrant kids don’t, by and large, go to private schools. They go to state schools where they compete for the state’s resources with Irish citizens.
These are the facts. Immigration is a class issue, and the richer you are, the greater the luxury you have to pontificate about immigration because you are not affected – or if you are, you are affected positively.
When the relatively poor – those who are threatened by immigrants – voice their concerns, it is far too easy for the rich to dismiss these people as “racist’ or “xenophobic”, whereas maybe they are just voicing everyday real concerns. One thing is clear: immigration is going to increase in the years ahead. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk about it, warts and all?