‘The Ugandan approach has numerous benefits. Farming, running businesses and trading with local residents discourages dependency, reducing the need for handouts. Only 1% of refugees in Uganda are entirely dependent on aid. Freedom of movement means refugees are not warehoused for indefinite periods; refugees have a considerable degree of dignity and independence. And host communities benefit too. Trade between the two groups has flourished. Relations between refugees and local residents are generally peaceful.’
October was the month that saw the French authorities confront the final destruction of Calais’ migrant ‘Jungle’, and the mammoth task of moving over 7,000 migrants, including some 1,300 unaccompanied children. Reportage noted the callousness of proceedings: the armed police and the long-fled generosity of the local residents, ‘who gathered to vent their discontent’ at the temporary housing of 45 Afghan migrants in an empty sea-side hotel; concerned they ‘will disturb the tranquillity of the resort…and break into homes that have been closed up for the winter’. As the BBC observed, ‘[l]ess vocal are those who don’t mind the arrival of the Afghan migrants, those who think it’s only human to welcome those who have spent so many months in the squalor of Calais.’
As much of the Western world closes its heart and mind to refugees, The ever-timely Economist brings us two reminders of immigration that works harder for society and the individual: championing dignity, diversity, and demographic necessity as the fastest route to successful assimilation. Despite great concern over Uganda’s slide into an elected dictatorship, its refugee policy has been praised by the UN, Oxford Refugee Studies Centre and the World Bank for its generosity. Against a Home to over 500,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan, Uganda has, since 2006, ‘granted freedom of movement (subject to limited restrictions), employment rights and equal access to services such as healthcare and education’.
Remarkably, all refugees are entitled to civic participation, able to ‘vote and stand for office at the local level’. So, too, ‘[s]ome property rights are guaranteed: they can own movable property, such as cars and machinery. All refugees are granted a plot of land to cultivate. They are also able to lease other land and start businesses’. It is, as The Economist observes, ‘a sharp contrast with neighbouring Kenya, where refugees who have been granted asylum cannot work without paying costly fees for short-term work permits’. The system is far from perfect; full citizenship remains out of reach, preventing long-term security for refugees and their children; and while Uganda’s low unemployment rate ensures mostly peaceful access to existing jobs, the high youth unemployment of neighbouring countries may stoke resentment were a similar model to be unveiled.
The Western example, of course, is Canada: hailed by The Economist as ‘The Last Liberals’. As Canadian historian Peter Russell writes, its history of ‘selective but eclectic’ immigration means that ‘“[d]iversity is our distinctive national value”’; arming them, in the face of inevitable strains, with a resilience and optimism that most nations sorely lack. One fifth of the population is foreign born – double that of the US, where Google searches for ‘move to Canada’ reached an all time high after Trump’s anti-immigration bombast of ‘Super Tuesday’. From June 2015-16, Canada greeted 321,000 immigrations, close to 1% of its population – 80% of whom will typically become citizens.
Despite some tensions, and inevitable issues with latent bias (the unemployment rate among immigrants is 50% higher than natives) a full 80% of Canadians think immigrants are good for the economy, according to the Environics Institute. Key is the recognition of their carefully managed influx – partly, a boon of geography, which makes migrant arrival “hardly noticeable” – selected on a points based system that carefully matches Canada’s needs in terms of skills, education and language (immigrants are twice as likely to be degree educated). In an ageing population, youth is a big draw too. In Nova Scotia, where more Canadians die than are born, and the median age is 5 years older than the rest of the country, has taken in 1,100 Syrians. The Economist reports on one Brian Doherty, ‘himself an immigrant from Northern Ireland’, who ‘hired four to work in the pubs he owns in Halifax, the province’s capital. “They are a net asset to the economy, and believe me in this part of the world we need more of them”’.