News / Africa

Report: Migrants Often Scapegoats for Society’s Problems

Migrant workers from Africa stand in a line after they arrive by ship from Misrata during an evacuation operation organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the port of Benghazi May 5, 2011. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Migrant workers from Africa stand in a line after they arrive by ship from Misrata during an evacuation operation organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the port of Benghazi May 5, 2011. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Joe DeCapua

A new report says few areas of public policy are subject to greater bias, polarization and political debate than migration. The International Organization for Migration, IOM, calls it one of the most misunderstood issues of our time.

The IOM says we’re living in an era of the greatest human migration in recorded history, calling it one of the defining features of the contemporary world.

“Nobody can deny that migration will play a bigger even role in the future. So, you love it or hate it, but migration is here to stay, said IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe, adding, “It is a natural process in human evolution, if you like.”

Let’s talk about it

The new report is entitled World Migration Report 2011: Communicating Effectively about Migration. It recommends a fundamental shift in the way people talk about it.

“There is a lot of negative reporting. Not only negative reporting, but also there is a lot of misrepresentation of the migration debate. And we think that by allowing migrants themselves to speak about themselves rather than being spoken about them, this will at least rectify the imbalance that exists today,” he said.

Jumbe said the media are partly to blame for the misrepresentation.

“First of all, the media do not represent the migrants themselves and very few media houses have migrant staff members. And the second thing is that most of the media houses we have followed do not understand the migration issue. Migration is a very complex issue,” he said.

Blame game

Jumbe said migration has become a scapegoat or catchall issue that “masks the public’s fear and uncertainties.”

“So migration is blamed for everything, starting from economic, social and even political issues. So this is a huge misrepresentation because it does not look at all sides of migration. We don’t deny that there are some negatives in migration,” he said.

For example, migrants may put a strain on social services or act in a way that is criticized by host communities. But Jumbe says the positives outweigh the negatives through an exchange of talent, services, skills and diverse experience. In addition, migrants send billions of dollars to their home countries in the form of remittances. These may be a huge part of national budgets.

The IOM report also says the public often overestimates the size of the migrant populations in their country. In the United States, for example, an opinion poll indicated the public believed migrants made up 39 percent of the population. The actual figure was 14 percent. Another poll showed Italians believed migrants were 25 percent of the population, when in reality the figure was seven just percent.

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