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Emigrants at the present moment: some considerations.

 â€śForeign workers struggle in Malaysia”. This was one of the headlines from Al Jazeera used on April 12 in order to draw attention to “millions of undocumented foreign workers” currently living in the Southeast Asian state. It is a matter of people hailing from most notably, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. It is about a mass of people with different backgrounds and life stories meeting with the shared hope of finding better living conditions, jobs and the possibility to help their families back home. The professional situation in which these migrants – a large percentage of whom pay “more than $1,000 to come in to the country” – find themselves in is very often unstable, with a salary unable to guarantee their subsistence. According to Al Jazeera, the situation for some of them is “so bad that Nepal’s ambassador fears many of the unemployed men in Malaysia’s capital will turn to crime to survive.

 

A few days prior to this headline, EurActiv.com published a story on London’s announcement “that it was stepping up restrictions on foreign job seeker’s access to welfare payments”. This stance would allow David Cameron and the Conservatives to play the immigration reduction card in order to win back those voters who have switched their support to the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). In summary, for all those people without British citizenship entering the United Kingdom and looking for a job, access to certain services of the social system will become more difficult. For example, they will have to "wait for three months before being able to claim welfare payments for their children". This measure will follow the introduction – made a few months ago - of a "similar three-month waiting period for unemployment benefits". Moreover, there will be no automatic service for new welfare applicants and "those who do not speak English will face unspecified sanctions unless they improve their language skills".

 

The previous lines remind us how difficult the situation of a migrant in a new context can be and the difficulties linked to travelling to corners of the Earth so distant from one another. In addition to this, the recent news on the "secret negotiations" between Stockholm and Bucharest about "Roma migrants in Sweden" - where "90%" of the beggars come “from Romania” - shows that, at times, some particular groups are affected on a grand scale by need and poverty.
The obstacles - and, often, the suffering – that many migrants face should, of course, draw the attention of civil society and its establishments. Moreover, this presents an opportunity to highlight the fact that mass movement of people does not concern just a few persons around the world. In fact, emigration is a growing social phenomenon, the effects of which we can see clearly in our day-to-day lives.

 

To be more concrete, we can mention some Eurostat figures referring to the 'Old Continent' in 2011. First of all, notice that in the course of that year, the number of "people who immigrated to one of the EU-27 Member States" was "about 3.2 million". More than half of them ("an estimated 1.7 million") were “immigrants to the EU from countries outside the EU-27”, while “1.3 million people previously residing in an EU-27 Member state migrated to another Member state.” Furthermore, in the same period “at least 2.3 million emigrants were reported to have left” a Member state.

 

Of course, these are overall numbers and the situation is not the same in all countries. For example, in 2011, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy "together accounted for 60.3 % of all immigrants to EU-27 Member States". Furthermore, we need to bear in mind that the original social context of people moving to another region is a significant variable in migration phenomenon. In 2011 European Union, according to the quoted Eurostat source and considering citizens of "non-member countries", 52,4% of them hailed from “medium HDI” (Human Development Index) areas, 34,6% from countries with a high HDI and 6,3% from countries with a low HDI.

 

People leaving poor and politically unstable regions are usually the most vulnerable and the ones running the risk of an illegal migration too often ending in tragedies like the ones whose theatre is the Mediterranean Sea. In any case, as mentioned above, the decision, along with the need, to move is a phenomenon acquiring more and more importance and concerning citizens of Western countries, too. Of course, this remark is not aimed to ignore the differences – which are absolutely important - between the original contexts of people deciding to leave their region and between their reasons and personal stories. It simply helps us to restate, in conclusion, the substantial and non-negligible significance of this subject in the contemporary global context.

 

 Angelo Tino is currently working as a Trainee at the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC,Brussels).

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