The many perils of immigration

by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad

I NEED to ask you this question. Why are the Europeans, Americans and Israelis so worried about Jorg Haider? Is it his obnoxiousness? Or is it merely a phony hysteria?

The inclusion of Haider and his party in the Austrian Government (done democratically) has united the rest of the European Union (EU) in a chorus of condemnation whereas there was silence on Russia's aggression in Chechnya. Yet Haider's Freedom Party is nothing really except that it has cleverly exploited the widespread hostility of Austrians to the growing number of immigrants in their country.

Austria has failed to persuade the 14 EU members to restore full relations with the new Government in Vienna despite distancing itself from the power sharing far right Freedom Party.

Robin Cook, the Scot who is British Foreign Secretary, said political sanctions (recalling ambassadors, cancelling trips, lunches, etc.) agreed last month by EU Governments in an attempt to discourage the formation of an Austrian government with a far right-party participation would stay in place as long as the present Government in Vienna is-in power.

What id obvious to me is that somehow, though all these actions by the EU are quite in order, what occurred in Vienna is of a magnitude more serious than the obliteration of Grozny! The level of outrage felt against Vienna is nowhere near that felt against the destruction of Grozny by these same wise men who worry about Austria's new Government. And both are "domestic affairs".

Why did one warrant interference while the other did not? This is a good case of selective European American assault on the principle of the sovereignty of nation states. Of course, it is simply because Russia is a big power (at least militarily even if its economy is not) and therefore cannot be pushed around. By now the developing world should be accustomed to the American and European political sophistication of double standards and hypocrisy - the pious denunciation of human rights in the Third World but silence - I will be generous - selective silence elsewhere including when the violators are their allies.

I am alarmed by expressions of racism in Europe, such as violent incidents in Germany (against Turks - Islamists, superbly organised in the heroin trade and other defects) and early this month in Spain (against Moroccans - beware, the moors are coming!), and with what could be triggered by the Freedom Party in Austria despite its pledge. To some Austrians, the Poles are car thieves, the Serbians burglary experts and the Russians blackmailers and muggers.

The United Nation (UN) has warned that projected declines in European, American and Japanese populations over the next 50 years may force these industrialised nations to seek migrant labour to fill the gaps in their work-force.

According to UN population reports, the decline in population growth in rich nations is due to low fertility and greater longevity. The wealthy countries will have to depend on immigrants to beef up their work - force. These immigrants are often, as in Spain, Germany, Austria, Australia and other nations, confronted by racism, dangerous working conditions, low pay and few or no employment benefits.

As this occurs and their ranks swell (as it is bound to happen), there will be more gadflies like Haider in these countries.

These Western nations, including "white bastions" in the Pacific Basin, are desperately trying to limit immigration from the Third World. I dare say they - out of sheer necessity - will have to consider relaxing immigration restrictions.

According to the UN Population Fund, between 1965-1990, the number of immigrants rose from 75 million people to 120 million, half of them women. They send more than US$70 billion home each year in remittances, and industries in some countries depend solely on their labour and skills.

In New York, the services sector will be adversely affected without foreign labour. The city thrives because it is tolerant of " foreign guest workers". The population of the Big Apple is half made up of foreign born workers and residents. There are not that many Americans of any colour who want jobs that are now being done by the foreigners, so they are not demanding that the immigrants be kicked out. Sure, life for the immigrants is not easy but it is better than not having any work at all or being sinfully underpaid in their own countries.

Developing countries such as India, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Caribbean, Latin America, Arabs nations and Eastern Europe, including Russia, are the main sources of labour to the industrialised world where the populations are shrinking.

If Germany and Italy wish to maintain their working age population (aged 15 - 64 years) at 1995 levels until 2050, each needs 350,000 and 500,000 "guest workers" per year, respectively.

I do not believe Haider is the problem per se for the EU. Its overreaction must be caused by the fear of contamination in other parts of the EU because Haider and his party are symbols, and many of the causes of his and the Freedom Party's popularity are very much present in most of the EU.

Obviously, open immigration cannot be the answer nor too many restrictions. The US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan can absorb more immigrants than they do now.

Immigration is no longer a humanitarian issue. It is an issue which is closely linked to economic development, peace, stability and security.

The last century was called the American Century, and indeed it has been that. The US has not only been a great power, both economically and militarily, but it has also been a "hospitable land" for immigrants, a good place for people to realise their dreams. At the beginning of this New Age, let the US - unlike other developed nations - keep its shores open to all who want to come and work in this land of opportunity and plenty.

Immigration within the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) has not yet become as big an issue as it is in Europe, but it could easily be exploited by rabble-rousers in diminishing economies. I am glad the Asean Governments have tightened controls on immigration, "economic refugees" and "unwanted illegals".