Four myths about migration and why they are nonsense

In recent years, especially since the referendum, electoral politics, as well as discussions in the media, have been predicated on increasingly open hostility to migrants and refugees. Mitch Mitchell recounts four of the most popular anti-migration myths and why they are wrong.

An aerial image of a ship of the UK Border Force docked in a port.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ever since the banking crisis of 2008, there has been an economic shock resounding across the world and the ruling classes have responded by inflicting vicious austerity measures on us to protect their wealth.

Understandably, there is anger about this. However, the wrong targets are often attacked. This piece is intended to show that the cuts to public services, pressure on the NHS and lack of housing is not the fault of refugees or migrants.

Refugees and migrants are an easy target and several politicians use them as scapegoats because they adhere to the “divide and rule” dictum. While people are worrying needlessly about migrants, the Tory government are able to slip through very unpleasant legislation.

So, here are some ‘popular’ myths and the answers to them.

Migrants cause lower wages and unemployment

This is patently not true. In the 1930s, there was very little immigration into the country, but there was mass unemployment.

During the 50s and 60s, capitalists actively encouraged immigration and yet wages rose and there was more or less full employment. Many of those migrants who were encouraged to come are now the very people suffering due to the “Windrush” scandal.

Currently, the government with its hostile environment policies are reducing the numbers of migrants and yet wages are falling in real terms. While it is true that migrants are overrepresented in sectors such as the service industry or logistics that are paid at or just above the minimum wage, it would be dishonest to blame migrants themselves, rather than the corporations that actually set these wages.

Migrants put extra strain on public services

Another untruth. Refugees and migrants do not get special treatment when trying to access health or housing or other services. Less than 1% of social housing is provided to new arrivals from Eastern Europe, for example.

The Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration found that migrants pay in over 30% more in tax than they cost in using public services.

It is also worth noting, however, that this argument is often deployed for seemingly sympathetic, but actually racist and imperialist reasons. As we have seen in a lot of the discussions around Brexit, many of those wanting to remain in the European Union presented this statistic to demonstrate that migration is, in fact, ‘useful’ for the native population, as their taxes will contribute to the ageing UK’s pensions, and as many work in the NHS or social care, contrary to increasing waiting times, they are actually vital for these services to function at all.

While this is all true, we cannot leave the argument at that. As internationalists, we must always question the logic of ascribing ‘worth’ to certain kinds of migrants.

Migrants come to Britain to take advantage of benefits

Some politicians like Nigel Farage argue that our ‘generous’ benefits act as a ‘welfare magnet’. However, in-depth studies show that migrants across the EU are far less likely to live on benefits, which, again, is not necessarily a positive thing.

It is well-known that even many UK citizens that are in need of assistance are not receiving it due to its punitive means-testing measures and bureaucratic difficulties, and the lack of information about available benefits, language barriers and other social factors present additional challenges for migrants.

Some other countries allow asylum seekers to work while their claims are processed, but Britain does not. It means that asylum seekers are ‘given’ around £36 per week in addition to a room somewhere where rents are cheap whilst they are forced to live in limbo. That’s just over £5 per day to cover food, clothes, heating and lighting, etc.

Migrants commit more crime

Again, not true. In truth, migrants and particularly refugees are more likely to be the victims of crime, especially assault. Also, they will frequently be subject to breaches of employment law.

We should also not view the statistics of ‘crime’ through an uncritical lens either. The lack of citizenship, and therefore different status of migrants mean they can be charged with criminal offences that do not exist for those with a British passport, such as overstaying or breaching the terms of a visa, not submitting a landing card on arrival to the UK, ‘illegal entry’ among others.

As signatories of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Charter, Britain has a legal duty to allow refugees to claim asylum. Recent moves by the Home Office have been against the spirit of this. Since 2003 and the signing of the Le Touquet Accord, the UK’s border has been in Calais. Therefore, anyone who crosses that border is in Britain and so should be allowed to claim asylum, not intercepted and returned to France.

The advent of Brexit has created new difficulties for asylum seeking refugees and there is a strong danger that ‘Fortress Europe’ will become ‘Fortress Britain’ after the break finally happens (if it does).

There should be no borders and no restrictions on human movement. After all, globalisation means that capitalists can move money and goods around, more or less at will – why not people?


Mitch is a member of Refugee Lifeboat, that provide material solidarity and support for refugees, campaigns for open borders, closing detention centres and better treatment for refugees and asylum seekers.


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