Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Poverty Migration to Germany- Social Problem or Straw Man?

I wrote a brief analysis piece for Balkan Insight on the topic of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants being portrayed as "poverty migrants." Here it is, with added embedded links to most of the documents mentioned. 
Reports about the number of impoverished migrants from Bulgaria and Romania are alarming Germany - but how accurate are these claims?

German society is up in arms following an alarming recent report about a dramatic rise in the immigration of unqualified and unemployed migrants from Europe’s poor Southeast.
But some experts are now calling the report, and its use by media and politicians, into question.

The furor started in February, when the media started to publish stories based on an upcoming report from the German Association of Cities, the St√§dtetag, an association representing the interests of German cities at the federal and European Union level. The stories suggested that the report would contain worrying statistics about a rise in “poverty-driven” migration from Southeast Europe, in particular from EU members Romania and Bulgaria.

Even before the actual report emerged, a flurry of articles demonstrated the media’s willingness to believe such a narrative, with titles like “Influx from the Southeast: German Cities Complain of High Immigration,” from Der Spiegel.

Meanwhile, following the release of the report, titled “Position Paper of the German Association of Cities on the Question of Migrants from Romania and Bulgaria,” many newspapers gave persuasive coverage to its central claim, which is that an influx of poor, uneducated jobseekers pose a threat to Germany cities, many of which already struggle with high unemployment and problems with the integration of foreigners. The headlines were provocative: “Migrants: German Cities Sound the Alarm!”; “The Fight Against Poverty Refugees”; “The Flood?” and “Number of Poor Migrants Doubles”.

Even more problematically, some newspapers conflated the issue with the already hot topic of Roma migration, such as Die Welt’s article, “Roma: Big Cities Sound the Alarm about Poverty Migrants.” The report itself only hinted that some of the migrants were of Roma ethnicity, since statistics on the subject don’t exist.

“The federal government must recognize that social balance and social peace in cities is endangered to the highest degree,” the report warned.

Citing statistics from the Ministry for Foreigners, the Association noted that in 2011 alone some 147,000 new migrants from Romania or Bulgaria arrived, with the first months of 2012 already showing an increase of 24 per cent over the previous year.

This apparently means that the number of Romanians and Bulgarians migrating yearly more than doubled since 2007, when the combined number of migrants from both countries was around 64,000.

Even more troubling, the Association noted, is that a large number of these migrants were clearly not integrated into their own country and so arrived in Germany with low educational and job skills, making them eligible for social assistance and vulnerable to a backlash. The report raised the possibility of dangerous reactions to migration from xenophobic, right wing groups. “The first signs of this are evident,” it states.

From the Daily Mail
The report urged the government to take more note of the problem, formulate a strategy to deal with migrants and push for the greater integration in the home countries of disadvantaged persons who might find the prospect of migration tempting.

Following the loud declarations of the newspaper headlines, some experts have since questioned whether these statistics are indeed accurate.

Some say not, including the director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, the vice-president of the Rhine Westphalia Institute for Economic Research and the director of the Institute for Economic and Social Statistics of TU Dortmund. In a joint statement from February 28th the three called the numbers in the report their “Non-Statistic of the Month.

Meanwhile, the Integration Media Service, Medien Dienst Integration, an office dedicated to providing journalists with accurate information on migration and integration funded by (among others) the German Ministry for Migration, Refugees and Integration, pointed out that the actual numbers were “much less dramatic” than was being reported.

Using contextual evidence left out by the German Association of Cities, the two groups say the way the information was presented within the report and the media is confusing and incomplete.

The majority of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria are not unemployed and uneducated, the “Non-Statistic” Press Release maintains.

Using micro-census data, they say some 80 per cent of migrants arriving from the two countries since 2007 are now gainfully employed. Of these, about 46 per cent are qualified and 22 per cent highly skilled.

That’s not counting the number of people entering Germany as university students; according to the Integration Media Service, some 7,000 from Bulgaria alone in the winter semester of 2011/2012. “A blanket classification of all migrants from these countries as poverty migrants, exaggerating the problem of migration for the German social system, only does harm,” say the release.

Even without these classifications, the numbers presented in the report and the media appear overblown.

The number of people entering Germany from Romania and Bulgaria in 2011 quoted by the report, around 147,000, is accurate, the Integration Media Service says, but it fails to take account of how many people left.

Numbers from the Federal Statistics Office show that a large number of the former came for temporary employment and since returned to their home countries, leaving the total number of those who remained in 2011 at about 58,000, it says. In other words, the number of yearly migration has not doubled from 2007.

Finally, the idea that these migrants come primarily to take advantage of German social benefits is also being queried. Whereas the number of people from Bulgaria and Romania has increased by about a quarter since 2007, the number of contributions to social insurance rose in the same period also by about 25 per cent, suggesting that these persons are paying their share.

Given the misleading character of the data, it is unfortunate that so many media outlets published the results of the report without a thought, sometimes making the issue even less clear by lumping in the separate debate about Roma integration.

Germany no doubt faces real problems and issues when it comes to integrating new migrants from different areas of Europe. But it will make the task more difficult if the debate takes place in an atmosphere of unchecked hyperbole and confusion.

However unintentional the oversight was in creating a poverty-migrant straw man, it now may have real consequences.

The German Interior Minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich (pictured), has acknowledged the report in the case he makes against allowing Romania and Bulgaria to join the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone.

“Those who only come to receive social welfare, and thus abuse the freedom of movement, must be effectively prevented from doing so,“ the minister told Der Spiegel.

Thus, phantom hordes of uneducated, unskilled migrants knocking on the doors of the Schengen area could turn into another obstacle for real-world citizens of Romania and Bulgaria as they try to access the same rights as other countries in the European Union


  1. ejettajohns @gmail.comMarch 22, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    Great investigative reporting - well-written and carefully documented!

  2. elizabethborst@gmail.comMarch 22, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    A very thought-provoking and informative piece!!

  3. Quite a revealing piece. Worthy of WikiLeaks

  4. i just stumbled on this blog through your vegan blog and I really like it here!

    I am from Berlin and the issue is so depressing to me. i think its important to get the numbers right but the real issue is... people see roma kids on the street stealing, tricking people or trying to get money by washing cars, etc. And all they think is that these people need to go home? The system is so fucked up and the help they get is minimal. I know it's easy just to get angry at these people (and I get it, in the past years you can definitely feel the change, I've been robbed, my mother was robbed in her own store, we feel less safe). Acknowledging that there's a problem is fine, it's important even. But I've heard people that I thought of as intelligent go on anti-roma rants by saying "just ship them back" and I stand there with my mouth open. It's funny, how they think it's okay to blame even children for "not integrating right" and not their government for doing shit all for immigrants, both educated and uneducated.

    And whats with all the "they're not educated" stuff anyway. It's not like it always helps. I know quite a few turkish immigrants here with university degrees that count nothing here and they end up cleaning homes for a living.

    Im sorry if this is a bit ranty, I have so many feelings about this..

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