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Political issues

Aug 29, 2017

Countries that love their immigrants

Australia scores well on a world survey of attitudes to immigrants, but the implications for political debate are not entirely clear.

Charles Richardson — Editor of The World is not Enough

Charles Richardson

Editor of The World is not Enough

With attitudes towards immigration looking increasingly like a major fault line in contemporary politics, there’s much food for thought in a survey released by Gallup last week: what it calls its “Migrant Acceptance Index.” (Thanks to Sol Salbe for drawing it to my attention.)

The construction of the index is quite simple. Respondents in 139 countries were simply asked their reaction to three things: immigrants living in their country, an immigrant becoming their neighbor, and an immigrant marrying one of their close relatives. For each, they were just offered the choice (echoing Sellar & Yeatman) of “a good thing” or “a bad thing”. For each, the former scored three points and the latter none; “don’t know” or the like scored one point. Then they were all totalled and averaged, for a maximum possible score of nine.

Australia scored 7.98, the sixth highest in the index – behind only Iceland (top with 8.26), New Zealand and three African countries, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Mali. Macedonia is the least accepting of migrants, with a score of 1.47; nine of the bottom ten are in Eastern Europe (Israel, at sixth-last, is the exception).

Note that this is all about immigrants in general – “people who have come to live and work in this country from another country,” as Gallup worded it – rather than refugees or asylum seekers. Australians were not being asked specifically about those who cross the Indian Ocean on small boats, just as people in the Balkans were not being asked about the masses arriving from Libya or Syria. The extent to which those thoughts framed their responses must remain a matter of speculation.

Nonetheless, the regional differences are striking. Gallup’s own breakdown doesn’t quite bring it out, so I compiled my own:

Australia/NZ/USA     7.83
West Africa     7.32
North-Western Europe     7.29
Central Africa     6.58
East Asia     6.14
North Africa     5.99
Southern Europe     5.87
Southern Africa     5.78
Latin America     5.76
East Africa     5.39
South and South-East Asia     4.58
Central Asia     4.41
Middle East     3.98
Eastern Europe     2.87

The contrast in attitudes between the people of West Africa, who have been dealt one of fate’s pretty poor hands, and the vastly more privileged populations of Eastern Europe, is particularly instructive.

Gallup also gives some demographic categories, which are more or less what one would expect. Acceptance of migrants is higher among the the more wealthy, the urban, the young, and especially the well educated. But even the last of those (4.92 for the primary-educated, 5.36 for secondary, 5.67 for tertiary) is a quite minor effect compared to the regional variations. (There is no figure given for religion as a factor.) It’s also noted that in the former Soviet countries, the pattern in relation to education is reversed.

What message should we take from this? Those who defend Australia’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers would argue that that issue has been successfully quarantined from immigration in general, and that a strong “border protection” regime nurtures positive attitudes towards the latter. But the fact that New Zealand, which operates no concentration camps, has equally positive attitudes would seem to undermine that argument.

At the other end of the table, it suggests that the inhospitable approach to refugees taken by so many Eastern European countries is not specifically the product of the recent crisis but reflects something more deep seated. Interestingly, there is very little difference in the region between countries on the refugee front line in the Balkans, and those much further away, such as the Baltic states.

Special mention should also be made of Albania, which with a score of 7.22 is almost three points more welcoming than the next highest in its region, and on a par with such countries as Germany, Switzerland and the United States. Whatever else is happening on the immigration front, at least the Albanians seem to be doing something right.

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2 thoughts on “Countries that love their immigrants

  1. Xoanon

    It would be good to know what the study defined as Eastern Europe; Poland nowadays, for example, thinks of itself as being in Central Europe. It is true though that intolerance lives on in that part of Europe (as much as I love travelling there).

    Partly it’s to do with the way the local communist regimes used minorities as scapegoats when they felt it necessary. Also that those countries never went through the 1960s-70s civil rights/protest era in which entrenched Western attitudes toward women, racism etc started being significantly challenged.

    I think too that these countries feel economically threatened by refugees. In their minds they’ve only just rejoined Europe and are slowly realising economic benefits from that integration; thus are threatened by anything external that might conceivably put a drain on resources.

    Things are changing though, as the young travel and the populace in general becomes wealthier. It will take time, however.

    1. Charles Richardson

      Thanks Xoanon – Yes, I think you’re probably right. I’m generally fairly bullish about Eastern Europe; in most respects things have turned out a lot better than was expected 30 years ago. But the contrast with so many much poorer countries is striking.

      The definition of the regions in the table is mine; I was going to explain how I’d done it but decided that would be too boring for readers! Basically “Eastern Europe” is everything east of the old iron curtain, with the west split between North-Western and Southern; “Central Asia” is the rest of the old Soviet republics, plus Mongolia; Egypt and Turkey are counted in “Middle East”.