Let’s tear down the walls around xenophobic myths
Many of the negative attitudes towards migrants are baseless, says expert
A South African expert on migration has played a key role in helping to destroy some of the myths about migration being propagated in an increasingly xenophobic world.
Steven Tollman, of Wits University, is one of 20 experts from 13 countries who have spent two years researching migration and health.
The report he helped write, to be launched in SA in March, was tabled at a UN conference in Morocco on December 8.
Tollman said it was a “systematic assessment” of published research on migration and health. His main contribution was a paper on global patterns of mortality among international migrants.
The University College London-Lancet Commission on Migration and Health said it had found evidence that overturned “groundless narratives” about migrants, including claims that they are: disease carriers who pose a risk to resident populations;
a burden on health services;
prone to having large families;
overwhelming high-income countries; and
responsible for damaging economies. In SA, said Tollman, there is “a massive gap in understanding internal migration”.
He added: “There are profound data gaps in an area where opinion, perception and political advantage tend to take precedence.
“We seek to bring data and evidence to bear, to both counter prevailing myths and highlight the need to strengthen our understanding, which in the South African and regional arena, relates directly to internal, often labour, migrants.”
A critical question for SA was how labour migrants accessed good public healthcare, he said. “Resources are finite, but the answer is simply not to reject those who are not ‘us’. Universal health coverage does not mean, ‘but not if you're not one of us’.”
The commission told a UN conference in Marrakesh, convened to adopt a “global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration”, that the movement of people should be a global health priority.
“How the world addresses human mobility will determine public health and social cohesion for decades to come,” said the commission.
Many migrants were subjected to laws, restrictions and discrimination that put them at risk of ill health, it said, calling on governments to improve migrants’ access to services and to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to racism and discrimination.
These are some of the “groundless narratives”, which the UCL-Lancet Commission says are “not supported by the available evidence”:
High-income countries are being overwhelmed by migrants
Although international migration receives the most attention, 75% of global migration is internal – from the Eastern Cape to Gauteng, for example. The percentage of the world’s people considered international migrants has risen from 2.9% in 1990 to 3.4% in 2017 globally. Two-thirds of international migrants move to find work, and a much smaller proportion are refugees and asylum seekers. While high-income countries have seen a greater rise in the percentage of international migrants (from 7.6% in 1990 to 13.4% in 2017), they are more likely to be students who pay for their education or labour migrants who are net contributors to the economy. Migrants are damaging economies
Overwhelming evidence exists on the positive economic benefits of migration. In advanced economies, each percentage-point increase in migrants in the adult population increases the gross domestic product per person by up to 2%. Additionally, migration contributes to global wealth distribution. Migrants sent an estimated $613bn to their families at home in 2017. About three-quarters of these remittances are to low- and middle-income countries – an amount three times larger than official development assistance.
Migrants are a burden on health services
Migrants constitute a substantial proportion of the healthcare workforce in many high-income countries. Rather than being a burden, they are more likely to bolster services. Professor Steve Tollman’s analysis concludes that international migrants in high-income countries have lower rates of mortality compared to general populations in most disease categories. Migrants carry diseases that endanger resident populations
The evidence shows that the risk of transmission from migrating populations to host populations is generally low. Studies on tuberculosis suggest the risk of transmission is elevated within migrant households and communities, but not in host populations. International travel, tourism and the movement of livestock, rather than migration, drove recent examples of the spread of resistant pathogens. Migrants have higher fertility rates than host populations
Birth rates among migrants – 2.1 per woman – are barely at the level of population replacement. A study of six European countries found that fertility rates among migrant women were, in general, lower than host populations. Studies in India and Ethiopia found internal migrants are more likely to use contraception than host populations.