Even though the refugee crisis put migration issues on the top of the EU agenda, the influx of people from outside Europe seeking a better part has been a constant presence in the political landscape for at least half a century, according to Professor Ian Buruma, Dutch professor Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism in the United States.

That’s why he underscored that the issue is not demographical, contrary to what many claim in the heated debate. The issue is political. He pinpointed the problem: “We still don’t have a common immigration policy”.

Buruma pledged for economic integration of the newcomers to prevent ‘young men pestering in the camps only to become radicalized’. He thinks that ‘cultural assimilation is overrated’, and we need to start thinking how to channel the new workforce to our benefit.

Politics of death

The lecture was followed by a response from Willem Schinkel of the Faculty of Social Sciences. He pointed out how cynical reality has become: Europe is portrayed as a victim of the refugee crisis, but the bombings in the Middle East continue. Schinkel criticized the ‘politics of death’ – Europe has refused to secure passage for the asylum seekers.

‘’They need to risk their lives first to enjoy European compassion’’, he noted bitterly. It is crucial to stop drawing the line between ‘true’ asylum seekers and economic migrants. ‘’Either it is death from poverty or death from bombs, all that matters is that both result in death’’, Schinkel concluded.

There were many City Hall employees in the audience and the ensuing discussion underscored just how far sometimes the theory is from the practice. Those who have to deal with the issues under consideration wanted to get practical advice from both academics. However, there is still a long way to go from knowing ‘what to do’ to understanding ‘how to do’ it.

Relevant facts

The public yearns for expert advice, so what can academia do to help? “We need to show which facts are relevant for the debate. For now we are in a narrow tunnel of highly selected pieces of information”, said Schinkel.

Surprisingly, given all the spirited discussion about population and job distribution, there were few students in the audience. However, they are the ones who are going to compete for employment and will need to work together with migrants to forge the new face of Europe.