Randal O’Toole – Refugees or Immigrants?

Early this week, the Antiplanner listened to a presentation in Greece about the Syrian refugee crisis. The presenter noted that almost all members of the European Union had signed theDublin agreement defining how countries should treat refugees. A major exception, however, was Turkey, which treated people fleeing Syria as potential immigrants rather than refugees. The speaker made it sound as though Turkey was heartless and uncaring about refugee problems.

Arda Akçiçek, a researcher at Istanbul’s Medipol University and activist with the Association for Liberal Thinking, has a very different view: by treating Syrians as immigrants rather than refugees, Turkey is treating them as potential economic contributors rather than likely recipients of welfare.

Some sheer numbers support this viewpoint. Germany has accepted something like 300,000 to 360,000 refugees, more than any other European nation under the Dublin agreement. The country has allocated more than $19 billion to refugees for 2016 alone, or roughly $55,000 per refugee.

In contrast, Turkey has accepted more than 3 million immigrants from Syria, roughly ten times as many as Germany. Since it is not offering these immigrants welfare or free housing, the cost to Turkish taxpayers is small. Instead, Turkey has relaxed labor rules, making it easy for immigrants to get jobs or start small businesses. The result is the immigrants “have established new businesses and employed others, including vast numbers of Turkish citizens,” writes Akçiçek. “They have increased investment, production, and employment capacity,” and “as the rates of employment, exports, and imports increased, the consumer prices for goods and services fell.”

Immigration hasn’t been without strain. The immigrants have taken some jobs that would otherwise have been held by natives of Turkey. By working for lower pay, however, they have reduced consumer prices by around 2.5 percent. More importantly, says Akçiçek, Turkey has avoided the “social disorder that has led to drastic counter-measures elsewhere.”

I asked Akçiçek whether the difference between Turkey and other European nations was one of religion: the Syrians and Turks are both Muslim nations, while most of the rest of Europe is Christian. He pointed out that, after World War II, Germany accepted three million Turkish refugees from the war whose descendants live peacefully in Germany today.

Akçiçek’s research underscores my conclusion that problems other countries are having with refugees are merely symptoms of deeper problems with those nations’ regulatory and welfare systems. Those problems should be corrected even if there were no refugees. Turkey’s relative success in handling the refugee crisis may give other countries an incentive to fix those problems now.

The Antiplanner

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