Migrant tide 'will not be halted'

June 14, 2002

Britain faces an unstoppable tide of immigration regardless of legislative barriers, an Oxford University academic warned this week, writes Claire Sanders.

Steven Vertovec, director of Oxford's new Centre for Migration, Policy and Society (Compas), said: "The US has invested billions trying to secure its southern border, but still migrants come. It is important to understand why people migrate."

The centre has been set up with a £3.3 million grant over five years from the Economic and Social Research Council A Downing Street paper on asylum leaked last month said that the Royal Air Force and the navy could be used to deter migrants. The paper proposed tying overseas aid to taking back failed asylum seekers, more deportation centres and limiting judicial-review rights for asylum seekers.

The centre will seek not only to research migration but also to inform government policy. It will have five research themes.

Dr Vertovec, director of the ESRC Transnational Communities Programme, said: "The first is the sending contexts. This means looking at the impact of migration on the sending country."

He argued that this was a much neglected area of research.

"Sending money to your home country can have a significant impact on the economy there, as can the brain drain if the migrant is a skilled worker," he said.

The second theme is the means of migration - from human trafficking to the recruitment of domestic and sex workers. The third theme is how migrants are integrated into receiving communities. The last two themes relate to looking at the distinction between economic migrants and asylum seekers.

Compas will work closely with Oxford's Refugee Studies Centre.

Dr Vertovec said: "The RSC is a world leader on forced migration. While the RSC will look at the impact on neighbouring African countries - for example at political unrest in one African state - Compas is more concerned with those migrants that move to Europe."

Dr Vertovec said that migration and transnationalism was here to stay. But he was not optimistic about the future.

"There is a global trend for people to have a foot in two countries. The European Union needs workers from the developing world, both skilled and unskilled, and as long as this need is there and poverty exists elsewhere, then migrants will come. The question is how to manage this movement justly. I try to be optimistic, but the assassinated Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn hit directly at multiculturalism. That is a giant step backwards," Dr Vertovec said.

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