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Why Influx Of Migrants Could Be A Good Thing For Europe

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an alternative view this morning of Europe's refugee crisis. It comes from a man who would like to see more than the downside. It is true that hundreds of thousands of people have fled to Europe from war-torn Syria and other nations. It's also true that many Europeans are deeply ambivalent about welcoming them. Oliver August, the Europe editor of The Economist, contends that this is also true - the newcomers need not be a burden.

OLIVER AUGUST: I mean, they're a problem and an opportunity, I would say. They're a problem when they arrive on your doorstep, as any unannounced guest would be. They need feeding and housing that's not immediately available. But I think Europe is a grown-up place with many resources that should be able to deal with this relatively easily. And beyond that, there are phenomenal opportunity.

Here are people who have shown their great medal of making this far, who are highly motivated and grateful to be here, who, in many cases, are educated and have skills that are useful coming to a continent that is rapidly depopulating, where - lots of places like nurses and engineers and doctors. And a lot of these people could quite easily be assimilated, I would argue, into our societies and make an extremely valuable contribution.

INSKEEP: Well, help me to understand the situation in which they're arriving. You have argued in The Economist that a simple solution to the refugee problem is, quote, "let them work." Is that difficult under the laws that exist in Europe right now for people simply to arrive and find a job?

AUGUST: It is extremely difficult. See, Europe is a continent, like many other continents, of immigration in its history. People have long crossed Europe to live somewhere else. That was relatively straightforward because you could - if you're a Huguenot, you could come from the continent to Britain and you would find work. Maybe low-paid work, it may be not the work you're seeking, but if at the right wage, you could probably find a job. And that is no longer the situation in many places in Europe, where you have to belong to a guild and the union has to approve you and you can only work in certain places at certain times with certain restrictions. All this makes it much more difficult for migrants and refugees.

INSKEEP: This is interesting to realize that Europe has effectively opened its borders within the European Union. You don't even have to show a passport at many borders. But you're saying that once you arrive in a place, if you want to put down roots, you will find a lot of doors politely - or not so politely - closed to you.

AUGUST: Yes, absolutely. If you want to be a hairdresser, you have to have done a three-year apprenticeship in many places. If you want to be a plumber, you have to be officially accredited to fix somebody's bathroom. All these things have good reasons, and they are amongst the factors why Europe has such a wonderful standard of living. But they do impose restrictions on assimilating outsiders.

INSKEEP: You mentioned depopulation. How bad is it?

AUGUST: I mean, it's quite bad. I mean, if you go around Europe, you wouldn't guess it. Piccadilly Circus is still busy. But large stretches of the European countryside and increasing numbers of cities are finding it difficult to fill schools. People tend to move to the larger urban centers. And if you go across parts of even rich countries like Germany, you will find that villages are dying out and hospitals can't find doctors. And this is a situation that few in Europe can admit to themselves.

INSKEEP: Oliver August, Europe editor of The Economist, thanks very much.

AUGUST: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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