07/12/2010

Arab Immigration to the EU, looking ahead to 2030

Arab Immigration series 3/3

By Professor Bichara Khader
Scientific Advisor of the MEDEA Institute
CERMAC, Catholic University of Louvain

 

 

Looking ahead to 2030, total Arab population will jump from 350 today to more than 500 million, while the total population of the 27 Member States of the EU, will stagnate around 500 million. For sure, given the gap between potential supply of work force and job opportunities in the Arab World, in the coming 20 years, many Arabs, especially from the Maghreb and, to a lesser extent, from the Machrek countries, will immigrate and settle in Europe. It is not unreasonable to think that the minority of Arab immigrants in Europe and Europeans of Arab origin), which I estimate to be around 6 million, in 2010, will double or even triple by 2030, under the dual effect of natural growth and new flows. In such a scenario, the Arab minority would increase from 6 million today to a minority of 12 million or even 18 million by 2030. This means that Arab immigrants would represent a little over 2% of Europe’s population in 2030, in the case of a doubling, and, in the case of a tripling, a little over 3%. These are far from being alarming figures.

But it is true, however, that all European countries are not alike: indeed, a doubling or even tripling of the immigrant Arab population  in certain countries like France, could trigger social concerns, as there would be between 8 or even 12 million Arabs in France by 2030. In both cases, Arab immigrants or of Arab descent, could account for 12 to 16% of the total population.

But the majority of these Arabs will be Europeans by naturalization, social behaviors, lifestyles, aspirations that would align them with those of host populations. The overwhelming majority will continue to identify as Muslim and will seek to make of Islam a religion like any other. But, contrary to alarmist and culturalist theories which posit a supposed incompatibility between Islam and secularism, these European Muslims will integrate, in their overwhelming majority, the values of secularism. Thus, this European Islam will be less and less a religion of immigrants, but a religion of Europe’s Muslims.

Nobody at this stage can say if the Arabs living in Europe will teach the Arabic language to their children and maintain cultural ties with their countries of origin. The example of Latin America provides clear proof that when an immigrant or an immigrant’s son feels totally accepted and welcomed, he eventually integrates into the host society and blend into the national melting pot. All the more easily, in fact, if the host countries appear to be countries of immigration. This has been the case of millions of Arab immigrants in Latin America. However, it should be mentioned that, in the case of Latin America, other factors have contributed to hasten Arab integration: notably the rapid social « embourgeoisement » of Arab immigrants and the distance between the Latin American continent and the countries of origin.

The case of Arab immigration to Europe is very different:

  • Most immigrants are concentrated at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of jobs and wages, and social « mobility », although existent, is much slower;
  • Countries of origin are close, and therefore, Arab immigrants return and maintain close relations with their families;
  • Host countries remain reluctant to perceive themselves as countries of migration.
  • There are trends of xenophobia and mainly islamophobia which do not facilitate integration.

But this may change: one may think that Islamophobia is a temporary phenomenon linked to the terrorist attacks on European territory or even the economic and social crises in European countries. But If the culture of « fear » of the Muslim or Arab is fought against, and if the economic situation improves and economic activity picks up, integration of Arab migrants could be further facilitated. Thus, a general climate of serenity, coupled with a lasting stay, the schooling of children and social mobility will ultimately render integration inevitable. Political and social stability in countries of origin, if combined with sustainable economic development, could, in turn, contribute to this integration, as it would alleviate the fears of European populations in the face of instabilities and turbulences of the southeast Mediterranean region and thus alter the European view on immigration, particularly Arab and Muslim.

It is this optimistic outlook that could allow immigrant and expatriate Arab communities in Europe to play a positive role in Euro-Arab relations. Firstly, it would provide a better integration of these immigrants and expatriates in terms of new opportunities for social mobility, involvement in the political and media arenas, and therefore increase their capacity to become social and political actors. Second, a better integration would ease tensions between Europeans and Arabs, between Islam and the West, and would strengthen their partnership. And finally, a better integration would increase the « brain gain », that is to say the possibility of Arab countries of origin to benefit from the experience, expertise, and investment of their former emigrants.

All this is an optimistic scenario, but an opposite scenario cannot be ruled out, a scenario in which Islamophobia becomes rampant, producing a radicalization of positions and isolationism. In this scenario, Arab immigrants or of immigrant origin will become the scapegoats of a Europe shackled by its doubts and fears.

No one, however, should doubt of the dramatic consequences of such a scenario: in each country, cohabitation will become more and more problematic while the image and the role of the EU will deteriorate in its immediate neighbourhood. This would not be not good news for anyone.