Robinson Hambro
Robinson Hambro: Board Search and Chairman Advisory

Karina's Column

An insider’s view on the City of London and beyond

Two fresh ideas on migration


Paddington Bear, the ultimate refugee, would never have made it past the recent terrorism and refugee-inspired checks. Some of my followers, holidaying in Europe, may even now be reading this while standing in endless airport queues.

Here is one reason for the checks: in the first half of 2017, the Italian Ministry of Interior registered 83,752 new migrant arrivals, which is the highest number recorded for this period since 2014, with thousands arriving every week in these peak summer months. It is no coincidence that the populist Five Star Movement is running neck to neck with the centre-left Democratic Party in polling for the 2018 general election.

The issue of migrants divides countries, allies, regional groupings, all at a time when a unified front is the only way to deal with it, as well as other related problems confronting mankind, such as climate change and Islamic terrorism.

Transformational factors are at play which will increase humanitarian disasters, leading to an explosion in the numbers of migrants and refugees over the coming decades, says Dr Randolph Kent, a former United Nation official whose roles included Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia and Kosovo. He envisages migration flows that could be analogous to the flows of tribes in north-east Asia in the 12th century, numbering hundreds of millions.

“And, unlike the 14 million refugees that moved between Pakistan and India in 1947, the vast numbers that one can foresee in the future will also have access to sophisticated weapons,” he states in an article for the International Review of the Red Cross.

Our increasingly complex eco-systems guarantee this outcome through the weakening of the post-war global system, the inter-related threat of cybernetic attacks, the resurgence of sovereignty, population growth, demographic shifts, the wildfire effect of social networking, climate change and wars.

Given that large movements of people in search of family safety and/or a better life are going to be an increasing feature of our society, valiant attempts to categorise “economic migrants” separately from “refugees” fleeing war, with rights under international law, are useful only at the margin.

Migration per se is not a zero-sum game where one less migrant means one more job for a local – the local who may well be the product of a substandard education and a Western benefits system. For the many countries with declining working age populations, lower migration means crops left unpicked, engineering jobs left unfilled and a faster uptake of robots. Any complacency in the UK about a Mediterranean-based influx solely to the Continent ignores the evermore sophisticated smuggling networks.

Dealing with repercussions in the social order, integration and a host of other issues is a challenge for us and the next generations. Visionary ideas are needed. I came across two recently.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry gave the 53rd annual lecture at think tank Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire last month. The house had been a weekend home to Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II. It was an appropriate venue for another committed internationalist to express his ideas.

Kerry called for a Marshall Plan for the 21st century by a doubling up of the developed world’s bet on the promise of globalisation – not only confined to the developing world, but to the West and wealthy OECD countries – in order to strike at the roots of the despair leading to populism and extremism.

He spoke of the “largest public-private partnership the world has ever seen” by having the West partner with China, busy with its “Belt and Road” policy of investing in the developing world to boost trade and stimulate economic growth across Asia. Kerry called for a global initiative that would release “some of the $12-13 trillion that today is sitting in net negative interest rate status around the world”. He believes this would strike at the roots of extremism and hopelessness by developing education and job opportunities around the world.

His vision encompassed developing clean energy, which has the potential to become the largest market the world has ever seen, and harnessing the power of technology which is already leaving too many people behind. Rather than reacting to change, the private sector and governments need to do more to shape the future through unified action. Rooting out corruption would be critical to delivering the programme.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also been looking at the Marshall Plan idea, consulting with private sector investors in Africa.

The second visionary idea comes from Tolu Olubunmi and the World Economic Forum, which already recognised her a couple of years ago as one of 15 women changing the world. She co-chairs Mobile Minds, an initiative focused on remote working as an alternative to migration. For talented individuals who do not necessarily want to leave home but cannot find jobs, remote and mobile work are a way forward.

For countries with declining populations, this is a way around the political backlash from local populations. Benefits for companies include increased access to talent, cost savings and reduced turnover, while societal benefits include global traffic mitigation and a decreased brain drain from the developing world to the developed world.

US-based Olubunmi does not underestimate the challenges of a widespread implementation of cross-border remote work – compliance issues, consistency of fair labour standards, a tangle of employment laws, among others. But as a Nigerian national and a trained chemical engineer who arrived in the US as an undocumented and unemployed migrant, her own story gives credence and lends determination to this globally transformational agenda.

Paddington Bear turned out to be the right sort of refugee, despite his inauspicious start. An immigration officer would have judged that the short, brown figure lacking in skills – as evidenced by the label round his neck that read “Please look after this bear” – would not be GDP-enhancing. Yet if one could measure added value by the laughter of children and adult alike, or marmalade sandwiches, the naughtiest bear in the world broke all the records.