Populist parties have seized upon the issue of immigration, making it a major driver of their support. Migration is blamed for a wide range of social ills, even when their causes are far more diverse and complex. An end to immigration is offered up as a tempting and simple solution to these challenges. The result is that the public discourse is dominated by opponents of migration, causing policy-makers to be exposed to a completely skewed picture of public attitudes to migration.
We have repeatedly found that attitudes to migration are much more fluid, varied and nuanced than national headlines and polls suggest. Overall, people are more favourable towards migration than commonly believed. The Open Society Initiative for Europe funded a two-year research project to enable Counterpoint to gather personal stories and reflections of migration across four European countries. The resulting report suggests that policy-makers can afford to be much bolder and more progressive when it comes to crafting and implementing migration policy without risking a backlash at the ballot box.
Counterpoint travelled to eight different communities across four European countries, France, Italy, Germany and Sweden. The settings included rural and urban communities, in places with little or lots of previous experience with migration. We gathered personal stories from as many perspectives as possible, aiming to gain a comprehensive picture of the lived reality of migration. Our interlocutors included local policy-makers and civil servants, volunteers from host communities, journalists, church members, teachers, political activists and newcomers themselves.
We held several interviews and conversations, mostly one-on-one, with a guided, yet open set of questions. We encouraged people to reflect on the journey they themselves and their communities had embarked upon since 2015: moments that changed or shaped them, the challenges and successes they experienced and the memories that really stood out to them. Furthermore, we set up a number of forum conversations designed to capture the newcomers’ experiences of being welcomed, of interacting with volunteers and community members. These were designed as informal and safe spaces where newcomers could share their true feelings about a complex and personal experience.
Finally, we coded all of our conversations. Through this open and qualitative set of methods, we were able to capture the many nuances, contradictions and textures that these stories offered us.
This Counterpoint report draws out policy implications to help decision-makers take these stories and personal interactions into account when they shape migration policies of the future. Our investigation focused on the emotional investment and concerns of both the host communities and the newcomers. In particular, it concentrated on how institutions, both local and national, impact on the day-to-day experience of migration for all of the parties involved. Given Counterpoint’s traditional focus on the ‘hidden wiring’ of political and social life and the unexpected dynamics to which they give rise, our investigation delved into communities’ experiences of loss, conflict or cooperation, to make sense of the phenomenon we call ‘migration.’