Part one

Mehdi Hasan: (VO): Some are fleeing war, poverty and persecution, others are simply hoping for a better future.  Many risk their lives to reach the developed world, but does diversity make the West richer? President Obama: We are and always will be a nation of immigrants. Or does it threaten to break it apart?

My guest tonight believes more immigration means less social cohesion and wants tighter controls. David Cameron: Deport first, appeal later. But is restricting immigration necessary, or is it xenophobia in disguise?

Mehdi Hasan: I’m Mehdi Hasan and I've come here to the Oxford Union to go head to head with Professor Sir Paul Collier, the renowned economist, UN adviser and bestselling author. I’ll be challenging him on whether immigration is a danger to Western identity and whether closing the door helps or hurts poor countries.

Mehdi Hasan: (VO): Tonight I’ll also be joined by Titilola Banjoko, a British-Nigerian doctor and the managing director of Africa Recruit; David Goodhart, journalist, author and an advocate of much tighter controls on immigration; and Philippe Legrain, economist, former EU adviser and a supporter of open borders.

Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and gentleman, Professor Sir Paul Collier

Mehdi VO: An economist at Oxford University, his latest book is Exodus: How Migration is Changing our World.

Mehdi Hasan: Paul Collier, we are both, you and I, we are both the products of migration. You’re the grandson, I believe, of a German migrant, I’m the son of Indian immigrants to the UK. In your book, Exodus, you say that while immigration into developed countries, from developing countries, has had economic benefits, in many ways it’s been very good, you also say that more and more immigration into the West poses a danger to social cohesion, risks diluting our culture, our national identity, and may undermine trust, cooperation, solidarity between members of the public.  Those are pretty big claims; some would say pretty controversial claims?

Paul Collier: You know, the debate on migration is polarised into two strident positions, a heartless and the headless. Erm, Mehdi, you sound to be volunteering to be the headless. I’m certainly not going to volunteer to be the heartless, right?

Mehdi Hasan: Sure, we can find out tonight.

Paul Collier: Yeah.  Of course migration's good but it’s like asking is eating food good, right. If you don’t eat food you’re dead, right, but you can eat too much.

Mehdi Hasan: Just to take your analogy, you don’t stop eating food today on the basis that one day you might eat too much?

Paul Collier: Nor do you stop migration today on the basis that one day you could have too much.  I’m not advocating stopping migration.

Mehdi Hasan: You’re advocating a tighter control, more restrictions.

Paul Collier: The reason for that is, is that immigration is driven by two things, income gaps and the size of the diaspora. As the diaspora builds up, migration tends to accelerate, so at some point, as it accelerates it would become too much. Erm sorry, but we do the same thing with climate change, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Mehdi Hasan: It’s interesting you mention climate change because some of the reviews of your book pointed out that it wasn’t really ideal to compare migrants to CO2 emissions, erm, in the sense that, well, in the sense that if you start from the premise that CO2 emissions are bad and we should control them, it’s almost implicit. You’re saying you’re a man in the middle, you’re not one of two extremes.

Paul Collier: First of all, first of all…

Mehdi Hasan: Your general tone is very sceptical and quite negative.

Paul Collier: First of all, CO2 emissions are not bad, until they become…

Mehdi Hasan: You mean climate change ...

Paul Collier: Until they become in the range of a problem, right, CO2 emissions we’ve had over the last 2,000 years haven’t been bad, the migration we’ve had to date hasn’t been bad, right?

Mehdi Hasan: It hasn’t been bad, but in the book you suggest it has been bad for social cohesion in some parts and that it will only get worse.

Paul Collier: If you look at the relationship, erm, between diversity and either economic performance or wellbeing, erm, then it’s a, it’s a, it’s a hump shape. If you get too much diversity then what erodes is cooperation, first, and that shows up in much lower levels of trust.

Mehdi Hasan: In fact, there’s reams of evidence here in the UK, for example, and in Europe which suggests that actually the reason that societies are divided or lack trust or lack cohesion is more to do with deprivation and poverty and inequality and not to do with greater immigration, not to do with ethnic diversity.  Let me just read you out one quote. A European study said in 2008, found no evidence at all for what we consider to be this claim, erm, between diversity, greater diversity and lower trust.  They say that the research you cited in your book, which is American research, is totally spurious when it comes to Europe, so there is a controversy, you’re suggesting there isn’t.

Paul Collier: No, first of all…

Mehdi Hasan: But there is.

Paul Collier: First of all you’re, you’re focusing on what is the case now in Europe, right?

Mehdi Hasan: As opposed to what should I be focusing on?

Paul Collier: Erm, what would happen if there was a big increase in diversity.

Mehdi Hasan: That’s just, but that’s, then we’re in the realms of my speculation versus your speculation. You talk about heartless and headless, and you being this kind of middle-of-the-road pragmatist. Some of the language you use, many would say, is not helpful. It’s a little bit divisive and might play into the hands of people you and I both don’t like on the far right.  You repeatedly refer in the book, almost on every other page, to indigenous Britons or indigenous members of the population which, as you know, has a certain resonance to some people on the far right.  How do you define an indigenous Briton? What is an indigenous Briton?

Paul Collier: Well we’ve got to have some sort of concept for the non-immigrant population, right?

Mehdi Hasan: So what is it?

Paul Collier: I mean, we might as well use, might as well say “indigenous” for that.

Mehdi Hasan: But what does it mean? Can you define for me an indigenous Briton?

Paul Collier: I was going to say, well, if we’ve got a concept of that immigrant, we’ve got to have a concept of non-immigrant, haven’t we?

Mehdi Hasan: OK, so what is the concept of a non-immigrant?

Paul Collier: What’s the concept of an immigrant, Mehdi?

Mehdi Hasan: Well, am I an indigenous Briton?

Paul Collier: Were you born here?

Mehdi Hasan: Yes.

Paul Collier: Then you’re a Briton yeah, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, so it’s people who are born here who are indigenous…

Paul Collier: Erm, that’ll do, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, so here’s my question. In your book you say that in the 2011 census it was revealed that the indigenous British had become a minority in their own capital. The census showed that 63 percent of the population of London, that was born in Britain, the only way you can get a minority status is if you’re white British, then you’re a minority in London.

Paul Collier: OK, but.

Mehdi Hasan: But British-born, it’s a phrase you’ve used in many interviews, many articles, in the Daily Mail, in the New Statesman.

Paul Collier: OK, then you can, you can look to the second generation, I mean this is not a…

Mehdi Hasan: No, I’m asking a simple question. Is that wrong, it is wrong isn’t it, in your book you say that the indigenous British are a minority in their own capital. They’re not, 63 percent.

Paul Collier: Well if you, if you want to score a point, then.

Mehdi Hasan: I’m not scoring a point; I’m asking a professor of economics did he get a quite glaring error in his book?

Paul Collier: No I didn’t.

Mehdi Hasan: And repeat it in the Daily Mirror and repeat it in the New Statesman.

Paul Collier: No I didn’t, no, I did not get a glaring error.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, well correct me, then.

Paul Collier: It’s a perfectly meaningful statement but the use of...

Mehdi Hasan: So explain the meaning to me.

Paul Collier: The use of the word indigenous, right, can, there are, there are various definitions you can have.

Mehdi Hasan: I asked you for one two minutes ago, and you said…

Paul Collier: Yeah, OK, and I gave you one, right.

Mehdi Hasan: So that doesn’t apply to this, the one you gave me.

Paul Collier: No, it certainly doesn’t, it certainly doesn’t apply to that right.

Mehdi Hasan: So what does it apply to in this context?

Paul Collier: It applies to the, the second generation.

Mehdi Hasan: So second generation, I’m not indigenous now, according to this sentence?

Paul Collier: Erm, then absolutely, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Am I or am I not indigenous?

Paul Collier: The, erm, of course you are right, but, but...

Mehdi Hasan: I’m just trying to follow your logic; you explain to me, no seriously, it’s a serious question.

Paul Collier: Look. ...  All right, so, erm, if, erm, there’s a process of absorption of immigrants into the society, right, so some people wouldn’t really be culturally integrated after several generations, some people will be culturally integrated within a decade, right.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Paul Collier: So what the census shows is an approximation, right.

Mehdi Hasan: So where would, where would I and where would my daughter, second and third generation, where would we fit in that mould?

Paul Collier: By the sound of things, Mehdi, you fit absolutely as, as, erm, as British, don’t you.  I mean do you consider yourself as British?

Mehdi Hasan: I do consider myself as British but I read a book which told me that [LAUGHTER] according to the definition I’m not, so, and you moved the definition of me twice in the space of 60 seconds.

Paul Collier: Do, do, do you…

Mehdi Hasan: Erm, just one last thing before I go to our panel who have been waiting very patiently to come in.  In your book you talk about migrants from developing countries tending to bring their own, quote, “dysfunctional cultures with them to developed countries” and in support of this you write, “Unsurprisingly, Nigerian immigrants to other societies tend to be untrusting and opportunistic.” How is that not a sweeping statement, some might say racist statement? What’s the basis for you saying that?

Paul Collier: I have been working in Nigeria for many, many years, right; Nigeria is one of the lowest trust societies in the world.

Mehdi Hasan: That’s a different point, though, isn’t it? It’s one thing to say society is a low-trust society, another thing to say that Nigerian immigrants to other societies, ie, a group of people, tend to be untrusting and opportunistic, that’s pretty offensive if you’re a Nigerian, surely?

Paul Collier: Erm, I’m sorry if it causes offence, the, what I’m trying to suggest is that people tend to bring their culture with them.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Paul Collier: I make a very important distinction between culture and race, anybody from any race can adopt any culture.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, let's go to our panel, Dr Titilola Banjoko, erm, you’re a British Nigerian doctor, adviser to the EU and the UN on migration issues, you’re also the founder of Africa Recruit. What do you make of that?

Titilola Banjoko: Erm, can I first say that, erm, I don’t take offence to what you said because I know I’m not one of those you are defining, and I think you’ve taken the narrow end and you’ve used that stereo-stereotype, which is wrong, to define a whole community.  If you say you’ve lived in Nigeria you will know that there is a sense of trust of communities, where people get together, Harambai, Oguntu, it’s across the African continent, where we don’t even have agreements and we bring money, we share money with each other, so what’s the level? Is that not trust?  To me that is trust. Here we define it as crowd-funded, but actually it’s been going on in Africa for centuries.  So there is a very high level of trust.  It’s the level of trust of government which you are confusing with the level of trust of society.  Now in terms of bringing habits to the country, which I call “my country” here, actually there are some you, you omitted in your books, a number of good things that we’ve brought.  One, a caring attitude, which is why there is no surprise that many migrants work in the care sector.  Respect for elders, I respect you, you see, I said I don’t take offence, I respect you. Don’t you think that’s a valuable thing that we should all be sharing and learning?

Titilola Banjoko: I mean, I read your book and I thought, I defined it as a very good pub, you know if we were in a pub you will have a pub quiz, it’s a story book, there is no evidence. You contradicted yourself so many times.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, you’ve said, let Paul Collier come back in there. Do you want to come back on the trust point and the evidence point?


Paul Collier: Erm, first of all my own doctor is a Nigerian woman, so erm, erm, I am able to distinguish between one and another, as it were.  There are, erm, local community-level support systems which are high-trust, right, erm, that to say it’s high, Africa’s high trust, no, it's, erm, the only really high-trust society in the world is Japan.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, lets go, let’s go to another member of our panel. David Goodhart is here, he’s the author of the book The British Dream, and you in your book, David, unlike Paul you don’t talk so much about indigenous, you use the phrase, if I remember correctly, “White British”, you get how people sometimes are quite suspicious when they hear those labels?

David Goodhart: Yeah, but I do think it’s one of the, the best things about the debate in the last few years is that we have been able to distinguish, erm, issues of race, and racial justice from issues of the economic and, yes, the cultural impact of very large-scale immigration.  You do have very serious issues of integration and segregation. Almost half the ethnic minority population now live in wards where less than half of the population are white British. Now that seems to me a kind of concentration and a sort of separating out that is very unhealthy for a, for a good civic society where people do feel a mutual regard and they want to share.

Mehdi Hasan: Without wanting to get into a statistical argument, because obviously all this stuff is always contested by people on all sides, is it about the racial composition of the population or is it about, as Paul asked me, you know, feeling British, feeling English, feeling European because again there seem to be mixed messages?

David Goodhart: Well I think, I think these things become sort of symbolic in a way. I mean no, I don’t think it is about whiteness, erm, but I think it is about scale and speed of change.

Mehdi Hasan: Right, let me bring in, erm, Philippe Legrain, who is also an economist, author of the book Immigrants, Your Country Needs Them. Erm, the original question I asked to Paul - you can see where Philip’s going to be coming from in the perspective – [LAUGHTER] erm, Paul made the comment at the start, and we talked about, you know, there are social and cultural costs to immigration, not everything is good, not everything is bad, it depends how much, erm given his belief that immigration is going to rapidly increase in coming years, the whole multiplier effect, diaspora effect... is that a good enough reason, therefore, in your view, even as a supporter among us, to say actually, yeah, we do need to do something about it before it gets out of control and damaging and put some controls in?

Philippe Legrain: Well first of all, there is no evidence, erm, that diversity actually reduces trust or social cohesion. The evidence from Robert Putnam is, from the United States where obviously they have a history, erm, of slavery and therefore polarised relations between whites and blacks, studies in Europe don’t find that at all.  Second, his accelerator model is not a recognised model of migration, in fact it’s contradicted by the evidence. The idea that without controls, erm, that everyone moves and the countries become depopulated is contradicted by the evidence, is contradicted in, in Africa where Niger is next to Nigeria, Nigeria is six times richer, Niger is not depopulated, basically there aren’t border controls between them. It’s contradicted within Europe where, erm, Sweden is six times richer than Romania, Romania is not depopulated. It’s contradicted within the United States where mainland United States is three times richer than Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico is not, erm, depopulated, so this is just spurious fearmongering, this is, you know, not evidence-based at all and you’re abusing your position as an economist, erm, and claiming that evidence exists when actually it doesn’t.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, let’s let Paul Collier come back in, then.


Paul Collier: I think that…that sort of argument, erm, really doesn’t cut the mustard. The best single authority is the Frederique Docia Team, their paper a couple of years ago called "Diasporas" finds the single most powerful driver of immigration, migration is the size of the diaspora.

Philippe LegrainBut can you find any example of your accelerated model? I can’t, actually, there aren’t erm...

Paul Collier: Well of course you can, erm, I do so in the book, erm...

Philippe Legrain: Like you don’t actually, I’ve read the book today, you don’t actually, you don’t, you just assert, you draw a line.

Mehdi Hasan: OK Philippe, you made the point.

Philippe Legrain: You claim expertise when you don’t have it; you’re not a migration expert.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Philippe, you made the point.

Philippe Legrain: And you don’t actually quote studies, you know, backing up your arguments.

Paul Collier: I’m sorry if, if you want, if you want examples of, erm, of acceleration, the example I give in the book, erm, is Turkish Cyprus, erm, where there are more Turkish Cypriots living in Britain now than there are in Turkish Cyprus. I will come later, I hope, to what are the effects on the countries or origin.

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you for doing the segway into the next discussion, that’s exactly what I want to ask you about. You said that it might not just harm developed countries in the future in terms of culture or solidarity, but that it actually could pose a real danger to the development prospects of the countries, quote, “left behind”. Erm, you talk about kind of the harm and damage that could be done.  What harm and damage are you referring to specifically?

Paul Collier: Immigrants or migrants are erm, erm, they tend to be the, the young, the enterprising, the skilled, the educated, erm, people like that are, if you like, were fairy godmothers in any society, they’re useful to others and so a country like, say Haiti, where about 85 percent of the young educated leave, that’s debilitating, right.

Mehdi Hasan: Many would say Haiti is an aberration given its history of natural disasters and next, being next door to the United States, but I take your point, if we were to, if we were to all agree with your thesis on this particular point, about the poorest countries, why should I not try and leave Haiti and try and get a better job rather than stay in a country ruled by dictators, dominated by corruption, blighted by natural disaster, purely by the bad luck of my birth?

Paul Collier: People don’t have the right to live anywhere in the world.

Mehdi Hasan: But they have the right to leave their country.

Paul Collier: And...

Mehdi Hasan: That’s a human right.

Paul Collier: Of course.

Mehdi Hasan: You would admit, as you do in the book, just for context, I think it’s something like $400 billion dollars in remittances goes back from skilled migrants to those poor countries.

Paul Collier: But if those people, because they are productive, skilled, energetic, if they’d stayed in their country they would also have produced more than 400 billion.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] No I’m not, there’s no evidence for that, Paul, that’s the one, that’s what the critics say about your book, there is no evidence that if you keep a skilled bunch of people in a hell-hole, that hell-hole will become a heaven.

Paul Collier: Look.

Mehdi Hasan: There’s no evidence for that.

Paul Collier: That, no.


Mehdi Hasan: That is totally unfair.

Paul Collier: That, that is abusive language, Mehdi, that what you describe as hell-holes are the societies which absolutely have to catch up with the rest of the world.

Mehdi Hasan: But you’re implying people leaving stops them from catching up. [APPLAUSE]

Paul Collier: No…

Mehdi Hasan: There’s no evidence for that.

Paul Collier: The most important challenge for the 21st century is that the poorest societies catch up with the rest of us.

Mehdi Hasan: Agreed. Erm, just on a philosophical level, I just want to hear your view, would it be a good thing, a morally commendable thing for those poorer countries to put in emigration controls to stop those skilled, energetic young people from leaving in the first place?

Paul Collier: No.

Mehdi Hasan: To be like North Korea or Cuba and keep everyone in?

Paul Collier: No obviously, no obviously not.

Mehdi Hasan: Why not?

Paul Collier: Obviously not, because there is no moral right to restrict exit, that is turning a country into a prison.

Mehdi Hasan: How is it morally different to say you can’t stop people from leaving, so what we’ll do is we’ll do that for you by stopping them from coming?

Paul Collier: What I am advocating is people should come, get skills, get education, go back, get some experience.

Mehdi Hasan: But for them to come here to work and settle, you want less?

Paul Collier: I, I don’t want less, I want to prevent an acceleration certainly.

Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go back to our panel. Erm, Titilola, this movement of peoples, especially from the developing world to the developed world, can be, if the brain drain exceeds the brain gain, very damaging. What’s your response to that?

Titilola Banjoko: That is not just the developing countries, even this country is losing skills to Australia, to Canada, so it’s, it’s all about people searching for opportunities, and people will continue to search for opportunities. A lot of people actually are going back to the continent of Africa and I’m sure you know that, that it’s not about, so there is a lot of circulation going on.  What the, what we can do is restrict the flow of money from the very rich, who take money from these countries and bring it to the west.

Paul Collier: I, I’m in battle with you to try and, erm, and break the banking secrecy which permits that.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, David, you’ve been a journalist for many years, been around the political scene, surely you and I both know that when governments are making these decisions about restricting immigration and keeping foreigners out, it’s not got very much to do with caring about the developing countries and their futures?

David Goodhart: Well I mean it’s, it is…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well either of them are not that nice.

David Goodhart: …mainly reacting to domestic public opinion although actually I think let’s not, you know, take people, take the brightest and the best from all those countries, and the area where this is most scandalous that we haven’t spoken about is the area of healthcare.  I think it’s something like one third of all the nurses working in London have come relatively recently from other countries, many of them very poor countries that cannot afford to lose their trained healthcare workers.

Mehdi Hasan: Erm, Philippe Legrain, what’s your response to David and Paul?

Philippe Legrain: There’s a contradiction at the heart again of Paul Collier’s book, I mean in the beginning he explains his theory of underdevelopment, which is that poor countries are poor due to what he calls dysfunctional social models.  Now if that’s true, why would preventing skilled people change anything? It’s the dysfunctional social model that makes them poor, so keeping the skilled people there, they’re still going to be poor.  I mean look at North Korea, it prevents emigration. Has that somehow made it rich? Your arguments simply don’t stand up; they’re absolutely incoherent, riddled with inconsistencies.

Paul Collier: [INTERRUPTING] Sorry Philippe, but they’re not absolutely incoherent.

Philippe Legrain: And again, last point, last point, at the end you then say, having said how terrible it is that there’s skilled emigration from poor countries, you then say that actually rich countries should select migrants on the basis of skills and employability. You left Sheffield, erm, to go work in Washington at the World Bank for your self-improvement. Since you’re so brilliant Sheffield presumably lost out as a result. Should you have been prevented from moving? I don’t think so.

Mehdi Hasan: Should you have stayed in Sheffield, Philippe wants to know?

Paul Collier: You’re being [AUDIENCE LAUGHING] - I chose my self-interest, there was a tension, as there is with a lot of migrants, between do I look after myself, erm, or do I care about the people left behind?

Mehdi Hasan: Well some of them are doing both by sending back income to help those countries. You keep missing that bit out. [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]

Paul Collier: The average migrant from a poor country sends back $1000 a year, right, that’s not a great sum. If they’re bright, energetic and skilled and they stayed in their country, they’d probably generate more than a $1,000 a year.

Mehdi Hasan: That’s a total assumption, probably, I mean the evidence is not there.

Titilola Banjoko: There is no evidence.  Can I, sorry, there is no evidence.

Mehdi Hasan: But the immigrants are sending back.

Paul Collier: I’m sorry, there really is evidence of what remittance...

Titilola Banjoko: No, no, no, you are counting formal remittances. Can I just correct you there, I’m a diaspora person, there is a lot of informal remittances, which you have no idea about.


Mehdi Hasan: We’ll take a break, we’re going to come back, erm, in part two to talk about one other area of the migration debate that causes a lot of erm, heat, erm - asylum and immigration and proposals for what to do with the refugees - and we’ll also be hearing from our audience here in the Oxford Union. Erm, join us for part two of Head to Head after the break.



Part two


Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera. We are talking about immigration, erm with Professor Sir Paul Collier of Oxford University, in part one we talked, erm, about immigration from south to north, we talked about integration, we talked about the effect on the so-called “left behind” countries.  I just wanted to ask you this, one group of migrants that even the most hard-line critics and opponents of immigration tend to put to one side and treat more generously are refugees and asylum seekers. Erm, most people think we have a moral and a legal obligation to open our borders to people fleeing conflicts and persecution, and you say the same in your book Exodus, but then you add this rather, some might say odd caveat. You say when peace is restored, you say, people should be “required to return”. Just to clarify, would you forcibly repatriate refugees to their countries of origin against their will, maybe, no matter how long they’ve been settled in a new country?

Paul Collier: Of course not, the core thing we should be focused on with conflict countries, the conflicts don’t last for ever, the conflicts end, right, and the post-conflict countries are the most vulnerable societies in the world. Very often, they revert to conflict and so again a vital task is to try and make that post-conflict recovery, erm, as successful as possible.  I work with a lot of post-conflict societies and governments, and the standard problem that governments face post-conflict is that all the skilled people have left.  And so, erm, I do think it’s responsible to have policies which encourage people to go back.

Mehdi Hasan: When you say “required to return”?

Paul Collier: That’s, that would be an overstatement, right, but to encourage…

Mehdi Hasan: It’s your overstatement.

Paul Collier: Yeah, OK, yes, my overstatement, but it’s really to try and focus on the issue that it's... of course it’s very important to protect the skilled and educated by taking them out of the society whilst the conflict’s happening, but it’s…

Mehdi Hasan: Just to clarify, while the conflict is happening, if it’s going on for years as many conflicts do, should they have the right to settle here and work here?

Paul Collier: The, the presumption should be that people should be, erm, provided with a safe refuge with, with some sort of presumption of return.  Of course most refugees, erm, don’t come to rich societies, they end up in refugee camps and so there the real challenge…

Mehdi Hasan: Agreed.

Paul Collier: Much more important.

Mehdi Hasan: You say that, you say that most conflicts don’t last that long. According to the UNHCR, the average refugee now spends 17 years as a refugee, rather than nine years a decade previously. Some of these conflicts in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, even in Pakistan, violence doesn’t seem to be abating at all. I mean, how do you say to people, now is the time to say, when do you decide, “It’s safe, we must encourage you to go back”?

Paul Collier: Well quite often there are, there are peace settlements which do mark an end to conflict, a time when…

Mehdi Hasan: So without a peace settlement people can stay, but if there’s a peace settlement.

Paul Collier: Yes, sure, oh I mean…

Mehdi Hasan: So Iraqis, if we take a real-world example, Iraqis living in the West, would you be want them to be required to return or encouraged to return?

Paul Collier: Of course not.  Of course not, right? It’s still in conflict, very obviously. 

Mehdi Hasan: And while they’re here, with their families, they shouldn’t integrate?

Paul Collier:  They should, where possible, retain their links with Iraq so that when the conflict is over, which it will be, then they can go back and help rebuild their country.

Mehdi Hasan: But if you’ve been in a country 10 years, 12 years, 15 years, 20 years, you’ve had kids they’ve gone to school here, they’ve never seen that country that you moved from, they don’t speak the language why should they be required to return to the place.

Paul Collier: No absolutely, absolutely, no, no, of course not, but there’s a, a desperate situation, only a small group of people trying to restore a country, desperately short of skilled people who know the society, and the key resource to draw on is the skilled diaspora, even in Afghanistan. One of my students last year, right, gone back, is trying to rebuild the society, he’s brave.

Mehdi Hasan: Yes but presumably he was a hero because he volunteered to go and do that. He didn’t do that because the British government was pressuring him to get out.

Paul Collier: No, but we have a duty of rescue in a context in which there’s a larger duty to try and help rebuild these societies from being smashed up.  Conflict is not a permanent state.

Mehdi Hasan: Agreed, but some would say divorce those two debates. The refugee debate is too important to be tacked on to the development debate, the priority…

Paul Collier: The core refugee debate is not what happens here, it’s what happens in the refugee camps.

Mehdi Hasan: Well it’s interesting you raised that issue because, of course, a lot of people here are talking about the issues of refugee and asylum, and you raised the issue in your book, that actually the West as a whole doesn’t take enough refugees to begin with. I think Britain takes less than 1 percent of the world’s refugee population and developing countries take something like 86 percent of the world’s refugees, up from 70 percent a decade ago.

Paul Collier: Look, the refugees overwhelmingly are and are going to continue to be in countries that border the areas of the conflicts, so the fate of refugees does not really depend on whether a few thousand more come to the rich societies. What matters is what happens to the millions.

Mehdi Hasan: Agreed.

Paul Collier: Who are stuck and so?

Mehdi Hasan: Agreed, but that doesn’t change, that doesn’t change.

Paul Collier: I…I…I… our fundamental responsibility is to make the, those refugee camps far better places with economic opportunities.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But we could also take more people. This isn’t mutually exclusive.

Paul Collier: That is… we could, it’s peripheral.

Mehdi Hasan: Well it’s peripheral, Paul, Paul it’s peripheral because last year the British government took 90 Syrians, not 90,000, 90 Syrians. Now surely that’s a shamefully tiny figure.

Paul Collier: [TALKING OVER] And do you understand, and do you understand how many hundreds of thousands of millions of Syrians actually need refuge?

Mehdi Hasan: Yes, I’d like us to give more money to refugee camps and also take in more refugees, would you?

Paul Collier: Fine, OK then.

Mehdi Hasan: Good, a bit of consensus.

Paul Collier: But the real, but the real balance of priority is the camps.

Mehdi Hasan: Agreed [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]

Let’s go to our, let’s go to our panel. Titilola Banjoko, Paul talks about refugees should be keeping links with their, the countries they’ve fled from in order to be ready to go back and help rebuild.

Titilola Banjoko: I’m surprised at, I mean I hope Paul knows that they already do that and many of them, I know of a lot of Afghans who, healthcare professionals working in this country who go home regularly, on medical mission trips, to South Sudan, to Somalia, so in terms of, you’ve now countered your previous argument where you were saying these people shouldn’t leave, these middle-class people you described actually are doing more, they take equipments, they take materials, they sacrifice a lot, sacrificial giving, there’s a difference between just throwing money out and sacrificing your life to do this, and you didn’t acknowledge that in the book.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me, let me bring in David Goodhart, David you’ll remember in this country, we talked about the UK context, a lot of the stuff about immigration. You talked about how the debate has changed; what’s your position today on that, on the refugee, asylum part of this debate?

David Goodhart: Yeah, I think most people in this country still believe in the idea of providing asylum, I mean one of the problems here is, though, that the definition of who qualifies for asylum has expanded and expanded and expanded, so there are now on some calculations perhaps one billion people out there in the world who could technically qualify to come here as an asylum seeker.  Erm, which I think is a problem.  Erm, but then you’re thinking about places that are experiencing civil war or natural disasters of one kind or another, you know we should pay for, you know, decent temporary, erm, you know, villages, cities for, for people like that, and they can then keep an eye on what is happening in their country, they’ll be closer to what’s going on and they will know, when it is safe to return.

Mehdi Hasan: If they do, OK I take your point, if they do reach here, and many do reach here through genuine persecution and end up settling here for several years, do you believe they should have the right to settle here, have children here?

David Goodhart: Well, if they are genuine, erm, you know asylum seekers who are, whose lives are endangered in some way in the country that they come from.

Mehdi Hasan: No, I’m saying the danger’s gone. We’re several years down the line but they’ve been here, they’re working here, they’ve got kids in school here. Should they still leave?

David Goodhart: No, I think it is, yeah, the presumption should be that they should go back, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, briefly, Philippe Legrain?

Philippe Legrain: Yeah, there’s a contradiction again in Paul’s argument, I mean, [LAUGHTER] no, he, he says only a, you agree only a tiny proportion of refugees go to the West, so if it’s only a tiny proportion, why is it so essential for their countries’ future that that tiny proportion go back?

Paul Collier: Philippe [AUDIENCE LAUGHING], who are the refugees who get to the West? They’re the more educated, more able, the people best able to get out, erm, the people with the biggest incentive to get out are the most educated, right.  Now that’s perfectly sensible.  It’s, it’s, it’s the rational self-interest of the people who are moving, Philippe, and it’s sensi…

Philippe Legrain: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] but the people displaced, the people displaced from Syria are of all social categories, it’s not just the highly skilled it, it’s, it’s the poor, it’s the middle class, it’s, it’s even the rich. It’s all sorts of people just displaced from Syria, that’s just not true.

Paul Collier: Philippe, the people who have education are much more likely to come as far as the West than the people without.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, let’s leave it there, erm, we’re going to bring in our audience, erm, to ask some questions. Try and keep your points as short as possible, let’s go here to the front row, lady here in the front row, and then we’ll go to the back.

Audience Participant 1: Isn’t it arguable that, erm, in those countries where we have either started the conflict or we have prolonged the conflict, that we have a greater moral responsibility to take in more refugees, rather than giving the burden to the neighbours? I also just want to say that under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention we have a legal obligation to take in genuine refugees, and the convention does not put a time limit on how long those refugees can stay.


Paul Collier: Yes where, where we, where we caused conflicts, we’ve obviously got more moral responsibility than where we didn’t cause them, but, erm, we’ve still got a moral responsibility even where we didn’t cause them because basically, we should be navigating by need here, but  just to, to reiterate, erm migration to the West is a peripheral aspect of what to do when there’s a conflict. The really important thing is to help to rebuild the society after conflict, whilst treating the vast number of refugees well during the conflict.

Mehdi Hasan: What about the legal point she made, that actually what you propose is illegal under international law to set a time limit on how long refugees can stay.

Paul Collier: I’m an economist not a lawyer [LAUGHTER], and I tend to think that erm, erm, that lawyers look at things in a rather blinkered way, that what we…

Audience Participant 1: I am a lawyer. [LAUGHTER]

Paul Collier: What economists look at, what economists look at or try to look at is what’s best for society.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, let’s go to the lady in the…row and then the gentleman next to her.

Audience Participant 2: I’m a migrant from Malawi in Africa, there’s been a lot, you’ve mentioned quite a lot about the damage that, erm, migrants from my part of the world do to UK culture. I want to know exactly what do you mean by that, when you talk about trust, to me the biggest abuse of societal trust on a massive scale lately has been linked with the great recession, which had nothing to do with people from my part of the world.  And a lot of us become citizens as well, our story becomes part of Britain’s story, you know, isn’t this more about living with difference and your unease with that?


Paul Collier: I’m sorry if you got a sense that I’m saying immigrants from Malawi or anywhere else have caused problems in Britain or anywhere else, I’m not, all right, erm you’re misinterpreting erm pretty fundamentally, erm, what I’m saying, right.  Erm, so erm.

Mehdi Hasan: So if they’ve not, can we have more of them?  Well it’s going back to the beginning of the discussion that we had.

Paul Collier: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: You said till now it’s been good [AUDIENCE LAUGH], until now it’s been good but in the future it’s going to be bad. That’s what I’m struggling, I’ve been struggling with throughout.

Paul Collier: Well, Mehdi, you’re not really struggling, erm, what I’m, what I say, erm, is that there is a good reason to think that migration left to itself, without controls would accelerate.

Mehdi Hasan: Isn’t that a red herring? Who’s leaving it to itself, who’s calling for migration without controls?

David Goodhart: The population is growing by half a million a year, I mean we’re going to have a population of 80 million by 2050. I mean, nobody has any objection to…

Mehdi Hasan: You don’t know that David, you’re not a prophet of the future so…

David Goodhart: …to a particular individual, but it is about the scale, it’s about the scale of change.  Now this audience is mainly, you know, highly educated, mobile, liberal, you know, they are comfortable, you’re comfortable with change. Most people in most societies are not, they’ve not taken account of those perfectly normal human feelings.

Philippe Legrain: And Paul also says in his book that migrants should be selected on the basis of cultural distance, so actually he doesn’t want people from Malawi, he wants more people who he considers similar to himself.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, hold on.

David Goodhart Well, that makes integration easier.

Mehdi Hasan: Hold on, hold on guys, it’s the audience section, panel’s done.  Erm, let’s bring in some more, gentleman here, next, yes.

Audience Participant 3: Erm yes, I wanted to say that there was this debate between diversity and trust, but you know, I think trust is maybe overrated. I mean, I come from Ireland, we had two indigenous populations, Catholic and Protestant, they’d been there for hundreds of years, they didn’t trust each other, and they fought against each other and killed each other, and in fact it might have been good if we had people from China [LAUGHTER] or from somewhere else maybe to actually go there, and I also think that what we don’t need is trust, we need the rule of law, so you have a rule of law and I might not trust you, you might not trust me, you’re a stranger, I’m not from your village, you’re from another village, you’re from another religion, but we exist within a rule of law, which is an English tradition, and we get along.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, Paul Collier.


Paul Collier: Clearly polarised societies are the worst nightmare and so, as you wittily point out, a bit of diversity that breaks polarisation might be an improvement, and probably would have been in Ireland. Erm the, the point about law as a substitute for trust, do we want a society that has mutual respect, or do we want a society that moves beyond mutual respect to mutual regard?  And the mutual respect is what you achieve through the law, you have to respect each other, like it or not, as it were, but a good society actually moves beyond mutual respect to mutual regard because it’s that move that actually builds willingness to be generous to other people.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, the gentleman here in the second row.

Audience Participant 4: Just a question for the professor. Do you think that a, a sensible policy for migration, you’re talking about temporary migrants, might be to allow in only the workers themselves, to keep their families outside of the countries, to not allow them to vote, to only allow them to go back home maybe three weeks every two years, to keep them in inferior conditions, to give them worse health facilities? And the only reason I ask this is because it seems to work really well in Qatar [LAUGHTER], Saudi Arabia, and countries out there…

Mehdi Hasan: Paul Collier doesn’t, is not here to speak about Arab regimes, he’s here to speak about his book so I asked him... It would be very odd, I think, if you all came here tonight and asked him a series of questions about how he thinks about how abysmally Gulf kingdoms treat their migrant workers, that would be a very odd one hour that me and Paul Collier spent talking about that.

Paul Collier: To be fair to the questioner, I do discuss the Gulf migration policies in the book.


Paul Collier: And what I say about them….

Mehdi Hasan: Well hold on, hold on.

Paul Collier: And what I say about them is that erm for somebody like Philippe, they’re perfect. Erm, they get all loads of economic gains, so they tick all the economic boxes, and they are…

Philippe Legrain: That’s not fair; don’t put words into my mouth.

Paul Collier: And they are absolutely, erm, disgusting and not something that a western society could contemplate.

Philippe Legrain: Don’t slander me in; don’t put words into my mouth, thank you.

Mehdi Hasan: Hold on, hold on, here’s a point, why don’t we let more of them into the UK, that’s what I’d like to see, would you like to see that as well?  ‘Cause a lot of those people would like to come and work here, I’m sure, but you and David would be the first people at the airport saying, “Go home.”

Paul Collier: No, this is not fair. [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: OK then, let’s go back to the audience, we’ll take some more questions.

Paul Collier: We’re back to theatre.

Mehdi Hasan: Let’s take, erm, let’s take, oh OK, let’s take this gentleman who’s been waiting very patiently here in the jacket, second row, mic’s coming to you if you want to stand up.

Audience Participant 5: My name is Ivo Kuka, I fled erm from the country because of a problem caused by the British and on my arrival here I was detained for several months, before, after a legal battle, I won my case and was given the refugee status, so my question to you according to your book is, erm, how do you plan to get refugees who’s been here for more than 17 years to return and rebuild their countries with their kids, and will that involve forceful removal and forceful deportation, which would cause re-traumatising effects to these families?

Paul Collier: No, of course not, right, I mean, erm, so let me be clear about I’m not, I’m not advocating forced repatriation. I don’t know which country you’re from?

Audience Participant 5: Cameroon, southern Cameroon.

Mehdi Hasan: Cameroon.

Paul Collier: Ok, erm, but the, I mean we could go round the circle again but no I’m, I’m not, you’re, Britain is now your home and it should stay your home, right, but there’s clearly a need in the Cameroon to, erm, for, for some people to help build that society so that it catches up with Britain so that future generations in the Cameroon don’t face this huge income gap and, erm, lack of civil rights.

Mehdi Hasan: David, hold on, we’re going to take some more, we’re running out of time, gentleman there in the third row, yes.

Audience Participant 6: It strikes me that a lot of this discussion has been about self-interest versus, erm, you know, interest for the community. I myself am from Malaysia but I’ve been raised in the US, I have an American accent, how would you engender this sense of community values? What do we need to do for that so that at least the people that aren’t forced migrants are interested in going back?

Paul Collier: Erm, many migrants reconcile that tension by actually doing a lot for their original societies.  Erm, and, but that is a, a process that’s to be, basically to be, to be celebrated and encouraged but I think that’s very important that we shouldn’t just look at, erm at self-interest, erm, there’s a sort of libertarian cult, which is quite common in, in economics which basically reduces to, erm, people should be free to pursue their self-interest.  And I think there are real limits to that.

Mehdi Hasan: Paul, one last question from me before we finish. There’s a lot of ignorance obviously on this subject, a lot of fear-mongering from certain erm sections in the political erm spectrum. Erm opinion polls suggest that a lot of British people, a lot of French people, a lot of Americans, a lot of Canadians erm overestimate, for example, how many migrants are living in their societies. There’s a lot of fear, fear of change, to quote David, erm, what do you say to people who say that when we obsess about immigration in this way, when we have this perspective, erm, and when you write about, your worry about the future accelerating rate and the harm that may come, you’re simply playing into that hysteria, you’re playing into that ignorance, rather than kind of challenging it or controlling it?

Paul Collier: First of all, erm, I really, whatever I can be accused of, erm, creating Europe’s hysteria about migration, I’m not guilty, right. [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: Nobody, nobody’s accusing you of that, so we’ll all agree on that.

Paul Collier: No, no, erm, what I…

Mehdi Hasan: I hope you take my wider point which I was trying to make about some of the hysteria around this debate.

Paul Collier: What, what we’ve got is a polarised and strident debate in which the extremes shout a lot and the centre stays silent.  Erm, because centre politicians just want the subject to go away, and that is a dereliction of duty on the part of the politicians of the centre.  We need to seize the debate to say it’s not, erm, migration is terrible/migration is wonderful; migration is a relatively minor process for the rich countries that needs to be managed bearing, taking into account the rather more important interest of the poor societies from which these people are coming.

Mehdi Hasan: And, and of course you would. [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE], and of course you would acknowledge, I think there’s a statistic out there that I came across that 97 percent of the world’s population actually live in the country where they were born, 3 percent, we’re talking about the 3 percent.

Paul Collier: Absolutely, I think I put that in the book, right? I mean that we’re talking about a tiny element. The reality for the future is not that we all turn into a global soup, the reality for the future is people will live predominantly, 97 percent in their own countries.  Erm, actually the big migration flows, if we look as the century ends, the big migration flows will have gone down, not up, erm, one thing in which Philippe’s wrong, which I, erm, is a nice point on which to end, is that.


Paul Collier: Is that…

Philippe Legrain: You just said migration flows are going down, not up. I thought they were accelerating.

Paul Collier: Is that migration is not an integral part of globalisation. Globalisation of trade, of capital flows, is actually an alternative to moving people. We shouldn’t be moving people to jobs, we should build a world in which jobs move to people.

Mehdi Hasan: Paul Collier, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us [APPLAUSE], thank you very much for joining us on Head to Head in the Oxford Union, thank you very much to our audience here in the Oxford Union, our wonderful panel of experts, thank you very much for watching at home, this debate is not going away.  Goodnight.

Audience: [APPLAUSE]

Source: Al Jazeera