A Self-Interested Approach to Migration Crises

Push Factors, Pull Factors, and Investing In Refugees

Afghan refugees seek shelter at a metro station during a rain storm in Victoria Square in central Athens, September 26, 2015. Michalis Karagiannis / Reuters

Nations frequently help migrants fleeing crisis. They help out of generosity—generosity that quickly wears thin. What would they do if they acted instead from stark self-interest? Consider András Gróf, a refugee who arrived illegally in Austria after crossing the Hungarian border with a smuggler and then running through a swampy field under cover of darkness. He came without his family, without a college degree, without assets beyond 20 dollars. Back home, he had watched soldiers arrive, first to rape his mother, later to conscript young men like him. So András fled for the same reason that so many others leave the Middle East and Africa; whether or not there was an imminent threat to his life, the future in his country looked hellish.

András didn’t arrive in Austria in 2015. He fled Hungary with 200,000 other refugees in 1956. But the global response to that earlier wave of (many non-Christian, mostly unskilled) refugees pouring into Western Europe shows a way forward for the international community today.

In an act of apparent generosity, 37 countries—from Venezuela to New Zealand—came together to resettle almost all of the refugees that resulted from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. András went to the United States. Ten years later, under the new name of Andy Grove, he became a co-creator of Intel Corporation. Later Time magazine’s Person of the Year as Intel’s path-breaking CEO, he helped create an American industry of immeasurable economic and strategic importance. Other Hungarians in the same wave, who likewise arrived as unaccomplished young men, became artists (the great cinematographer László Kóvacs) and captains of industry (Steve Házy). More than 40,000 others became less-visible colleagues, neighbors, and spouses of Americans, strengthening and enriching the country vastly more than the assistance they got.

Grove’s story reveals some larger truths. Recent research overturns the standard narrative: that addressing migration crises mainly means curtailing the conflict and poverty that “push” migrants away from home, and slashing the excessive

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