By Astrid Zweynert
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Eastern European countries belonging to the European Union have seen rising standards of living and progress on human rights, which have put them in the same category as some of the richest nations in the world, an index measuring social progress shows.
Michael Green, head of the non-profit organization that compiles the annual Social Progress Index, said the results suggest there could be a drop in the number of Eastern European migrants seeking jobs and better lives in the longer term as conditions improve at home.
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The index, released on Wednesday, comes as Polish and Muslim leaders in Britain express concern about a spate of racially motivated hate crimes following last week's vote to leave the EU, in which immigration was widely regarded as a key factor in the outcome.
"In the UK debate there has been an assumption that migration from eastern Europe will continue at current levels or even accelerate but as living standards and social progress rise the benefits of migrating for work decline," said Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative.
"That means more people are likely to stay at home in the longer term," Green told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A similar pattern emerged in southern Europe when poor people migrated to work in the region's richer countries in the 1960s, but that flow eased once economic conditions improved at home, he said.
Finland topped the Social Progress Index, which measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens.
Central African Republic was at the bottom of the index which ranks 133 countries on more than 50 non-economic indicators, including health, nutrition, education, sustainability, personal rights and environmental protection.
The index showed that Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary and Latvia achieved high social progress ratings, putting them in the same category as the United States, Germany, France and Italy.
Slovenia, for example, achieved a social progress score almost as high as the United States at 84.3 even though its economic output is just over half that of the United States.
The index indicates that EU membership and Eastern European countries' evolution into market economies had boosted their social progress, Green, an economist, said.
An estimated three million EU citizens live in Britain, a number that shot up after 2004, the year the EU expanded its membership to include the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The world's social progress score of 63 out of a maximum 100 equaled that of Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan, the index showed.
Green said this year's index could not be compared with last year's since the range of data used to compile it had grown.
After Finland came Canada, Denmark, Australia and Switzerland, while Afghanistan, Chad, Angola and Niger rounded out the bottom five in the index, which covers 99 percent of the world's population.
Personal rights, tolerance and inclusion, access to advanced education, and personal freedom and choice received the lowest scores globally, even among rich countries.
"These are hard-to-solve issues where even the richer countries struggle," said Green.
Although richer countries fare better in general than poorer ones, citizens in a country with a large gross domestic product (GDP) - the traditional measure for a country's wealth - do not automatically enjoy higher social progress, Green said.
Canada, number two on the index, scored higher than the United States which is in 19th place, even though its GDP per capita is significantly smaller.
The United States received low rankings due to its lack of healthcare provision as well as high murder and suicide rates, putting it in the same category as China, Russia and Iran as one of the world's biggest underperformers in relation to economic size, the index showed.
Costa Rica, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Malawi, Rwanda, Ghana and Senegal achieved a higher ranking than might be expected given their wealth, while Saudi Arabia ranked in the bottom half due to a very low ranking on personal rights.
Young people are more likely to live in countries that lack basic medical care and clean water, are less safe, less free and less tolerant, the index showed.
(Reporting by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)