Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

Still on the Move: The World’s Migration and Refugee Challenge in 2019

| Nov. 13, 2019

The migration and refugee crisis is getting worse. Though the sudden influx of migrants into Europe in 2015/2016 did not repeat itself today’s overall figures speak for themselves: 26 million refugees worldwide, 800 thousand apprehensions at the US-Mexican border, 184 thousand asylum applications in Germany in 2018, 120 thousand in France and 581 thousand in the European Union. The Venezuelan crisis where 5 million persons left the country spills over into the EU where a growing number of Venezuelans and Latin Americans apply for asylum. The living conditions of migrants are appalling as hundreds of thousands survive illegally in the EU, many of them in dreary tent cities or squatting on streets.

The world has not faced the inadequacy of the present distinction between, on the on hand, “refugees” under the Geneva Refugee Convention dating back to the Cold War and the concern about persecution and on the other hand the reality of what many if not most migrants escape from, notably violence, therefore rightly coined “survival migration” (Alexander Betts) which also requires protection. Conservatives do not want to induce an enlargement of the circle of persons to be protected, liberals are afraid that such an opening might bring down the already weakened legal framework of the Geneva Convention. As a consequence the seriousness of the challenge is underestimated resulting in reluctance to act.

Western democracies are restricting the influx of migrants in various ways. The US under President Trump represents the most extreme case by adopting a punitive approach to all migrants, by shifting asylum applications to outside the US and by lowering the  limits of refugee acceptance to 30 thousand per year and 18 thousand in 2020 (after it had historically been around 95 thousand). The pattern of acceptance of refugee has shifted: Sweden and Germany in 2018 accepted more asylum seekers than the rest of the world together. But even very open countries like Sweden and Denmark which had the highest percentage of migrants in Europe (19% and 10 % respectively) are restricting access as do practically all members of the EU which, moreover, failed to induce Hungary and Poland to accept at least a minimum contingent of migrants. All European democracies conduct these policies to counteract the rise of xenophobic and anti-immigrant right wing parties who threaten stability and democracy. Hence their motivation to maintain a restrictive stance in the face of a growing migration pressure is like to stay strong.

None of the drivers of migration have lost in strength: the collapse of state authority (particularly observable in Central America), civil war, population growth in Africa (enhanced by a US policy that makes aid conditional on prohibiting abortion) and climate change which accelerates.

Two developments lighten up this picture. The first is the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees by the UN General Assembly in December 2018. Though legally non-binding the Compact defines norms which as “soft law” will hopefully enhance humanitarian conditions of migration, protect migrants and help host countries. Regrettably the US did not sign the Compact and voted against it in the Assembly.

The second positive development consists of a growing realization that development aid must be redefined in order to alleviate the migration problem. Migration pressure to the north will inevitably increase. Since the North cannot receive all those who would like to come it must help to create the conditions for   the potential migrants to stay where they are. This requires a massive increase and redirection of aid. The EU as the donor of half of Africa’s aid is beginning to redefine its relationship with Africa in this light.

  – Via the original publication source.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“Still on the Move: The World’s Migration and Refugee Challenge in 2019.” METRO U.N., November 13, 2019.

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