Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

The World’s Migration and Refugee Challenge

| Nov. 21, 2018

Migration and refugees are becoming a disaster of global proportions, constantly reinforced by the world’s other challenges of climate change, violent conflict, repression, and underdevelopment. The number of 258 million migrants and refugees in 2017, though a shocking statistic, cannot convey the reality of utter misery and suffering of all these individuals. 

 Two main driving forces will deepen this crisis:  climate change and population growth, notably in Africa. Of the continent’s population 42% are now under 15 years, doubling to 2.5 billion by 2050. Climate change will further decrease an already low agricultural productivity and aggravate poverty and youth unemployment. The consequence is a strong pressure to migrate North, notably to Europe. Moreover, none of the other drivers of migration like conflict and repression are likely to disappear.

Seen from a European and realistic perspective several consequences are particularly challenging:

  • The migration and refugee issue has engendered a degree of nationalism, populism and xenophobia which threatens democracy and social peace. 
  • It deeply divides the members of the European Union and seriously threatens its cohesion.
  • The complete and unrestricted openness to migrants and refugees, central to a liberal conception of human rights and diversity, threatens democracy and stability given the disparity between the number of those who want or need to come and the recipient countries’ integration capacity.
  • The Geneva Convention on Refugees can no longer be fully implemented, since the number of those who correspond to its definition of refugee in the contemporary world, i.e. the victims of persecution and threats to life, exceed the capacity of recipient countries to accommodate them without endangering their democracy and social stability.

This analysis leads to two policy conclusions. First, the flow of refugees and migrants has to be regulated to ensure that the maximum intake is offered, which reflects the recipient countries’ capacity for integration, their economic needs and their possible desire for demographic compensation of aging.  The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migrationto be signed soon in Morocco offers an overdue agreement on standards for regulating these processes while observing human rights, best practices and international cooperation without restricting the sovereign right of states to determine their own policy.

Second, if the North can no longer accommodate the growing flow of migrants and refugees from the South, the only solution is to help them stay where they are.  This requires no less than a revolutionary change of development policy and a massive increase of  the North’s transfer of resources, notably to Africa. A simple observance of the existing OECD commitment to 0.7% of GNP to development aid (Sweden gives 1.4%, the US 0.17%) would have produced two trillion dollars more to be spent on development that induces people to stay. 

The European Union is modestly moving in that direction. After African countries rejected its idea of “hot spots” to be established in North Africa, EU policy is increasingly being structured around the idea of using resources to help countries to keep their potential migrants. A deal with Egypt, comparable to an earlier one with Turkey, is in the making. Moreover, more than 10% of external spending is budgeted for assisting potential migrants to remain.  But given the magnitude of the challenge dramatically more must be done to have any impact.  

Migrants flee economic hardship and refugees flee persecution and threats to their life though the difference often disappears in real life. Efforts by the international community to stop wars, restore human rights and reverse climate change remain indispensable to reduce the flow of migrants and refugees.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“The World’s Migration and Refugee Challenge.” METRO U.N., November 21, 2018.

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