What Should We Do? A Brief Look at the Global Migration Crisis
By Brian Delgado The first few decades of the 20th century marked a period of drastic migration, as various people became displaced during a rise in nationalist sentiment sweeping post-WWI Europe. Arguably, in the most impressive feat accomplished by the League of Nations, millions of people were repatriated or found new homes as former borders crumbled and new states rose up in their shadows. Almost a century later, we are once again witnessing a similar phenomenon. Old borders have crumbled with the radical changes brought by globalization. But at the same time, the movement of people has surged to heights never before seen. Part of this movement is marked by the large groups of refugees that are fleeing their homes to escape violence. Most refugees come out of the Global South, trying to get into the developed Northern economies that present better economic opportunities and safety. Today, these North-South movements that will continue to exist in our increasingly interconnected world, where disadvantaged people facing poverty and conflict are induced to leave for places where they can satisfy the basic needs of security and life. Although it is impossible to cover the intricacies of a global phenomenon in a short article, the cases of Central America, the Rohingya, and Syria present glimpses into the wider issue as a whole.
Central American Children
The last few years have seen a stupendous rise in Central American child migrants coming into the United States via the Mexican border. In 2008, about 8,000 children came over to the United States, and by 2014, more than 70,000 children came across the border. That number has fallen by about 40% due in large part to extreme efforts taken by the Mexican government to stop them before they reach the US border, although the fact that tens of thousands of children are coming over border are an indication of the gravity of the problem. The majority of those who have come have not even reached their teens yet. Kids who should be in elementary school cling to the side of a train for weeks until they can enter the country. What would induce such a large amount of children to put their lives at risk in such a perilous journey that has cost countless lives? Many of them had parents living in the United States, and they were making the perilous journey through Mexico to find them. However, a large part of the motivation revolves around the violence plaguing many Central American countries. A report by the World Health Organization lists four Central American countries amongst the most deadly in the world, with Honduras topping the list. This violence is fueled by drug gangs seeking to take part in the huge demand for narcotics up north. Consequently, they are frequently forcing children into their ranks, which are constantly being depleted by warfare with rival gangs and the government.
The United States has been responding through attempted cooperation with Mexico and attempting to tighten up security on the border, leading to the detention of thousands of children in prison-like conditions. Deportations have resulted in the murder of the children by gangs, eager to make an example of them for attempting to escape their grasps. Yet critics in the United States argue that the Obama administration is not taking a hard enough stance, which tempts children to try to escape violence and murder by coming to the US in the first place.
The Stateless Rohingya
This summer saw the plight of the Rohingya people appear on the global spotlight. An ethnic Muslim group in country that is mostly Buddhist, the official policy of the Burmese government is to deny them citizenship. This goes despite the fact that the Rohingya have a documented history in this Southeast Asian country dating back at least two centuries. The Burmese government claims they are simply Bangladeshi migrants trying to gain citizenship. The history of fighting against multiple Muslim separatists has made the government reluctant to provide rights to the Rohingya . Thus, the military junta of Burma has repeatedly acted against the Rohingya, such as in the early 1990s, when more than 260,000 Rohingya fled government persecution, torture, rape, and executions. However, recent violence against the group by extremist Buddhist monks, as well as a Thai crackdown on human smugglers, has led to large boats of refugees stuck floating out on the ocean, a stateless people. Regional leaders have not been very accepting of extending help. On the possibility of Australia accepting any of thousand Rohingya who were stuck out at sea back in May, Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded with a resounding “nope, nope, nope.” Neighboring countries were reluctant to accept them, and it was common practice by various Southeast Asian navies to supply the boats with food and water, and then dragging them farther out into sea when they got too close to their border. Although countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have reluctantly accepted some refugees after great international pressure, the issue of who should deal with a people that no one wants to claim remains to be solved.
Syrians Fleeing War
Perhaps the mostly talked-about migrant crisis going on right now is that of the Syrian people, fleeing from a deadly civil war that has been going on for more than four years. Experts agree that the key to ending the crisis is ending this war, but that involves dealing with such thorny issues such as ISIS and the authoritarian government of Bashar al-Assad, creating a tricky triangle where hurting one side helps the other. According to the United Nations, more than half of Syria has been completely uprooted, with more than 4 million having left the war-torn nation. Many of them have made the risky journey of attempting to get into Europe, with the most popular routes going through Turkey and Libya and sailing into Greece and Italy. However, the high demand for transportation has encouraged traffickers to exploit refugees by charging thousands of dollars to cram as many people as they can into shoddy boats, leading to countless deaths at sea. The images of the drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach broke the heart of millions of people around the world, but he was one of many, many other sad deaths. For those lucky enough to make it, there remains the journey into Western Europe, with many migrants fearful of being caught and risk being sent back. A few weeks ago, a truck was found in Austria with the decomposing bodies of 71 migrants, hoping to make it on such a journey in a vehicle with no ventilation. European politicians are at odds at how to respond, ranging from the harsh treatment by the Hungarian government who has chosen to wall itself from refugees, to the cautious acceptance by the German government, trying to balance humanitarian concerns along with infrastructure limits. Only 104,000 of the 626,065 applicants were able to get asylum status in the European Union. Well-meaning as some European leaders may be, economic difficulties along with a disunited regional policy towards migrants presents a classic example of a collective action problem.
What Should We Do?
These examples are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to covering the larger notion of North-South migration. Some of these issues have been going on for decades, and are only now getting attention. Conditions of violence are inherent, whether because of purposeful government action to expel and push out communities, or due to war carried out by various actors.
A few other notable examples include the exodus from Afghanistan, a country with a tragic history of conflict. In Libya, former dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s prediction if the current crisis seems to have come true, as the current state of anarchy in the North African country has freed new routes for refugees to escape towards Europe. And then you have the case of Eritrea, a country that does not make it onto the headlines, but which is suffering from a brutal autocratic regime which has led to growing populations of Eritreans abroad.
Several institutions and countries have responded by increasing their support and acceptance of refugees. Pope Francis is urging all European Catholic parishes to take in a migrant family, which would help tens of thousands of refugees. Brazil has been working to facilitate the entrance of migrants, and has become one of the biggest destinations for Syrians outside of the Middle East. The International Rescue Committee has been working to provide aid, economic support, health services, and to resettle refugees across the globe. However, as great as these initiatives are, nothing exists in the way of a unified policy.
All of this raises the question, what should we do? We are becoming increasingly aware of these problems, yet our countries lack a proper strategy to respond to them. Can we deny the right of entry to people who are fleeing violence by no fault of their own? Can we enjoy the fruits of globalization without taking into account the costs? Is it possible to ignore these problems in an era of interconnectedness? These problems are simply not going away, even if you give in to xenophobic rhetoric and build a giant wall.
Although admittedly it is a costly endeavor to process and provide for people who have lost everything they own, in the long-term, these people make positive contributions to their new home. Places as different as Denmark, Uganda, and Cleveland have seen that refugees do not negatively affect wages as many people are given to believe, and instead improve the economy. Perhaps the developed North countries should stop wasting their money on ineffective deterrence policies, and help fund resettling programs in both their countries and in other South countries who lack the funds to do so. This will cover the initial costs, provides safety for those in need, and everyone benefits in the long term. One thing is for certain, this issue will not be going away anytime soon.