The mi­grant cri­sis will never end

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - David Blair

SOME­TIMES, one fact goes a long way to­wards ex­plain­ing a global cri­sis. Be­hind the rub­ber dinghies laden with des­per­ate peo­ple wash­ing up on Euro­pean beaches and the refugee camps spread across the deserts of Jor­dan - or, for that mat­ter, the plains of Chad – lies a re­mark­able fig­ure. The num­ber of peo­ple driven from their homes by con­flict world­wide has jumped by 40 per cent since 2013. You have to go back to the early 1990s - the era of the Rwan­dan geno­cide and the Yu­goslav wars – to find a time when the ranks of the hud­dled masses rose so sharply in such a short pe­riod.

The raw data are as fol­lows: in 2013, the global to­tal of refugees (who have es­caped across borders) and “in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple” (who are fugi­tives within their own coun­tries) stood at 33 mil­lion. By 2015, the num­ber had climbed by 13 mil­lion to reach 46 mil­lion. The im­mo­la­tion of Syria was the big­gest cause, but on the other side of the world, two mil­lion peo­ple fled the path of Boko Haram’s piti­less of­fen­sive in Nige­ria; another 2.2 mil­lion es­caped civil war in South Su­dan. In the terse phrase of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies (IISS), which com­piled the fig­ures, this amounted to a “quan­tum leap in forced dis­place­ment”.

To­day’s wars gen­er­ally cre­ate far more refugees than pre­vi­ous con­flicts. It may sound strange, but that is not nec­es­sar­ily bad news. Af­ter all, the big­gest rea­son is sim­ply that even the most vo­latile coun­tries have also ex­pe­ri­enced rapid pop­u­la­tion growth. Had civil war bro­ken out in Syria in 1970, the refugee cri­sis would have been a frac­tion of to­day’s catas­tro­phe. Back then, Syria had only six mil­lion peo­ple, com­pared with at least 20 mil­lion to­day.

If Boko Haram had swept across north­ern Nige­ria in 1970, the Is­lamist gun­men would have been rav­aging a coun­try with barely one quar­ter of to­day’s pop­u­la­tion. The refugee camps across the bor­der in Chad would have been tiny by our stan­dards. There are more refugees be­cause there are more peo­ple – and, in turn, there are more peo­ple be­cause the world has broadly suc­ceeded in re­duc­ing in­fant mor­tal­ity and rais­ing life ex­pectancy, even in the poor­est coun­tries.

Many of those im­prove­ments, in­ci­den­tally, were driven by the aid pro­grammes of the very Euro­pean coun­tries that now find them­selves in­un­dated with refugees. The EU and its mem­bers have spent huge sums on pri­mary health care and child­hood vac­ci­na­tion cam­paigns across Africa and the Mid­dle East. The re­sult is that more chil­dren live to be­come adults, the pop­u­la­tion rises – and so does the num­ber of peo­ple who are vul­ner­a­ble to be­com­ing refugees if war breaks out.

The vol­ume of mi­grants head­ing for Europe is not solely be­cause of war and poverty. The af­fected coun­tries also have many more peo­ple than in the past – partly be­cause Europe did the right thing by, for ex­am­ple, erad­i­cat­ing small­pox and im­mu­nis­ing chil­dren against po­lio. All this means that our un­der­stand­ing of the “mi­gra­tion cri­sis” will need to change. The very word “cri­sis” is mis­lead­ing for it im­plies a pass­ing mo­ment of dan­ger that will even­tu­ally come to an end.

But the cen­tral causes of the out- flow of refugees from Africa and the Mid­dle East are not tran­sient, but struc­tural. In its lat­est Armed Con­flict Sur­vey, the IISS casts around for poli­cies that might stop peo­ple from flee­ing war zones and ends up re­sort­ing to plat­i­tudes, like plac­ing “ef­fec­tive pres­sure” on Bashar al-As­sad to obey “in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law” as he tears Syria to shreds. Some chance. The IISS also urges “bet­ter ac­cess for hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief in the coun­try of con­flict” so that peo­ple are not com­pelled to leave sim­ply to find food and shel­ter. Again, some chance. The likes of Boko Haram or the ISIS are never go­ing to al­low a free pass for aid work­ers in their blood-soaked do­mains.

Wars will al­ways force large num­bers of peo­ple to flee. Pop­u­la­tions are gen­er­ally grow­ing, so fu­ture con­flicts will cre­ate even more refugees than to­day. If 46 mil­lion peo­ple are now liv­ing in camps or other sanc­tu­ar­ies, the con­flicts of the 2020s are likely to dis­place still more. In­stead of be­ing a pass­ing phase, the “mi­gra­tion cri­sis” is part of the fab­ric of the world. — Cour­tesy: The Tele­graph

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