The history of mankind over the past hundred years has evoked a range of emotions and heartbreaking seizures. A heightened challenge is the displacement of millions and millions of people across the planet. People are forced to flee or migrate from their homeland or birthplace for various reasons. At the international level, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees holds annual consultations with governments and non-governmental organizations to respond to the worsening crises.
According to mid-2021 data available from UNHCR, there are 84 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. It includes 48 million internally displaced people. A total of 26.6 million are refugees and 4.4 million are asylum seekers. About half of those classified as refugees are under the age of 18. If we also look at the statistics of forced or internally displaced people, these numbers would be much higher.
The massive movement of such large segments of the population clearly shows that the peace, stability and prosperity of different regions of the world are interconnected and that solutions cannot be intelligently considered independently of this global reality. Indeed, understanding the root causes of mass migration, people risking their lives to seek refuge, and issues of internal displacement have historical antecedents. However, I focus on the situation as it presents itself in a global society of the 21st century.
Migrants, including refugees and internally displaced persons, are people removed from their region or country of origin, whose rights, as set out in the Universal Declaration of man, are flouted. These include the right to life, the right to livelihood and the right to education, to name a few. In fact, mass migration has pushed us to look beyond the nation-state, to see the world in a global perspective, and has heightened our awareness of the interconnectedness of humanity. Indeed, “in a world of interdependent peoples and nations, the advantage of the part is best achieved by the advantage of the whole”.
There is also a flip side. Beyond Among those who are considered forcibly displaced, there is a significant proportion of people who migrate for other reasons, namely higher education, work or family, to developed countries. In 2020, there were approximately 281 million international migrants worldwide. Least developed countries offer asylum to 27% of the total.
Large-scale population movements are nothing new – global rates of international migration have remained surprisingly stable, hovering around 3% of the world’s population since at least the 1960s. The sense of crisis generated by current migration offers the opportunity to reflect on the root causes of this movement, to see how migration and displacement are expressions of deeper processes of integration and disintegration that are transforming our world.
Identifying lasting solutions to the many crises that drive people to flee their homes deserves the utmost attention of the international community. If not by identifying and creating durable solutions, how can we hope to prevent the situation from deteriorating? The current dire humanitarian situation caused by war in Europe demands a profound, impartial,
and a collective reflection on the underlying conditions that caused the mass movements of populations. The unprecedented displacement of millions of people around the world cannot be viewed solely in terms of “migration management”. It is becoming increasingly clear that the continued suffering of countless people risking their lives for greater safety is another symptom of a much deeper and deeper concern.
The causes of internal and international migration, whether forced or voluntary, should not be analyzed separately from refugee displacement and migration patterns. The large-scale displacement of populations around the world – due to conflict, natural disasters and educational or livelihood constraints – is also part of the social transformations of the modern period. The well-being of any segment of humanity is inextricably linked to the well-being of the whole. Yet despite this reality, evident since the recent global health pandemic caused by Covid-19, individuals, businesses and countries continue to prioritize their own well-being, isolated from that of their neighbours.
The gap between the richest and the poorest human sciences widens as
unprecedented amounts of wealth are amassed by a few. The pursuit of power and economic gain continues to trump how the environment, which sustains all of humanity, is affected. These social ills fuel the conditions in which prejudice, insecurity and conflict take root. With this in mind, it is easier to see why, although common discourse and legal migration pathways often make a harsh distinction between “refugees” and “economic migrants”, the reality is much more hazy.
The movements of people in response to these changing forces can be conceptualized as occurring on a spectrum from ‘forced’ to ‘voluntary’, with much of contemporary migration occurring somewhere in the middle.
Allow me to share a few lines from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ 2021 message: “War, violence and persecution have forced more than 80 million people around the world to flee their homes, leaving everything behind. to save themselves and their lives. families… We have a duty to help refugees rebuild their lives. Covid-19 has shown us that we can only succeed if we stick together… I call on communities and governments to include refugees – in health care, education and sport. We heal together when we receive all the care we need. We learn together when we all have the chance to study. We shine together when we play as a team and respect everyone… The refugees I have met have shown me what it means to rebuild your own life while gathering the strength to enrich the lives of others… I thank the refugees and displaced people around the world and reiterate my personal admiration for what they have taught us all about the power of hope and healing…”.
It is necessary to recognize that as human beings we have a common identity which has its roots in our spiritual nature, the immortal rational soul. Recognizing this will not only help us overcome our differences and limit our identities, but will inspire us to take action to bring about cooperation and harmony among conflicting groups and comity among nations. This acceptance calls for an urgent moral imperative to reexamine the systems, structures, policies and, most importantly, the attitudes and assumptions that have shaped them. Because “the earth is only one country and humanity its citizens”.
(The author is an independent researcher and social worker based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected])