By (Mrs) Amb Narinder Chauhan
On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General assembly (UNGA) , considering the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants Day. The Day was selected to mark the anniversary of the 1990 adoption by the UNGA of the International Convention on the protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and members of their Families. Two global compacts have been signed over the past two years, one for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the other Global Compact on Refugees.
Today, more people than ever live in a country other than the one in which they were born. While many migrate out of choice, many others do so out of necessity. As per the 2022 World Migration Report of the International Organization of Migrants (IOM), the number of migrants globally in 2020 was 281million, 60million more than in 2010. This, however, is only 3.6% of the total world population, i.e., only 1 in 30m are migrants.
Work is the major reason that people migrate internationally. The largest corridors of migration tend to be from developing countries to larger economies such as the US, France, Russia, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The USA has been the main country of destination for international migrants, foreign born in the US rose from 12m in 1970, to 51m in 2019. Germany is the second top destination, from 8.9m in 2000 to 16m in 2020. These are countries with high levels of human development whose passport holders can travel visa free to around 85 % of all other countries worldwide. However, they often have stringent visa restrictions for the less developed countries which creates its own complications including pushing applicants into the hands of unscrupulous agents.
Migration for work has led to a concomitant increase in the international remittances, from a total of $126b in 2000 to $702b in 2020. Covid 19saw only a small drop of 2.4% in 2020. In 2020, India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Egypt were the top five remittance receiving countries, though India and China were well above the rest, with total remittances exceeding $83billion and $59billion, respectively. High income countries are the main sources of remittances. For decades, the US has consistently been the top remittance sending country, with a total outflow of $ 68b in 2020, followed by UAE $43.2b, Saudi Arabia $34.6 b, Switzerland 27.6b, and Germany 22b.Migration thus brings out a clear connection between development and co-development. Migrant workers contribute to the economic development of host countries and their remittances raise standards of living back home.
According to the IOM report, multiple factors have shaped migration corridors. More than 40% of international migrants, i.e., 115 m were born in Asia, nearly 20% originating from 6 Asian countries including India, the largest country of origin, followed by China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, and Afghanistan. After India, Mexico was the second largest country of origin globally, and Russia was third. Several other European countries have sizable populations of emigrants, including Ukraine, Poland, the UK, Romania and Germany.
Although only small proportions of local population are international migrants, in some countries like UAE, international migrants constitute 88% of its total population. Migrants face the challenges of assimilation and are often engaged in 3D jobs: dirty, dangerous and demanding. Migrants face issues of accessing health care, housing, education and employment. They may become easy targets for exploitation due to a lack of protective family network, a lack of information or missing documents. Some among the 35m Indian diaspora abroad have faced above challenges, a vast majority have done exceedingly well.
Throughout human history migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life. The historic exchange of population during the partition of India in 1947 found reflection in the migratory caravans seen in the Western Balkans during the ethnic conflicts of 1990s leading to Yugoslavia’s split into six nations.The 3 millionSerbians who left can no longer recognize their own motherland, necessitating diasporic events sponsored by the Serbian government to draw them to their roots, as does India annually.
The past few years have seen major migration and displacement events due to conflicts as in Syria, Central African Republic, Yemen, DRC and South Sudan; extreme violence as inflicted on Rohingyas forced to seek safety in Bangladesh; or severe economic and political instability such as in Venezuela. Those triggered by natural disasters have been seen in Mozambique, the Philippines, China, India and the USA. Global displacement rose despite Covid-19 mobility limits.
Of the 281m migrants, 26m comprise refugees. The global number of forcibly displaced people, including refugees, has doubled since 2010, as per the latest report of United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR). More displaced people have fled Syria than any other country. Turkey tops the list of countries taking in refugees; just five countries produce 68% of all refugees displaced abroad: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. The top five host countries are Turkey, Colombia, Germany, Pakistan and Uganda. Though India is not a signatory to the international Convention on Refugees, India has a strong tradition of acceptance, such as His Holiness Dalai Lama and other Tibetan refugees, from East Pakistan and now Bangladesh, and recently from Afghanistan.
With 3.7 m within its borders, Turkey hosts twice as many refugees as Colombia, the next highest host country with 1.7m.The situation in Turkey arises out of its proximity to Syria where war and conflict have now been raging for 10 years. In 2015 more than a million migrant/refugees from Syria entered EU; 3771 died crossing the seas.The EU laws require asylum seekers to be physically present and the airlines will not allow them without a visa, pushing them into the hands of smugglers to arrange logistics. Horrified at the sight of 71 in an unventilated food truck in Vienna, Germany, that had the tradition of taking in those fleeing war and persecution, took in 800,000 migrants, and a grassroots e-volunteer movement helped in the challenging task of settling them.Soon overwhelmed by the numbers, in 2016, EU gave funds to Turkey to keep them where many Syrians found safe homes and work. In Sweden, happily 40,000 migrant-children may join the workforce soon to relieve the country’s aging population. On the other hand, migration polarized society and politics and anti-immigration sentiment rose in Europe.
The USunder Biden, in January 2021, opened doors for migrant/refugees from Central Asia, Central America, Africa and Afghanistan. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2021, led to a desperate exodus of the Afghans to the US by air, many were forced to stay back. Economic problems in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Cuba worsened during the pandemic, and a record two million made the perilous journey by road to the US from Mexico. About 1, 25,000 unaccompanied minors have already been taken into government care. Finally, the numbers forced the US to mull in-situ asylum applications, and to find solutions in the countries of origin, apart from saying ’Do not come’.
Global displacement is at a record high, with the number of internally displaced at around 55m and the number of refugees at over 26m. Africa registered the highest increase in internal displacement due to armed conflicts and human disasters. The ongoing Civil war in Ethiopia has sparked a wave of displacement involving millions in addition to a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
According to reports, in 2019 more than 4, 25,000 refugees were able to return to their home country or found permanent homes in third countries. That fell to below 300,000 in 2020 as the pandemic made travel harder. The need for greater solidarity and cooperation with and support to host countries, communities and refugees has been acknowledged. There is also consensus on the need to prevent and combat human trafficking in migration pathways, but allegedly less consensus on how to achieve this in practice, and perhaps a shortfall in the political will to introduce effective policies.
Covid 19 related immobility has become the great disruptor of migration. Several governments used pandemic to limit immigration and bolster nationalist agendas. For the US, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Greece and Lebanon, this meant delays in refugee resettlement and push backs of asylum seekers as at the EU-Belarus borders. Houthi rebels in Yemen expelled thousands of Ethiopians and sent them to the Saudi border where they were fired on. Anti-immigrant narrative was bolstered in places such as China, while racism against East Asian migrants and their children has been on the rise in the US, UK, and elsewhere. Covid restrictions sparked changes to migration routes and pushed, for instance, some Europe bound migrants through the Canary Islands rather than via traditional transit countries such as Libya and Morocco.
Migration draws increasing attention in the world nowadays. The International Migrants Day is observed globally with a view to making the migrants’ voices heard by disseminating information on human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, sharing experiences, and undertaking action to ensure the protection of migrants. Since 2016 it has included a film festival which in 2019 featured more than 620 screenings of migration-themed movies and panel discussions. The theme this year will be Together We Heal, Learn and Shine.
(The author is a former Indian ambassador and former envoy to the EU. Twitter:@nchauhanifs Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).