The United Nations commemorated its annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees (WDMR) on September 29 —- this time amidst rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and widespread xenophobia.
The right-wing populist attacks have come mostly from politicians and political leaders primarily in Europe, the United States and Australia.
“Those who do not put clear limits on migration will soon start to feel like strangers in their own land,” Austria’s former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, was quoted as saying.
Hungary’s hard-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has proclaimed his intention to protect Europe from “a Muslim invasion” says “in the world today, there are basically two types of leaders: globalists and patriots” –- a sentiment strongly asserted by US President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly September 24.
And as a follow-up, the Trump administration announced September 26 that the US will accept only about 18,000 refugees, out of an anticipated 368,000 claims, in 2020: down from the current limit of 30,000 and a fraction of the 110,000 the Obama administration allowed in 2016.
“At the core of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is a commitment to make decisions made on reality, not wishes, and to drive optional outcomes based on concrete facts”, the US State Department said in its official announcement last week.
In France, and in several other European countries, there are fears of a “grand replacement” of the country’s original “white population” with newer arrivals, mostly from conflict ridden nations in Africa and the Middle East.
These fears have been vociferously reinforced by hard right politicians not only in the US, Hungary and Austria but also in Italy, UK, Poland, France, Sweden and Australia.
Germany was the only country in Europe to admit about one million refugees by the end of 2018, a decision that had heavy political costs for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a report released September 19, the United Nations said the number of international migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million in 2019, an increase of 51 million since 2010.
Currently, international migrants comprise 3.5 per cent of the global population, compared to 2.8 per cent in the year 2000.
According to the report, titled International Migrant Stock 2019, a dataset released by the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), in 2019, regionally, Europe hosts the largest number of international migrants (82 million), followed by Northern America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million).
At the country level, about half of all international migrants reside in just 10 countries, with the United States of America hosting the largest number of international migrants (51 million), equal to about 19 per cent of the world’s total.
Germany and Saudi Arabia host the second and third largest numbers of migrants (13 million each), followed by the Russian Federation (12 million), the United Kingdom (10 million), the United Arab Emirates (9 million), France, Canada and Australia (around 8 million each) and Italy (6 million).
Meanwhile the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) says so far this year, over 63,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea–almost 30,000, or almost half of the yearly total number of people have arrived in the past nine weeks.
About four out of five migrants or refugees enter Europe through Greece or Spain, with others arriving mostly in Italy, Malta or Cyprus.
The IOM has also launched five campaigns to prevent the risks of irregular migration and to encourage informed decision-making among young Central American migrants.
The campaigns are taking place in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Brandon Wu, Director of Policy and Campaigns at ActionAid USA, told IPS: “Certainly, we expect migration trends to continue increasing.”
Instead of addressing the root causes of migration, he pointed out, governments are largely ignoring them.
“We are not investing in solutions to the climate crisis, either in terms of reducing emissions or supporting communities to adapt to climate impacts. We are not investing in food security or to support rural livelihoods”, he noted.
Wu said governments like the U.S. are not changing harmful foreign policies that are driving conflict and persecution.
“A deterrent strategy of persecuting migrants after they have already left their homes can only go so far – to reverse the trend of increasing migration, we have to address the reasons that people move, and no governments are truly tackling these issues at the right scale,” he declared.
He said the strategy used by Europe and U.S. to expand its borders outwards for the purposes of keeping migrants at arms’ length is fundamentally flawed.
“It’s a temporary solution at best, especially in the case of the U.S. which is now relying on terribly politically unstable countries like Honduras or El Salvador to absorb asylum seekers.”
The policy solutions that would actually best serve to protect the rights of migrants would be a combination of welcoming them into recipient countries and providing them the same social services afforded to citizens, and shifting policies (including foreign policy, foreign assistance, climate policy and more) to address the reasons why people are migrating in the first place, declared Wu.
Singling out the vulnerabilities of women in the refugee crisis, Jacqui Hunt, Director of Equality Now’s Europe and Eurasia Office, told IPS pre-existing sex inequalities mean that women and girls already face multifaceted disadvantages and this is compounded by other factors such as poverty, ethnic or cultural background, disability, and age.
Women generally have fewer assets to rely upon, lower levels of education, and are often absent from decision-making.
Also compounding their vulnerability are legal inequalities such as sex discriminatory citizenship rights, said Hunt, who has spearheaded several of Equality Now’s successful campaigns, including for the creation of a UN Working Group to focus on ending discrimination against women in law and in practice..
When people flee from conflict or natural disasters, they lose their home, livelihood and social network. Families that previously might have been able to afford to feed and educate several children may resort to marrying off their daughters in exchange for a dowry or simply because it means there is one less person to provide for, she pointed out.
Hunt said refugees and asylum seekers are often forced to live in impoverished and desperate conditions with limited choices, placing women and girls at greater risk of sexual assault, exploitation and trafficking.
“The international community needs to address the underlying sex discrimination faced by women and girls and how this also has a disproportionate impact on women and girls’ migration. It should position this dimension at the centre of policy discussions and implementation.”
This, she said, requires a gender responsive approach that involves women in all levels of decision making. Governments must strengthen their commitments to take action and be held accountable for their commitments and legal protections.
The Sustainable Development Goals and other international standards and objectives can help guide the way, she declared.