The world is in a major migration clash, a bitter struggle between those who “want to” leave their country and those who “want to keep others” out of their country. People cross seas in shaky boats, traverse deserts on foot, or hide in poorly ventilated trucks, sometimes resulting in death. Joseph Chamie, demographer and former director of the UN Population Division, warns of this.
More than a billion people want to move permanently to another country. And no less than a billion people say they want less or no immigrants in their country. The countries with the highest percentages of inhabitants who want to emigrate are usually developing states or countries where there is war.
In many of those countries, at least half of the population indicate that they want to emigrate, usually to Europe or North America. For example, more than 60 percent of the people of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Haiti would like to emigrate.
In Nigeria’s most populous black country, about half of the population of 200 million people want to settle abroad, preferably in an English-speaking country. Forty percent of Nigeria’s residents live in poverty, and many Nigerians have already left through immigration programs and illegal migration. Many others applied for asylum and refugee protection.
In 2018, Nigerians topped the list of nationalities applying for refugee status in Canada. Because many Nigerians stayed in the US for too long on a tourist visa, the government intervened by tightening the visa issue. The European Union has also warned Nigeria that it will tighten visa rules if it does not cooperate sufficiently with the return of Nigerian citizens who have not been granted residence status in an EU Member State.
In Afghanistan, nearly half of women say they want to leave the country permanently if there was that possibility. For women in Afghanistan, there are limited opportunities for education, work, and participation. As a result, they belong to a group of people worldwide who have the least freedom to organize their lives the way they want.
The situation of Afghan women can worsen if the Taliban, who keep girls out of schools and women from public life, regain control of the government.
The desire of hundreds of millions of men and women to flee their country to build lives in another country is influenced by a range of economic, social, political, and environmental factors. These critical factors interact and thus lead to strong push and pull forces in the country of origin and the country of destination, respectively.
Living conditions in the countries of origin are usually difficult and harsh, and due to climate change, environmental degradation, and recently the Covid-19 pandemic, they have deteriorated significantly in many regions. Housing is usually inadequate, educational opportunities are limited, health care is insufficient and many households have a hard time surviving.
Violence, armed conflict, and human rights violations also contribute to people’s desire to leave. As a result, many men, women, and children stay in a country longer than their tourist visa allows. In addition, people who are not officially allowed to emigrate take life-threatening risks to reach their desired destination. They cross seas in shaky boats, traverse deserts on foot, or hide in poorly ventilated trucks, sometimes resulting in death.
US most popular destination country
In contrast to the countries of origin, life in the desired destination countries is relatively a dream life, with opportunities, freedoms, rights, and social security. What is also becoming increasingly crucial for potential migrants is the belief that emigration increases the chances of a better and safer future for their children.
In recent years, the desired destination countries of potential migrants generally remained the same, namely the affluent, developed countries. The United States ranks first. Canada, followed by Germany, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Those who want to emigrate usually live in a relatively poor developing country, where the population suffers from poverty, violence, and human rights violations. The countries where many residents want to keep out migrants are located in both rich and poor regions of the world.
Countries with the most resistance to the arrival of (more) migrants are Greece (82 percent), Israel (73 percent), Hungary (72 percent), and Italy (72 percent). Significant numbers of residents in poorer countries of origin also want fewer or no immigrants in their country, including Nigeria (50 percent), India (45 percent), and Mexico (44 percent).
Opponents of immigration fear not only the impact of immigration on wages, employment, economic opportunities and social security costs, but also fear that immigration will negatively affect their traditional culture, shared values , and national identity. They believe that immigration and multiculturalism undermine their usual way of life, as well as national security and social solidarity, which must be protected from unwanted foreign influences.
Immigration resistance is reflected in an increase in xenophobia, racism, hostility, and violence against immigrants. Extreme right-wing political leaders, ethno-nationalists, and nativists often portray migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers as invaders, infiltrators, criminals, rapists, and terrorists, calling on them to “go home and stay home”. Some populist parties took advantage of the corona crisis to raise the fear of immigration, calling immigrants “carriers of diseases”.
Human rights in the area of migration show an asymmetry. While everyone has the fundamental right to leave and return their country, not everyone has the right to enter another country.
Sentiments against immigrants are now also targeting refugees and asylum seekers. Government policies to combat illegal migration, often for economic reasons, undermine long-standing internationally recognized rights and protection obligations for refugees and asylum seekers.
The number of asylum applications has increased rapidly in recent years. In the United States, the number of applications assessed rose from 5,000 in 2007 to 92,000 in 2016.
The number of asylum seekers in the European Union increased from 255,000 in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2015. While in principle, people have the right to seek asylum, the reality is that many governments try to prevent and discourage it and make it complicated for men, women, and children to enter their country and apply for asylum.
Population growth in Africa
Since the adoption of the UN Refugee Convention in 1951, the world population has tripled from 2.6 billion people to 7.8 billion. More than 90 percent of that growth came from developing countries.
Another 2 billion people are expected to join in the next three decades, practically all of them in developing countries. Africa alone is expected to account for 60 percent of that growth, and about 20 African countries will have doubled their population by 2050.
A cursory glance is enough to see that population trends generating potential migrants in developing countries far exceed the demand for migrants in developed countries. As a result, illegal migration will increase, with many relying on the services of smugglers and some turning to human traffickers.
The response from destination countries has been to stop illegal migrants and attempt to return them to raise objections to refugee acceptance and to reject asylum applications increasingly. The recent emergence of right-wing populist and nativist parties, and their growing representation in governments in almost all major regions, show that immigration is high on the agenda everywhere.
Are there politically feasible measures to mitigate the major migration clash? Unfortunately, the answer is currently no, despite the recently adopted Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees.
The major migration clash is intensifying, mainly due to the disastrous economic impact of the corona crisis, which has hit the most impoverished countries hardest. Strong influences, including demographics, climate change, poverty, hunger, violence, and armed conflict, continue to drive global migration.
Governments often focus their policies on avoiding a struggle between those who “want to” leave their country and those who “want to keep others” out of their country. There is only a reasonable chance of a solution to the struggle if countries that cooperate with regional and international organizations increase their commitment to implement strategies, policies, and programs in response to the strong influences driving the major migration clash.