Contemporary Crises

Exploring modern societal challenges

A Spotlight on Migration and Refugee Flows: Considering Societal Challenges, Economic and Geopolitical Impacts, and Global Co-Operation Efforts

The world of migration and refugees has been witnessing two strikingly contrasting scenarios: slow and wavering increase of inflows through regular channels, juxtaposed by the highest recorded level of uprooted people since World War II. Most of these latter are forced displacements, caused by an amalgam of violent conflicts and persecution, often conflated with a worsening geopolitical and security situation and, in many cases, abject poverty. Clustered together, they constitute massive refugee and mixed migration flows.

These upheavals are not some transitory phenomena that can be addressed on an ad hoc basis or through knee-jerk measures. Underlying these movements, are deep-rooted drivers presenting daunting challenges to the world polity and human society. It would be a mistake to perceive them merely as traditional, one-way South-North issues: they are set also to unleash significant societal changes in countries, both rich and poor.

In Western societies, the massive new flows are sharpening political divisiveness, and threatening social cohesion. Particularly in Europe, they have become a source of mounting tension between the member states of the European Union—just as they are threatening to rupture the internal social fabrics of individual member countries. While in several of countries rising anti-refugee and migration sentiment has led to changes of government (and their policies), pro-migration and refugee groups and rights activists have mounted rear-guard action to combat them. In countries like Germany, and even Italy, mass demonstrations in favour of, and against, refugees and migrants have resulted in street fights and violence.

For their part, developing countries, which host around 85 per cent of all refugees and an increasing share of mixed migration through irregular channels, agonize over the mounting burden. For example, there are 4 million refugee children, mostly in developing countries, who have no access to schooling. Whereas, globally, more than 90 percent of children receive at least primary schooling, among refugee children, the corresponding figure is less than two-thirds. And the situation gets worse as the refugee children get older, with less than one-quarter receiving secondary education, compared with the global average of 84 per cent. Not only does this imply a waste of potentially valuable human resources, it also represents a potential source of future unrest and revolt. Uneducated, unskilled, and probably unemployed, they are then likely to swell the ranks of a marginalized, alienated, and angry underclass living in the dark corners of society—ripe for recruitment by extremists and fundamentalists.

Mixed migration often includes potential labour migrants, including skilled and semi-skilled, and their irregular channels of entry makes them vulnerable to exploitation and labour and human rights abuse, causing concern. Many developing countries also worry that the flight of these migrants tends to deepen a culture of mass exodus among the enterprising youth in search of elusive El dorado abroad, denuding their own countries and undermining the future of their homeland.

There is a pressing need for an insightful analysis of the characteristics and implications of these human displacements and the many-fold challenges they present for human society. Not only must the policy response meet the pressing humanitarian and economic crisis, it must also lay the groundwork to avoid its recrudescence and long-term consequence by addressing the root causes.

Bimal Ghosh’s new and timely book, Refugees and Mixed Migration Flows: Managing a Looming Humanitarian and Economic Crisis, precisely meets this need—filling an important void in the contemporary discourse on migration and refugee issues.

Based on case studies of major contemporary refugee-and-mixed migration flows—in Europe, Asia, and the Americas—Ghosh’s book reveals the daunting challenges these massive and disorderly flows entail, discerns the pitfalls and deficiencies in how they are currently handled, and warns of the perils facing countries in both the North and the South,

The analysis in each case is accompanied by a set of remedial policy measures. The discussion is then placed in a global context and outlines the way in which migration and refugee flows can be made safe, orderly, and less unpredictable. It emphasizes that achieving these objectives critically depends on concurrent action at both ends of the flows-----with the yawning gap between the rising pressures for disorderly migration in origin countries, on the other hand, and on the other, dwindling opportunities for legal entry in destination countries (despite unmet labour demand and demographic needs) brought into a dynamic balance. Issues of internal governance of migration, including protection of migrants’ rights and their integration, are closely interwoven with orderly and safe migration. They defy isolation.

How can this be achieved? The book calls for a new form of global partnership, based on a common understanding of the issues, collective confidence building, and global cooperation. The book’s timely discussion and findings on the topic dovetail neatly with the recently launched United Nations initiative to adopt global compacts on migration and refugee flows.

Bimal Ghosh is Senior Fellow at the Graduate School of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, and Emeritus Professor at Colombia Graduate School of Public Administration, Bogota, Colombia. His latest book, Refugee and Mixed Migration Flows: Managing a Looming Humanitarian and Economic Crisis, published in September 2018 and presents a timely review of the current climate in light of the recently launched 2018 United Nations initiative to adopt global compacts on refugees and migrants.