The migration conundrum | Daily News

The migration conundrum

Looking back at the biggest news stories of 2018, one story stands out from the rest – the migrant crisis. The movement of people fleeing conflict, persecution, Climate Change and poverty across the world has grabbed the headlines throughout the year. Sri Lanka has remained out of this picture as illegal crossings to Australia have ceased almost completely, but in other areas of the world, mainly the US and Europe, it was a different picture.

Migration is a complex humanitarian issue that has many dimensions. This reality was brought into focus this week as a second Guatemalan child died in the custody of US officials. The “caravan” of migrants heading to the US from a raft of Latin American countries was very much in the headlines. Hundreds of African migrants have died in the water trying to reach Western European countries. No country can give asylum to all migrants knocking at its doors, but there may be genuine fears and concerns among people ruled by oppressive governments that spur them to reach more tolerant parts of the world. Balancing these two aspects of the migration crisis is an extremely delicate task.

Migration has become a domestic political issue in many countries. Today, there is a lot of antagonism towards migrants in many parts of the world. Many world leaders have taken an anti-immigrant stance, mainly to pacify the majority communities in their respective countries. There is a tendency to blame all ills of the economy and other sectors on migrants. What we do not realise is that many countries from USA to Australia have actually been established by migrants. Sri Lanka is no exception – our ancestors hailed from many other parts of the world including India. Evidence overwhelmingly shows that migrants generate economic, social and cultural benefits for societies. Yet hostility towards migrants is unfortunately growing around the world.

The stark reality is that we are all migrants. Migration is the very foundation of humanity. The first humanoids are believed to have migrated from what is now East Africa nearly 120,000 years ago to other parts of Africa and the world. In essence, human history is actually a story of migration. Many countries would not have developed to this extent if not for the massive contribution made by migrants. Today, globalization, together with advances in communications and transport, has greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places. Nearly one million Sri Lankans too have permanently settled down in other countries.

Migration is here to stay – as long as people desire a better life, it will persist. The answer is effective international cooperation in managing migration to ensure that its benefits are more widely distributed. In a victory for migration and migrants, 164 countries have agreed to a global pact that plans “to prevent suffering and chaos” for global migration. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) was agreed upon recently in Marrakech, Morocco. The GCM aims to better manage migration at regional and global levels, including reducing the risks and vulnerabilities the migrants face at different stages of their journey.

The total number of international migrants has increased from an estimated 175 million in 2000 to 258 million in 2017. The number of migrants, representing 3.4 percent of the world’s population, is increasing faster than the static global population. Around 80 percent of the world’s migrants move between countries in a safe and orderly fashion. But more than 60,000 people have died on the move since the year 2000, according to the UN.

Migration can be both legal and illegal. Europe has faced a wave of illegal migrants coming over on rickety boats, with thousands losing their lives en route. Many countries do offer a legal pathway for migration, mainly because their populations are not adequate to meet labour needs. Japan is the latest to join this list, with the Government planning to issue work visas (with option of Permanent Residency) for more than 300,000 foreigners. Many countries offer a PR pathway for students and professionals.

In this category are people from developing countries with skills and professional qualifications who legally obtain permanent residency and citizenship in countries such as Australia and Canada with generally low populations. Many advanced and dynamic economies need migrant workers to fill jobs that cannot be outsourced and they cannot find local workers willing to take them at going wages. In the other category are people who try to escape their own countries illegally to regions such as Europe and Australia due to economic reasons, conflict or other factors.

Migration, though not a new phenomenon by any means, is re-defining the world we live in. It is essentially a two-way street. Developing countries must do more to create opportunities for youth within their boundaries which will dampen the enthusiasm to migrate. Destination countries too must be more compassionate towards the plight of genuine migrants fleeing conflict and persecution while balancing their national security, interests and resources. The world will be a better place to live in if we can all get along.


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