Sudanese refugees affected by the drought in East Africa. Credit: UNHCR/Adelina Gomez Monteagud. Accessed via news.un.org.
Migration occupies a particularly prominent position amongst the major issues which faced the world in 2022. Whereas, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was marked by a welcome resurgence in international migration, 2022 has arguably highlighted, in various ways, an urgent need to revamp our immigration systems and policies. Dealing with a backlog of visa applications accumulated over the pandemic has proved particularly challenging this year, given the capacity of existing immigration systems. Meanwhile, major shortages in a post-pandemic and ageing labour market show, more than ever, the importance of migration for first-world economies. Forced migration has also been at the forefront this year, due notably to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, causing the displacement of millions of Ukrainian citizens. Finally, climate change continues to pose complicated challenges to the world, including to East Africa, where droughts have brought about mass climate-induced migration.
This year, parts of Eastern Africa – particularly Somalia, Northern Kenya, and Southern Ethiopia – have been experiencing one of the worst droughts of the century, described as “a climatic event not seen in at least 40 years.” After an on-going deficit of rain, dating back to 2020, the drought has caused wide-spread starvation in affected regions. The UN’s World Food Programme says up to 20 million people in East Africa are at risk of severe hunger, with 40% of the population of Somalia being affected, and 7 million children under the age of five experiencing acute malnutrition across the Great Horn of Africa. The more than 1.7 million people who have consequently been displaced are but one example of climate-induced migration, an increasingly important global issue. Despite contributing to only 4% of global carbon emissions, Africa is the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the UN, with this specific crisis being linked to the build-up of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. On-going conflicts in Ethiopia and Somalia do nothing to alleviate the situation, leading instead to reduced security and increased poverty for already over-burdened populations.
The plight of nomadic pastoralists in eastern Somaliland is one manifestation of that real threat climate change poses in its ability to disturb societies’ ways of life drastically and inalterably. Lack of water in combination with extreme heat means communities of pastoralists lose not only their livelihood, but also their sources of nourishment. After generations of established community life, they are forced to migrate in search of food and water.
A migrating pastoralist in Eastern Somaliland. Credit: Oxfam. Accessed via oxfam.org.
Another extreme weather event of 2022, linked to climate change, was the series of floods occurring from June to October in Pakistan. The floods affected 33 million people in total, killing 1,739 people, and displacing 8 million; the damage incurred is estimated at $14.9 billion. This catastrophe has had subsidiary effects too, including the spread of several waterborne diseases and an overall strain on healthcare services. Regular floods have contributed in part to the significant increase in migration from rural to urban areas over the past decades, posing challenges both in terms of sheltering and employing rural migrants, and in sustaining neglected rural communities. Pakistan, like most African countries, contributes very little (less than 1%) to global greenhouse gas emissions; it suffers immensely disproportionate effects nevertheless.
To address some of these issues, the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) was held in November of last year, being attended by almost 40,000 delegates from around the world. Among the central topics of this conference was the creation of a loss and damage fund to aid those countries who suffer disproportionately from the consequences of climate change. Climate migration, though not an official topic on the agenda, was, however, discussed in relation to the legal protection of internally displaced populations and external asylum seekers. At the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) in May, climate change was a major topic, supported by a more nuanced definition of climate-induced migration. Generally, the relevance of the overlap between migration and climate change has become increasingly difficult to ignore, especially given statistics suggest there are now more climate migrants than war-fleeing migrants in the world. In total, the number of forcibly displaced people around the globe has surpassed 100 million and is expected to rise exponentially in the coming years.
This figure comes, of course, at the time when Europe is witnessing the greatest scale of migration across the continent since World War II. Ukrainian migrants (most of whom are women and children) have been fleeing their war-stricken country due to the Russian invasion which escalated in February of last year. By mid-September, close to 5 million Ukrainian refugees had been recorded across the EU and other OECD countries. As of February 2023, the number of refugees in Europe has risen to more than 8 million. Countries receiving the most refugees include Poland (1.38 million), Germany (1 million), and Czechia (0.43 million). The Refugee Response Plan (RRP) was developed in early March 2022, bringing together UN, NGO, and other partners to develop strategies for conducting effective, comprehensive, humanitarian assistance for Ukrainian refugees in various European countries. Additionally, the EU has invoked the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time, which grants Ukrainians the right to stay, work, and study in any European Union member state for an initial period of one year. One of the main challenges countries receiving Ukrainian migrants have faced, however, is the integration of Ukrainians into labour markets. Diligent skills-assessment processes, programmes to develop language skills, and schemes to provide affordable housing are all vital to making headway in this regard.
Ukrainian refugees from 2022, crossing into Poland. Credit: Міністерство внутрішніх справ України. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.
This year in the global north, post-pandemic economies are being faced with two seemingly paradoxical issues: elevated unemployment and acute labour shortages. This phenomenon arises from an unbalanced recovery of the global economy across different sectors, creating high demand for jobs with little supply and low demand for jobs with superfluous supply. In response to this problem, there are two major strands of strategical approach which countries can adopt: one inward-looking and the other outward-looking. With relation to the first, it is important that governments base their policies in a sound understanding of recent changes in the labour market and a willingness to adapt to them. Strides should be made particularly in matchmaking between companies and jobseekers, training in under-staffed sectors, and pay-rises for professions which have become less desirable as a result of the pandemic (due to new concerns over high risk and a decline in working conditions). However, it might be argued that the delible mark left by COVID on the population, in addition to the issue of ageing populations in societies with decreasing birth rates, suggests that external sources will play a key role in sustaining the economy. UN figures have shown that by 2030 there will be 30 million fewer people of working age in the world’s five largest economies – the USA, China, Japan, Germany, and the UK. The corollary to this demographic change is that the workforce, if not enlarged through an increase in immigration or in birth rates, will be called upon to make sacrifices in some form; for example, through reduced pensions or a higher age of retirement, as anticipated by French President Emmanuel Macron’s new, rather unpopular pensions reforms. In addition, labour migration will prove necessary for the “green transitions” envisaged by some developed countries. As one example, Australia’s plan to transition to 100% renewable energy generation by 2030 relies heavily on an increase in immigration, despite almost half of the population believing immigration should be reduced.
As concerns trends in political and public views towards immigration, there seems to be somewhat of a split between the Americas and Europe. In the latter, increasing support for anti-immigration policies extends the trend of previous years. The UK government’s notably “hard on immigration” stance came under scrutiny when it was found that over 4,000 asylum seekers had been housed, under conditions in breach of the law, in the Manston migrant processing centre. (The facility had been designed to hold 1,000-1,600 occupants.) On the continent, populist right-wing parties, positioned strongly against immigration, have enjoyed increasing popularity. The election of Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy party in October highlighted this trend; she joins the likes of ideologically similar prime ministers Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Mateusz Morawiecki in Poland. Conversely, in the United States and Latin America, more liberal approaches to immigration have begun to hold sway, as evidenced by recent victories for left-leaning parties in elections. In the US Midterms, voters showed support for immigration reform, and the need for more collaborative efforts in migration management was recognised in the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. This agreement, “to create the conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration, and to strengthen frameworks for international protection and cooperation” has been signed by 21 governments throughout the Americas. The agreement comes in the midst of a trend of increased migration from countries such as Venezuela, Haiti, and Nicaragua to not only the US and Canada but also other Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Summit of the Americas. Credit: Freddie Everett/State Department. Accessed via migrationpolicy.org.
Despite any intentions to make strides in hemispheric migration, all immigration has (at least for the present) been hampered and immigration services overwhelmed due to post-pandemic backlogs. In the United States, 8.8 million applications were awaiting processing as of June (54% more than in late 2019); in the UK, the asylum backlog had reached 150,000 by the end of November (again more than double the pre-pandemic figure); and in the European Union, nearly 548,000 cases awaited a first-instance decision at the end of December. Increasing investment into immigration services will be crucial to combatting this staggering accumulation of paperwork.
To conclude, while considering immigration from a bird-eye’s view is necessary for an overall comprehension of the issue, it is equally as vital to understand it at the individual level. We should consider, for example, the decisions which are made by an individual before the very act of migration. Understanding of lived experiences, appreciation for the fact that we too are not exempt from the possibility of life-altering challenges, should be the starting point of policymaking on migration and asylum – not a parenthesis. In 2022, despite rising anti-immigration rhetoric otherwise, Europe displayed an admirable response to the war in Ukraine. This response is exciting in that it promises to demonstrate the capacity of national asylum systems once given the spur of political motivations and, arguably, cultural/racial affinity.
Economically speaking, for long-term global development, it is increasingly important that migration be recognised as a necessity; resistance to it endangers low-income countries, but neither is it in developed countries’ interest. In fact, it is worth noting that migrants, while making up only 3% of the world’s population, contribute to around 10% of the global GDP. Furthermore, the overall attitude taken toward migration is of great import, especially at the governmental level, with a recent study highlighting the significant influence of political rhetoric on views amongst the electorate. Making conscious lexical choices – promoting the idea of ‘managing migration’ rather than ‘controlling migration’, for example – can positively influence the way we think about immigration. Indeed, migration is a phenomenon which must be ‘managed’ all the more given its incredibly multifaceted and variable nature. Last year, COP27 and the IMRF were important opportunities to recognise and discuss climate-induced migration at a global level. Climate-induced migration, as well as conflict-induced displacement, should be especially prioritised by developed nations given that they are often partly, if not directly, responsible for the cause(s) of displacement. Although the creation of and investment in effective asylum and integration systems is, in the short-term, an arduous task, the long-term benefits undoubtedly outweigh those sacrifices. Labour migration, on the other hand, while also essential, should be balanced with considerations around the effects of high-skilled workers migrating to the global north en masse. This phenomenon – commonly referred to as “brain drain” – poses yet another serious threat to the growth of developing countries.
Drought in East Africa:
Floods/Migration in Pakistan:
War in Ukraine:
Labour Shortages & Ageing Populations:
Backlogs/Strained Immigration Systems: