Where Do All the Refugees Come From?

Today I am going to be writing you about a passage from the book, Cold War 2.0: Dawn of the Asian Millennium, authored by Andranik Aghazarian.


“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the

land. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Warsan Shire, British writer, poet, editor, and teacher.

Until the second half of the 20th century, it was uncommon for men, women,

and children to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to arrive in

Europe. I am not referring to the raids that took place looking for European

slaves, but of migration. However, the Italians, French, Spanish and Greeks,

and other Europeans did escape to North Africa to avoid persecution or

overpopulation in their respective nations. They looked for their fortunes in

new soil, in Maghreb, and the colonies overseas. Looking back on the events

of the 19th century, we see how the world went through some incredible

transformations. European powers dominated the economies of Africa, their

colonization in full swing, and, with it, came waves of settlers. Just before the

outbreak of WWI, European colonists numbered one million in Algeria, a

nation with a native population of about 9 million at the time.

After the devastation of WWI and WWII that took the lives of millions of

men, Europe encouraged North African immigration so it can rehabilitate its

shattered economic bases. Shortages in the workforce led to a desire for

immigration, to help rebuild the former colonial powers. This was the

beginning of what some described as an “invasion”, while others consider it

the so-called “great replacement theory.” This migration of people into Europe

began as the result of constructed economic dependence upon exploitation of

cheap labor. Now, it has been accelerated by political instability, climate change,

lack of access to resources, religious strife, and globalization.

From Asia and Africa to Europe, South and Central America to North

America, and even remote islands in the Pacific, millions of people are on the

move due to climate change, wars, politics, and more. As human population

began to skyrocket about 200 years ago, the strains on natural resources has

accelerated, with inequality being exacerbated by climate change. During March

14-15, 2019, a tropical storm, named Tropical Cyclone Idai, ripped through

Mozambique. According to a World Vision report on March 5, 2020, it caused

flooding and destroyed more than $773 million USD worth of buildings,

infrastructure, and crops, as well as 100,000 homes. Incidents like this have

become more commonplace in recent years as humans continue to develop and


Since humans struggled to find equilibrium with nature, nature began to push

back, leaving many with little to no options. In the wake of this and many other

crises, in conjunction with a lack of resources, increasing population, and

political and social instability, we begin to see massive migrations across the

world. The purpose of this section is not to focus on the reasons behind the

mass migrations as they are extensive and varied, but more so to explain the

movements that are taking place and their impact.

On March 19, 2018, the World Bank Group issued a report estimating that by

2050, more than 143 million people could be forced to migrate to other areas

from just 3 regions in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa was expected to see the

most refugees, followed by South Asia, and then Latin America. The report

highlighted that the areas which would see the least water availability, crop

productivity, rising sea levels, and extreme weather patterns would be the most

affected. The current trend of migration was expected to continue to increase

in the future. Another area expected to be hard hit was East Africa, home to

some of the countries with the highest numbers of refugees today. While

climate refugees often flee under similar conditions as traditional refugees, the

current legal perspectives do not afford them the same rights and protection.

Currently, there are no multilateral strategies or legal frameworks which

recognize climate change as a driving factor behind human migration. The UN

High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has refused to grant refugee status

to climate refugees. Instead, they have classified them as “environmental

migrants” and are essentially ignored by governments. This lack of clarity

regarding the definition of these people has allowed human trafficking and

crime networks to thrive in their desperate quest to survive.

In an article from Time Magazine on December 1, 2017, we read about African

migrants being sold as slaves for $400 USD in the markets of Libya. Libya,

which is on the North Coast of Africa, has become the main transit port for

refugees and migrants seeking a better life. Over the past several years,

thousands of migrants have drowned trying to make it across to Europe. Some

estimates put the number of people being bottled up in Libya between 400,000

and 1 million trying to avoid being robbed, kidnapped, raped, or murdered.

In 2007, the International Organization for Migration (IOC) estimated 4.6

million African migrants were living in Europe, while the Migration Policy

Institute claimed it could be as high as 7 or 8 million. Still, since then, these

numbers have only increased. According to Lenard Doyle, the Director of

Media and Communications for the IOC, “It’s a total extortion machine.

Fueled by the absolute rush of migrants through Libya thinking they can get

out of poverty, following a dream that doesn’t exist.” Many have sold

everything and left everyone they know behind, looking for a better life. In

contrast, and in many ways, they escaped certain injustices and climatic events

but are unable to integrate into European society.

The Middle East, the cradle of modern civilization, is no stranger to large-scale

warfare. Whether due to sectarian violence, lack of jobs, climate change,

instability, or more, this region is also seeing widespread migrations. Of the top

10 countries applying for asylum in the European Union (EU), by far, the

leading countries were Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Given the Middle East’s

proximity to Europe, the continent became the obvious choice.

As Western culture penetrated deeply into most, if not all, parts of the

developing world, specific imaginary images about what life must be like in

Western countries come to the forefront. Of the most popular routes taken by

refugees and migrants into Europe, the vast majority transition through Turkey.

Since then, until now in 2020, Turkey is using the millions of migrants they

sheltered as leverage for billions of dollars and political concessions with the


The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, even threatened Europe to

“open the floodgates of refugees” if the EU dared to be critical of his military

adventurism in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. This situation led Eastern European

nations to take strong anti-refugee stances, increasing the popularity for

nationalistic politicians across Europe. On the other side, Greece, which shares

the border with Turkey and is the most accessible transit country, had been

pushed to reinforce border controls with continued heated debates about

erecting a wall along their borders.

Europe has been taking in immigrants from the Near East for thousands of

years, and even the current countries are no strangers to population shifts and

migrations. However, the recent large waves of immigration and religious

differences, along with media perceptions, have given Europeans negative

opinions about migrants and refugees.

The Pew Research Institute released a data in 201654 showing that many

Europeans were concerned that taking in more refugees would translate into

domestic terrorism. Furthermore, most Europeans polled had negative views

of Muslims in general. Regardless of the reasons of migrants coming into

Europe, it has become obvious that the opinion of Europeans towards them is

overwhelmingly negative.

But Europe is not the first and only choice of the migrants and refugees from

the Middle East. According to a report from Info Migrants on December 20,

2019, only 14% of all migrants from the Middle East had reached Europe. In

a 2019 UNHCR report titled Situation Report on International Migration 2019: The

Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in the Context of the Arab

Region, Arab countries had also been experiencing “unprecedented levels as

region of origin, transit, and destination” of human migration in recent years.

Since 1990, an estimated 38 million Arab nationals were living outside of their

home country within the greater Middle East Region. In 2018, two-fifths of

refugees worldwide, about 8.7 million, came from Arab countries; with almost

30% of them deciding to stay in the region. The number one destination for

these people was found to be Turkey, with nearly 4 million non-residents

estimated to be in the country. Furthermore, non-Arab Asian countries were

found to be the origin of 56% of the migrants in Arab countries, mostly coming

as migrant workers from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malaysia,

Philippines, Indonesia, etc.

In Southeast Asia, population transfers date back thousands of years, with new

arrivals being incorporated into the older culture. For instance, almost 20

million Chinese descendants are living in the Indo-China region today.

However, due to a wide variety of factors, including increasing populations and

climate change, these migrations put strains on already limited resources.

Research Gate provided data on the complex importation and exportation of

labor across Southeast Asia. According to a November 12, 2018 Inter Sector

Coordination Group report, there were so many refugees moving into

Bangladesh that it caused a critical humanitarian emergency.

In recent years, the Bay of Bengal witnessed the harmful displacement of

people from Rohingya, causing them to flee to neighboring countries. To date,

the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has done little to address

the situations concerning Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Across ASEAN countries, labor migration has played an essential role in

movements as well. Most of these migrants are low-skilled, often young, and

have an equal distribution between males and females. These workers usually

make their way to countries with, on average, older population, looking to fill

some fundamental roles. They are usually hired to be housekeepers, teachers,

construction workers, miners, nurses, farmhands, as well as handling any

hazardous jobs.

In a report issued by the Migrations Policy Institute on October 22, 2019, it

was found that the demographics of migrants coming to North America was

shifting. In the past, most migrants were from Latin American countries.

However, in recent years, there was a stark increase of people from Africa, Asia,

and the Middle East traveling via Latin American countries to North America.

These people were referred to in the report as “extracontinental migrants”

which means they are not from the Western Hemisphere, and this was not

noticed until recently.

Furthermore “the number of extracontinental migrants moving in and through

Latin America has increased so dramatically in recent years that it prompted

targeted policy responses from some countries, including Panama, Colombia,

and Costa Rica.” Surprisingly, most extracontinental migrants entered the

Western Hemisphere through legal means through visas. In some cases,

permits were not even required. This gateway is due to the lax visa requirements

of some countries, such as Brazil, Ecuador, and Guyana, which, in turn, make

them convenient entry ports for human traffickers.

However, their journey had only begun. The trip to the U.S. or Canada could

take months, if not years, often at the mercy of more smugglers and traversing

difficult terrain. Some of the common routes happened to cut right through

some of the most dangerous drug cartel-held areas, nicknamed “the cocaine

express.” Given how difficult this journey is, a report found that many decided

to abandon their quest and settle in South America instead, either by choice or

circumstance. And according to a Center for Immigration Studies report on

August 13, 2018, and based on court records, the top 3 origins of Special

Interest Aliens coming to the U.S. were from the Middle East, North and East

Africa, and South Asia.

For migrants traveling to the U.S. and coming from the Middle East, they often

went to Turkey and Greece, then to either European or the Gulf States or took

a Southern route through South America, before migrating to the U.S.59 People

from North and East Africa commonly went through the Gulf States, but

sometimes passed through Europe. Meanwhile, others preferred to land in

Latin American countries like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Mexico City.

On the other hand, those from South Asia often traveled via India, Singapore,

Gulf States or South Africa.

For a country like the U.S., which was founded upon immigration, it seemed

ironic that they had become so concerned with immigrants as of late. While

President Donald Trump was getting considerable criticism for his policies

towards immigration, in practice, he did not differ much from Democratic

President Barrack Obama. In general, there has been building sentiment with

U.S. administrations against immigration, with U.S. sentiment turning inwards.

According to the UN report from 2015, the U.S. already had the highest

number of immigrants in the world, with a total of 47 million people or about

14% of the country’s population. Meanwhile, the number of undocumented

immigrants was estimated to range from 10 to 12 million people or about 3.2%

to 3.6% of the country’s population. In Europe, according to Eurostat

Statistics, an estimated 21.8 million immigrants were living in the Eurozone or

about 4.9% of the continent’s population as of January 1, 2019. In 2018 alone,

an estimated 2.4 million immigrants from non-EU nations entered the EU.

Can the Western world handle more immigrants? Today, the U.S. is looking

more like a warzone than a sanctuary. As we have seen earlier in this book,

Western nations have long declined in almost every area of ranking.

Economically and financially, Western countries are on the verge of the worst

depression ever seen, made worse by COVID-19 policies and its repercussions.

As income inequality rises, so has the discontent which had sown the seeds of

social unrest we are witnessing today. With each day, the calls for more socialist

policies get more robust as those who feel left out want their piece of the pie.

We are already witnessing supply chains become disrupted due to the restrictive

movements and the protectionist policies of nations. Rising food costs will

have a substantial effect on citizens, and this year, 2020, has had a tremendous

impact on income.

In the middle of this, the U.S., feeling the threat of its place for world

dominance, is seeking to alienate China. They are forcing nations to pick a side

in a trade war that can only make things worse for all. All the while, Mother

Earth is pushing back against us with diseases and climate change, causing

disruptions and misery worldwide.

In a future where access to water and food will become scarcer, it makes sense

for whoever can move to make a better life. It is admirable for someone to

work hard and make a better life rather than rely on handouts. But as we can

see, it will not be the life we once had; it will be a new one we probably do not


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