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.
SECTION 5: MASS MIGRATIONS
“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
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
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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