Migration Crisis: How to Break the Cycle of Death and Amnesia
Europe alone cannot be asked to single-handedly shoulder the migration/refugee crisis facing the world.
- Waiting for a European solution to this colossal humanitarian crisis is irresponsible and immoral.
- US cannot use distance as a justification to abandon its international and moral obligations.
- The current state of the world’s refugees and migrants calls for immediate game-changing action.
- The number of displaced people around the world has reached 60 million, highest ever since WWII.
- A regularized migration from surplus to deficit countries will go a long way in saving lives.
Waiting for a European solution to this colossal humanitarian crisis is irresponsible and immoral. Proximity to the primary conflict zone in the world made Europe the preferred destination for those seeking safety and a better life for themselves and their families.
Distance, however, should not be a reason for abandoning one’s international and moral obligations, especially not for the US.
Neither should such distance tempt us to engage in moral condemnation of immoral policies — without equitably sharing the burden of increased migration.
Europe alone cannot be asked to single-handedly shoulder the migration/refugee crisis facing the world. Hungary and some other EU states deserve criticism and condemnation for their inhumane treatment of migrants and their reluctance to accommodate them.
But we Americans must go way beyond that. Taking the presumable moral high road – as quite a few voices in the United States have done and continue to do — leaves the migrants stranded at the gates of the EU without a viable safe alternative.
Don’t let the issue be forgotten
We must also be realistic: The media coverage of the refugee crisis is already slowly dwindling. As a consequence, we risk, once again, letting the growing population of migrants in need of international protection drift out of our minds.
Our conscience will only be re-awakened likely months from now, when another spate of migrant deaths occurs.
It is our moral obligation to break the recurring cycle of death and public outcry, which is then followed by collective amnesia.
We should not be willing to tolerate that. A key reason is that a growing proportion of refugees today are children, many of them travelling without guardians.
The painful images of children standing helpless behind barbed wire at various borders, or those taken by the waves in the sea, are the human face of this protection gap.
The current state of the world’s refugees and migrants calls for immediate game-changing action by the global community of nations.
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon can help break the cycle by calling a high-level meeting to find ways to reach a durable solution to the refugee/migration crisis.
These high level meetings should culminate in an International Convention on the Protection of the Displaced, which would design a new protection regime capable of addressing the current crisis.
Mistakes of the past
There is actually an inspiring precedent – the United Nations’ own efforts in dealing with the international population movement after World War II, which culminated in the 1951 Refugee Convention.
It served as a useful instrument for saving lives and protecting the vulnerable for many years.
This convention, however, is no longer sufficient in today’s world, where we need to deal with the more subtle, but no less desperate forms of international population movements and displacements.
By creating a binary approach that separated refugees from the so-called economic migrants, the 1951 Refugee Convention excluded from international protection anyone who could not demonstrate a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
The current crisis is partly a reflection of the inadequacies of the 1951 Convention — insofar as it provides protection only to the vulnerable displaced population in the world.
The distinction between refugees and “economic migrants” has led to a critical protection gap affecting millions of migrants who are forced to leave their places of birth due to various forms of violence and insecurity.
Conflict-induced poverty, environmental degradation, gender-based violence, civil wars and recurring political violence are among the many forces that result in international displacement.
The number of displaced people around the world has now reached 60 million, higher than at any other time since the Second World War. The lack of a broader and more inclusive definition of vulnerability and protection needs has resulted in arbitrariness and confusion among various stakeholders.
While most of those escaping the civil war in Syria are received with more sympathy by most states, Afghans, Eritreans, Sudanese and other migrants fleeing poverty caused by conflict are denied protection.
Avoiding the arbitrariness in policy and protection requires designing a new mapping of vulnerabilities by the UN convention, based on the current realities of international population movement.
The new definition and ranking of vulnerabilities would serve as the basis for an alternative protection regime. Ultimately, a new protection regime also requires an equitable resettlement of vulnerable migrants among UN member states based on their population size and economic status.
This would be the second pillar of the International Convention on the Protection of the Displaced. The convention would need to make every effort to change this by designing a global quota system that relieves the pressure on Europe and creates a fair system of distribution among nations.
Need for a better mechanism
Resettlement requires opening to potential migrants in their home states the embassies of the states willing to receive migrations. Applications for protection would need to be reviewed on the basis of the new criteria to be established by the UN convention.
Setting up such a resettlement policy would reduce the need for migrants to risk their lives by traveling hazardous land and sea routes. It would also severely crimp the smuggling industry by cutting the demand for its services.
Using embassies abroad should not, however, lead to exclusion from consideration for protection of those who succeed to arrive in their destination country.
The new regime would not provide safety for all in need of protection. It would not include those crossing international borders simply in search of better economic opportunities. Addressing the needs of these economic migrants falls outside the purview of the UN. However, individual countries and regional groupings with specific needs can develop more effective approaches to the problem.
While many European and Western states are facing a deficit of young working populations, Africa, Asia and other parts of the work are grappling with a surplus.
An orderly and regularized migration from surplus to deficit countries would go a long way in saving lives, while at the same time helping migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries.
Time is ripe for bold actions to make a difference.