The day was chosen to commemorate the 1990 anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
By (Mrs.) AMP Narinder Chauhan
On December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in view of the large and growing number of migrants in the world, declared December 18 as International Migrants Day. The day was chosen to commemorate the 1990 anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Two global agreements have been signed over the past two years, one on safe, orderly and regular migration, and the other on the Global Compact on Refugees.
Today, more people than ever live in a country other than the country in which they were born. While many migrate out of choice, many others do so out of necessity. According to the World Migration Report 2022 issued by the International Organization for Migrants (IOM), the number of migrants globally in 2020 reached 281 million, an increase of 60 million from 2010. However, this represents only 3.6% of the total world population, i.e. only 1 in 30 million migrants.
Work is the main reason people migrate internationally. The largest migration corridors tend to be from developing countries to larger economies such as the United States, France, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. The United States was the main destination for international immigrants, the number of US-born foreigners increasing from 12 million in 1970 to 51 million in 2019. Germany ranks second as the best destination, rising from 8.9 million in 2000 to 16 million in The year 2020. These are the countries with high levels of human development. Passport holders can travel without a visa to about 85% of all other countries around the world. However, they often have strict visa restrictions for less developed countries which creates complications of their own including pushing applicants into the hands of unscrupulous agents.
Migration for work has led to a concomitant increase in international remittances, from a total of $126 billion in 2000 to $702 billion in 2020. COVID-19 saw a slight decrease of 2.4% in 2020. In 2020, India, China and Mexico occupied the Philippines Egypt ranked first among the five recipient countries of remittances, although India and China were much higher than the rest, with total remittances exceeding $83 billion and $59 billion, respectively. High income countries are the main sources of remittances. For decades, the US has always been the number one remittance sender, with a total outflow of $68 billion in 2020, followed by the United Arab Emirates $43.2 billion, Saudi Arabia $34.6 billion, Switzerland $27.6 billion and Germany 22 billion . between development and co-development. Migrant workers contribute to the economic development of host countries and their remittances raise living standards back home.
According to the report of the International Organization for Migration, multiple factors have shaped the migration corridors. More than 40% of international migrants, ie 115 million, were born in Asia, and about 20% are from 6 Asian countries including India, the largest country of origin, followed by China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and Afghanistan. After India, Mexico was the second largest country of origin globally, and Russia ranked third. Many other European countries have large numbers of immigrants, including Ukraine, Poland, the United Kingdom, Romania and Germany.
Although only a small percentage of the local population are international migrants, in some countries such as the United Arab Emirates, international migrants make up 88% of their total population. Migrants face challenges of assimilation and often engage in three-dimensional jobs: dirty, dangerous and demanding. Migrants face problems accessing health care, housing, education, and employment. They may become easy targets for exploitation due to the lack of a family network to protect, lack of information, or lost documents. Some of the 35 million Indian expatriates abroad have faced the above challenges and the vast majority of them have performed very well.
Throughout human history, migration has been a brave expression of an individual’s will to overcome adversity and live a better life. The historical exchange of population during the partition of India in 1947 found a reflection in the migration caravans seen in the Western Balkans during the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s that led to the division of Yugoslavia into six nations. It entailed Serbian government-sponsored diaspora events to draw them back to their roots, as India does annually.
The past few years have witnessed significant conflict migration and displacement events such as in Syria, Central African Republic, Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan; the severe violence suffered by the Rohingya who were forced to seek safety in Bangladesh; Or severe economic and political instability as in Venezuela. Those caused by natural disasters have been seen in Mozambique, the Philippines, China, India and the USA. Global displacement has risen despite Covid-19 mobility restrictions.
Of the 281 million migrants, 26 million are refugees. The global number of forcibly displaced people, including refugees, has doubled since 2010, according to the latest report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More people have fled Syria than any other country. Turkey tops the list of countries receiving refugees. Only five countries produce 68% of all refugees displaced abroad: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. The top five host countries are Turkey, Colombia, Germany, Pakistan and Uganda. Although India is not a signatory to the International Refugee Convention, India has a strong tradition of admission, as do His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan refugees, from East Pakistan and now Bangladesh, and more recently from Afghanistan.
With 3.7 meters within its borders, Turkey hosts twice as many refugees as Colombia, the second largest host country with 1.7 million, the situation in Turkey arises from its proximity to Syria where war and conflict have now raged for 10 years. In 2015, more than 1 million migrants/refugees from Syria entered the European Union; 3,771 died crossing the seas, EU laws require asylum seekers to be physically present and airlines will not allow them without a visa, throwing them into the hands of smugglers to arrange logistics. I was horrified to see 71 people in an unventilated food truck in Vienna, Germany, which had the tradition of receiving people fleeing war and persecution, took in 800,000 immigrants, and helped the popular electronic volunteer movement with the difficult task of settling them. These numbers quickly overshadowed, in 2016, the European Union provided money to Turkey to keep it as many Syrians found safe homes and work. In Sweden, fortunately, 40,000 immigrant children may soon join the workforce to mitigate the country’s aging population. On the other hand, immigration polarized society and politics and anti-immigration sentiment rose in Europe.
The United States under Biden, in January 2021, opened the doors to immigrants/refugees from Central Asia, Central America, Africa and Afghanistan. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2021, led to a desperate mass exodus of Afghans to the US by air, many of whom were forced to stay. Economic problems in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Cuba worsened during the pandemic, and two million made the perilous journey by road to the United States from Mexico. About 1,25,000 unaccompanied minors have already been transferred into government care. Finally, the numbers forced the US to consider asylum claims on site, and find solutions in the countries of origin, apart from saying “don’t come”.
The global displacement rate has reached a record high, with the number of internally displaced people reaching nearly 55 million and the number of refugees over 26 million. Africa has recorded the highest increase in internal displacement due to armed conflicts and human disasters. The ongoing civil war in Ethiopia has caused a wave of displacement involving millions as well as a comprehensive humanitarian crisis.
According to reports, in 2019, more than 4,25,000 refugees were able to return to their homeland or find permanent homes in third countries. That dropped to less than 300,000 in 2020 because the pandemic has made it more difficult to travel. The need for greater solidarity and cooperation with and support for host countries, communities and refugees was recognized. There is also consensus on the need to prevent and combat human trafficking in migration pathways, but there is purportedly less consensus on how to achieve this in practice, and there may be a lack of political will to implement effective policies.
The immobility associated with Covid 19 has become the biggest migration disorder. Many governments have used the pandemic to curb immigration and advance nationalist agendas. For the United States, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Greece and Lebanon, this has meant delays in resettling refugees and pushing back asylum seekers as at the EU-Belarus border. Houthi rebels in Yemen expelled thousands of Ethiopians and sent them to the Saudi border, where they came under fire. The anti-immigrant narrative has been strengthened in places like China, while racism against East Asian immigrants and their children has increased in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Covid restrictions have led to changes in migration routes and pushed, for example, some migrants from Europe through the Canary Islands instead of traditional transit countries such as Libya and Morocco.
Migration is attracting increasing attention in the world nowadays. International Migrants Day is observed globally with the aim of making the voices of migrants heard by disseminating information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, exchanging experiences, and taking action to ensure the protection of migrants. Since 2016, the festival has included a film festival that in 2019 included more than 620 immigration film screenings and panel discussions. This year’s theme will be Together We Heal, Learn and Shine.
(The author is a former Indian ambassador and envoy to the European Union. Twitter:nchauhanifs The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited.)
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