The world can solve this migration crisis

Clive Myrie

Are the world’s richer nations normalising the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean? That’s the fear of the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), the body established in 1951 “out of the chaos and displacement of western Europe after the second world war”. Eleven million people were uprooted and the IOM’s job was to help European governments identify countries where people could be resettled.
In the 1950s, the IOM arranged transport for nearly a million migrants to their new home countries, with the success of the resettlement programme based on international cooperation, and the idea that the burden had to be shared. Fast forward more than 70 years from the IOM’s creation, and we see a very different attitude towards the world’s various migration crises, when the climate crisis, along with war and poverty, is helping fuel displacement in unprecedented numbers. The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that a record 71.1 million people worldwide in 2022 were fleeing their native communities in search of safety and shelter, a 20% increase on the year before. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s displaced people live in just 10 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine and Sudan, all racked by war. But most displacements last year, 32.6 million, were due to climate disasters, including floods, drought and landslides. Many of these people, unable to rebuild their lives at home, will inevitably try to build new lives abroad, but where is the international cooperation to help them?
The urge to seek opportunities beyond the seas is as old as time. Throughout history, humankind has been on the move. My own parents are members of the Windrush generation, and I chronicle their experience of migration from the Caribbean to the colonial “motherland” of England in my new memoir, Everything is Everything. Just as in the great waves of Irish or Italian migration to the US through the mid 19th and early 20th centuries, my mum and dad were seeking a better life, pulled by the promise of a new land. But the UK was also desperate to fill a labour shortage in the 1950s and 60s caused by the second world war, and the decision of about 2 million white Britons to escape depressed, ration book Britain for other parts of the Commonwealth. The hostility and abuse many in the Windrush generation suffered on arrival forged a determination to succeed, and a resilience that’s helped transform this country.
The drive for foreign migrant workers, who were vital for postwar reconstruction, was a feature of much of northern Europe after 1945, hence the creation of the IOM. West Germany, for instance, from the 1950s, had a Gastarbeiter or migrant worker programme, which explains the presence of the vibrant Turkish community in the unified Germany of today. What’s interesting is that labour shortages are back. The post-pandemic world has seen unemployment in richer nations fall to some of the lowest levels in decades, with vacancies near an all-time high and employers badly needing workers. Governments are now actively trying to encourage immigration, with Canada hoping for 1.5 million new residents in the next couple of years and many wealthy countries, including some traditionally opposed to immigration, such as Japan and South Korea, now more receptive to foreign-born talent, as they battle ageing populations.
And yet for most of the people now fleeing war, poverty and the effects of climate catastrophe, there are few visa programmes, resettlement schemes or safe routes to the wealthier nations, where they may be able to live prosperous lives. Some will speculate that this is because the people involved are mostly black or brown, underpinning the fear of the IOM that their deaths in the Mediterranean are being normalised. The IOM has calculated that, since 2014, more than 28,000 people have lost their lives in their attempts to reach Europe, and the number of people reported dead or missing so far this year outstrips the numbers for each of the previous four years.
There are now delays and gaps in state-led search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and some governments, such as Hungary, haven’t hidden the fact that they’re perfectly happy to accept Christian and white migrants, while rejecting non-Christian, black or brown people. The UN says now is the time for a coordinated, global strategy on international migration, with the general assembly meeting this month in New York for a high-level summit. The aim is to find a more humane approach to what the UN is calling the worst migration crisis since the second world war. After 1945, global leaders rose to the challenge. Now, we all wait for them to do it again.
The Guardian