Forced immigration is a reality many countries have been forced to come to terms with in different ways. Thousands are fleeing their countries each day. Involuntary immigration mostly connotes violence. It was reported that in 2015, an average of 24 people were forced to flee each minute. A total of 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015. This was the first time in United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees’ history that the threshold of 60 million had been crossed.
Violence, in this case, is mostly exhibited as armed conflict. This is not a new phenomenon in the history of humanity. War has been part of human history from time immemorial. Thanks to technological advancement and research, warfare has transformed from battering rams smashing castle walls, people riding on horse backs, swords, bows and arrows, spears and of course shields, to automated/autonomous weapons for ground, sea and aerial assault with devastating implications.
The Second World War has been recorded as the deadliest war in history going by the cumulative body count since its start to its end, from 1939 – 1945, with 60 – 80 million casualties. To put this into perspective, this figure is more than the population of South Africa and Singapore combined! The gravity of this colossal loss of life is just unbelievable. The scariest bit is the fact that since the Second World War, technology has advanced further becoming more sophisticated and military spending is growing. A repeat of the same will be catastrophic to say the least.
There are several causes of war ranging from economic gain, religion, territorial gain, revenge amongst others. The aftermath of war, regardless of cause, is usually devastating coming with both social and economic implications. Armed conflicts usually lead to involuntary immigration. Currently, we are experiencing conflicts in various parts of Africa and the Middle East. Some of the countries experiencing armed conflicts include: Syria, Somalia, Burundi, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Congo, among others. Let’s concisely describe some of the cases, shall we?
The ongoing Syrian civil war stemmed from the unrest of the Arab Spring which began in Tunisia in 2010 and later spread across countries in the Arab League. The Arab Spring was a mix of both violent and non-violent protests and demonstrations claiming close to half a million lives since 2011 and forcing millions into exile.
In Burundi, the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision in April 2015 to seek a third term sparked protests which have currently displaced over 100,000 citizens. This move breaches the constitution and compromises democracy. Public awareness cannot tolerate such bigotry. Burundi had enjoyed a decade of peace after the end of a civil war that lasted from 1993 to 2006. Thousands of Burundians have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania fearing for their safety.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is also in turmoil after the government of President Joseph Kabila decided to delay general elections slated for November 2016 to early 2018 citing financial and logistical issues effectively extending his term until then. This led to violent protests forcing people to flee fearing retribution. This comes after 5 million people lost their lives in a conflict that lasted from 1994 to 2003 dubbed Africa’s First World War.
South Sudan became an independent state on 9th July 2011 and in December 2013, just two years into independence, a power struggle broke out between the incumbent president and his former deputy. Since the civil war, in a country of 12 million people, a quarter of its people have been displaced. About 1.8 million people have been internally displaced and at least 1.4 million fleeing to neighboring countries.
Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq also face frequent unrests, poverty and human rights abuses leading to their nationals seeking safer territories. Europe has had to deal with this reality the hard way. Immigrants flock into their territory every single day and statistics show that the number seems to be growing.
The above examples barely scratch the surface of the immigration crisis. In 2015, estimates by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR revealed that an unprecedented one million people fled to Europe in 2015 through the Mediterranean Sea. The bulk of these immigrants and refugees came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Pushed by civil war, poverty, human rights abuses and terror, the number of migrants and refugees who crossed into Europe has risen from 280,000 in 2014 to more than a million in 2015. Such a large influx of migrants comes with its own social –political and economic implications both positive and negative.
Germany’s controversial open door asylum policy has come at a high cost. A number of attacks that rocked Germany in 2016 can be directly linked to the open door asylum policy. In July 2016, an Afghan refugee hacked a passenger on a train. In a separate incident, on 22 July a Syrian refugee killed a woman using a machete and wounded five other people. Later that day, a Syrian whose refugee application had been rejected blew himself up outside a bar in Ansbach wounding fifteen people.
Kenya is on the verge of closing down Dadaab Refugee camp after fears that the camp was being used by extremists to recruit new members into terror groups. In November 2013, Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement in Mogadishu paving the way for voluntary repatriation of Somali nationals.
The pain and suffering immigrants go through in their quest for better lives is something most people can’t comprehend. The torturous journeys through the high seas crammed in overloaded boats, or trying to navigate thick forests with the hope of finding salvation means every breath you take could be your last. Some of the causes of forced immigration subjecting men, women and children to such gruesome experiences can be avoided through concerted effort geared towards achieving a common goal.
At this point, it is worth noting that involuntary immigration is not always an aftermath of violence. Other factors such as development-induced displacement, natural disasters and human trafficking can also lead to forced immigration. A broader look into involuntary immigration highlights its pros and cons from a socio-economic point of view. Immigrants are not always a burden to the host country. Some have turned out to be a blessing in disguise making positive contribution in different way to the host country.
- Cultural diversity – With the influx of immigrants from different continents and countries, host countries benefit from a rich cultural diversity. Cultural diversity dilutes stereotyping and waters down racial tensions thus letting citizens focus on more pressing issues.
- Talent pool – Host countries can benefit from the human capital immigrants bring with them if they come from a good educational background. Immigrants can be a valuable pool of talent that can fill gaps in various sectors if the economy that suffering from lack of laborers.
- Pension gap – Most immigrants are young people with the energy to overcome the treacherous journey to the Promised Land. For some, sadly, the journey ends along the way. This pool of young and energetic individuals contributes to the pension scheme and pay taxes. This flow of contribution bridges the gap between inflows and outflows.
- Innovation – Immigrants have bolstered innovation in host countries. In America, a report by National Foundation for American Policy found out that immigrants founded 51% of US billion dollar startups. From tech companies such as AppDynamics and Palantir Technologies to rocket makers and taxi hailing service Uber Technologies.
The flip side is not rosy.
- Discrimination – Immigration can be politicized and the local population can use racism as an excuse to blame immigrants for prevailing woes in the society.
- Brain drain – Original countries lose talent to developed countries in the form of brain drain. While original countries continue to languish in misery, developed countries get innovators and scholars who continue transforming their societies.
- Strain on resources – With an increase in population, public services become strained. Services such as healthcare, transport, education and public security become difficult to offer effectively and efficiently.
- Exploitation – Migrants may be exploited to offer cheap labor and work for extra hours. We live in a capitalist era where it’s all about maximizing profits. Labor is a major cost component in production and firms will usually go for the cheapest option.
Going by the statistics and implications of people having to involuntarily leave their homes, policies need to be developed to ensure the number of forced immigrants goes down. International diplomacy needs to be uniform and international justice needs to be served and observed correspondingly to all under its jurisdiction. The international community needs to come up with policies that address and combat evitable causes of forced immigration.