Celebrating migration | Sunday Observer

Celebrating migration

Today, there is a lot of antagonism towards migrants in many parts of the world. Many world leaders have taken an anti-immigrant stance, mainly to pacify the majority communities in their respective countries. There is a tendency to blame all ills of the economy and other sectors on migrants. What we do not realise is that many countries from USA to Australia have actually been established by migrants. Sri Lanka is no exception – our ancestors hailed from many other parts of the world including India. Evidence overwhelmingly shows that migrants generate economic, social and cultural benefits for societies everywhere. Yet, hostility towards migrants is unfortunately growing around the world. Thus solidarity with migrants has never been more urgent.

The stark reality is that we are all migrants. Migration is the very foundation of humanity. The first humanoids are believed to have migrated from what is now East Africa nearly 120,000 years ago to other parts of Africa and the world. In essence, human history is actually a story of migration. A sense of exploration and yearning to find what lay over the horizon took humans to other parts of the world.

Migration almost always enriches a country’s economy and culture. Many countries would not have developed to this extent if not for the massive contribution made by migrants. Today, globalization, together with advances in communications and transport, has greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places.

It is therefore appropriate that the United Nations has set aside a separate day (December 18) to mark the contribution of migration to the moulding of our world and to highlight the very modern issue of mass migration that occurs as a result of poverty, conflict and even environmental problems. As UN Secretary General António Guterres notes, “migration has always been with us. Climate change, demographics, instability, growing inequalities, and aspirations for a better life, as well as unmet needs in labour markets, mean it is here to stay. The answer is effective international cooperation in managing migration to ensure that its benefits are most widely distributed, and that the Human Rights of all concerned are properly protected.”

In a victory for migration and migrants everywhere, Leaders from 164 countries have agreed to a global pact that sets in action a plan “to prevent suffering and chaos” for global migration despite opposition and several withdrawals by a number of countries. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) was agreed upon on Monday at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakech, Morocco. A non-binding agreement, the GCM aims to better manage migration at local, national, regional and global levels, including reducing the risks and vulnerabilities the migrants or refugees face at different stages of their journey.

The total number of international migrants has increased from an estimated 175 million in 2000 to 258 million in 2017. The number of migrants, representing 3.4 percent of the world’s population, is increasing faster than the global population, driven by economic prosperity, inequality, violence, conflict and climate change. Around 80 percent of the world’s migrants move between countries in a safe and orderly fashion. But, more than 60,000 people have died on the move since the year 2000, according to the UN. In 2018 alone, more than 3,300 people have “died or gone missing in the process of migration towards an international destination”, says the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Even in transit countries, or the country of destination, racism, discrimination and human-rights violations are continuously reported.

Illegal migration has become a major issue in many countries, to the point where extremist political parties have sprung up to “protect the borders” of their respective countries against a perceived “alien invasion”. These parties spread fear and suspicion about the immigrants among the native population. Respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all migrants is essential to reap the benefits of international migration, though countries are free to address concerns such as extremism and terrorism.

Migration can be both legal and illegal. Europe has faced a wave of illegal migrants coming over on rickety boats, with thousands losing their lives en route. But, many countries do offer a legal pathway for migration, mainly because their population is not adequate to meet the labour and professional services needs. Japan is the latest to join this list, with the Government planning to issue work visas (with option of Permanent Residency) for more than 300,000 foreigners. Many countries also offer a PR pathway for students and professionals.

In this category are people from developing countries with skills and professional qualifications who legally obtain permanent residency and citizenship in countries such as Australia and Canada with generally low populations. Many advanced and dynamic economies need migrant workers to fill jobs that cannot be outsourced and cannot find local workers willing to take them at going wages.

In the other category are people who try to escape their own countries to regions such as Europe and Australia due to economic reasons, conflict or other factors. It must be noted that the poorest people in any country generally do not have the resources to bear the costs and risks of international migration. International migrants are thus usually drawn from middle-income households. If they succeed in their bid to reach a ‘greener pasture’, they become refugees or asylum seekers, but many of them end up being deported.

The trafficking and smuggling of persons is an integral part of migration, the difference being that persons are trafficked against their will for slavery or prostitution while those smuggled are undertaking the journey on their own volition. Human Smuggling Rings charge exorbitant amounts for a rickety boat ride and leave the migrants midway at sea with only two options – getting caught by navies of destination countries or death by drowning.

Migration does not even have to be from one country to another. Most countries suffer from the phenomenon of domestic migration, where youth from villages migrate to the more prosperous cities in search of jobs and educational opportunities. This has a severe effect on the villages as the talent pool available for farming and traditional village industries drops almost to zero. This is why it is essential to create equal opportunities for all youth in the villages as well as in the cities.

Migration, though not a new phenomenon by any means, is re-defining the world we live in. It is essentially a two-way street. Developing countries must do more to create opportunities for youth within their boundaries which will dampen the enthusiasm to migrate. Destination countries too must be more compassionate towards the plight of genuine migrants fleeing conflict and persecution while balancing their national interests and resources. The world will be a better place to live in if we can all get along.