Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at identifying the impact of migrations on the world order by 2050. This is his first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The figure of the migrant, diffused in media broadcasts across the world, is a political image that provokes polarizing reactions. The migrant—is it a completely novel emergence in history? Even a cursory reading on the topic reveals that migration is not a new phenomenon. A people—however nationalist myths construct them—have never been resting stagnant within nation-state borders. We are all migrants and mongrels of some sort. All desires for a pure nationalist phenotype are a nostalgic longing for idylls that have never existed.
Why is migration important to understand? While we may look upon past histories of migration with the detached interest of an academic, our contemporary migrations are all-too-close and all-too-urgent: they present an ethical imperative, a duty to decide and to act. This challenge is not one that the global community can neglect and stay a safe distance from.
The most recent mass migration has come from the Syrian Civil war, where an estimated population of 22 million Syrians were scattered about by the vagaries of historical circumstance — 13 million were displaced and 5 million of those displaced found themselves outside of Syrian national borders. The rippling geo-political effects of Syrian mass-migrations (among others) have impacted the world. Liberal democracies around the world agreed to do their fair share and house migrants; however, recent response by recipient states have changed. They have adopted a hostile position to migrants and from the fringes, alt-right parties and their leaders have begun to take center stage in contemporary politics. One commonality in these parties’ platforms has been the rejection of and the anxiety toward the foreign migrant. Migration has changed national politics. National politics, in turn, have changed international politics as nationalist discourse has led to an inward-looking and parochial political vision. The British and American exits from free trade deals and international organizations suggest the first cracks in the liberal world order, with its goals for political and economic international co-operation. A comparatively small displacement led to profound effects around the world.
The future is filled with the possibility of migration. Mass migrations will be a potent combination of push and pull factors: it will be a combination of aspirational desires in rich, urban metropolises and retreats from poverty and political instability. Of course, not all migrant populations will be undesirable. The growing, young demographics in the Global South will be welcomed in the Global North to fill labour shortages. These are likely to be in the minority compared to the potential migrations spurred on by existential threats like climate change, which has the potential to make large swaths of land mass uninhabitable. How might the introduction of a large migrant population, one that grossly outnumbers the current migrants, spark intra-national and international conflicts, both diplomatic and military?
The future of mass migration that we head towards today provokes all of these questions. To neglect this question would be to drive without headlights in the darkness. Through analysis and by writing about this topic, I hope to turn on the metaphorical headlights and illuminate the faint contours ahead. Only in the crudest beliefs in human nature is the fate of humanity doomed to economic rationality and resource-related conflicts from migration. As human beings—and this, fellow futurists should be well aware—we have the power to construct the future. We are not mere passengers driven by fate.
Why is migration important to understand? To shape the future.