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Where are the migration flashpoints?

Posted By Kevin Jae, Monday, August 17, 2020

Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the migration flashpoints in his eighth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


Migration may spark internal, intra-state conflict, as discussed previously. This still leaves a whole set of unexamined questions on the potential effect of migration on inter-state conflict. Where are the potential flashpoints, at which state-on-state conflict may erupt?


As is evident from the contemporary political landscape, state violence and state-on-state conflict begets a certain type of migrant, the refugee. Refugees can be political exiles who remain involved in the politics of their country. As politically marginalized figures with a vested interest in the affairs of the home country, refugees may continue their political dissidence from the safety of the host country—sometimes with the support of the host country, who see an opportunity to advance their interests.


Of course, it is not our intention to cast the shadow of a security threat onto the bodies of refugees: the vast majority of refugees seek only a better life. However, 73% of refugees are hosted in neighbouring countries, which make them a potent conduit of such engagement against the home state. Additionally, great numbers of refugees have not been resettled in any meaningful capacity. 25% of refugees are stuck in refugee camps, where they may stay for years or even decades. The refugees in these camps lack basic infrastructure and any semblance of a decent future. These conditions foster resentment, despair, and can lead to collusion with dissident groups. As an example, the Palestine Liberation Organization operated from Lebanon and Jordan and relied on Palestinian refugee camp networks for support. Climate change related factors will lead to the increase of externally displaced refugees and may exacerbate political tensions between refugees and home country. Without a coordinated global response to resettle refugees, refugee camps will only grow larger and refugees will only become more desperate.


Refugee camps on the boundaries of nation-states may play a larger role in facilitating political conflict as these trends continue. To name some of the larger camps, there are nearly a million Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, there are nearly 5.6 million Syrians in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, and there are Somalian refugees in camps near Kenya and Ethiopia. The locations of refugee camps may change in the future; however, potential flashpoints can be found in nations vulnerable to climate change (like Bangladesh) and conflicts that produce refugees.


Migrants can also be used in state policy. Turkey has struck a deal with the E.U. to host refugees. A failure to uphold the deal or a miscommunication may result in retaliatory action and subsequent conflict. Additionally, a migrant—if not yet a citizen of the host country—is fundamentally in an ambiguous position in between two nation-states. Having left the safety and sovereignty of the home country, the migrant has abandoned his or herself to the goodwill of the host state. Nation-states exert a degree of influence through embassies and consulates that provide political services for their citizens abroad, but their powers are limited. Nation-states can prey upon the extra-territorial migrants under their jurisdiction, creating or aggravating conflict between states. In a recent demonstration, Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei and daughter of the founder, was arrested by Canadian authorities on December 1, 2018 to be extradited to the United States. In response, the Chinese government detained two Canadian citizens working in China under the state secrets law. While the current pandemic virus has radically changed inter-state mobility, labour market migrants are fodder for this type of state manoeuvring.


Migrants motivated by both push factors (refugees) and pull factors (economic migrants) are a potential locus of flashpoints. Both of these forms of migration promise to increase in the future. The unresolved climate change problem will lead to millions of displaced people. If the trends toward globalization continue past the end of the pandemic, then economic migrants can be potential political pawns to advance state interests, particularly as conflicts between state intensify.


© Kevin Jae 2020

Tags:  climate change  migration  refugee 

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