Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the probable border clashes that may be caused by climate change in her eighth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
As the climate emergency grows in scope and scale, the world’s refugee crisis is slated to explode. While finding precise statistics is difficult, the UNHCR estimates that conflicts associated with climate change have created at least 9 million refugees in the last decade alone. By 2050, that number is likely to grow much higher. Among the many issues that stem from such scales of forced migration – from spikes in human rights violations to mounting economic hardships – border tensions are among the most aggressive and complex.
Climate change is a key driver in this dynamic. As we’ve explored previously, drought and famine resulting from climatic shifts have been directly linked to violent civil wars in Syria, Somalia and beyond, wars that have created millions refugees. If not ameliorated, such numbers will only increase. Researchers project that within the African continent, 250 million people live in regions that will be vulnerable to food and water insecurity in the coming decades. Three-quarters of the Sahel’s arable land will likely be lost by the end of the century, forcing many millions more to move. In low-lying areas – coastal zones support roughly 12 percent of the continent’s population - rising sea levels will increase pressures on African states, compounding existing governmental instabilities and sparking mass migrations at scales not seen before in human history.
When so many are on the move, conflicts follows. In recent years, Europe has become a flashpoint for such tensions. Over the past decade, millions of people fleeing war, climate-induced crises and chronic poverty from Africa, the Middle East and south Asia have sought refuge in European countries. Those who survive their often-dangerous journeys have found increasingly dark welcomes, as political groups and media sources progressively portray migration as a kind of invasion of people from different cultures. Themes of threat - to welfare systems, cultural norms and more - have been particularly prevalent in Italy, Spain and Britain. This trend of relating to refugees as ‘other’ harkens back to the racist overtones used to justify colonialism and its systems of subjugation, abuse and enslavement.
Many countries have responded by electing leaders who oppose immigration and shut down borders. Bulgaria and Hungary – primary routes into the rest of the European continent for refugees fleeing war in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan - have erected barbed wire fencing in recent years. Norway, Latvia and Estonia have likewise constructed new barriers within the past decade. In 2017 then-interior minister of Italy, Marco Minniti, made an agreement with Libya to supply technical support to the Libyan coastguard to fend African refugees away from Italian coastlines. Farther north, the UK has pressured France to build walls around the port of Calais on the tunnel connecting the two countries. Immigration and tensions around refugee resettlement have become such massive issues across the continent that previously unthinkable geopolitical shifts like Brexit are now reality.
As these border issues show, no place in our modern world is exempt from the impacts of climate change. When refugees escape aggression – increasingly instigated by climate related instabilities - they move, shifting the makeup, history, norms and trajectories of the places to which they flee. Border tensions are a significant part of our current responses to those changes.
Mass migration is both our present and, increasingly, our future. But it is also our past. Migration is a natural response to environmental change, one that humans have taken throughout our history. Migration is what allowed our ancestors to spread across the globe, creating the diverse cultures and societies that we know today. To summarize the writer Sonia Shah, migration has not been the response to crisis in our collective past, but rather the solution. If our go-to answers are to keep newcomers out and current border conditions continue, tensions between countries will only increase. However, if we can envision a future more akin to our past, in which migration serves as a source of hope rather than fear, we can write a different story.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the role of migration in causing conflicts through his seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Migration and conflict seem to be intrinsically connected. Intra- and inter-state conflicts around the world have devastated livelihoods and led to displaced peoples both inside and outside of home country borders. One can think of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and recently, Syria, as examples.
The converse appears to be the case as well. The recent movement of migrants into the borders of the West have shifted domestic politics. In the United States, President Trump has vowed to build a wall to keep Mexican migrants out. In the European Union, there has been a similar political realignment. In the absence of an appropriate European response, nationalist responses have threatened to unravel the fragile political tapestry that is the European Union. Europe ended up paying Turkey to host migrants—the solution was figuratively displaced.
The vicious cycle of conflict, forced migration, and further conflict threatens to spiral out of control, particularly due to the unresolved threat of climate change, which may worsen food stability and literally render some areas of the world uninhabitable. According to a commonly cited figure, there will be over 200 million forced displacements related to climate change by 2050. The current figure is at 80 million forced displacements (both internal and external) today.
A brief sketch of 2050 may frighten the reader into believing in an apocalyptic image of the future, in which over-migration will lead to resource scarcity, societal disorder, and violent conflict. However, one can temper this image of 2050, where migrants storm the gilded gates of the West.
Despite popular conceptions, the share of migrants as a percentage of the global population has hardly changed since 1960. It has remained at 3% of the global population, from 93 million out of a population of 3 billion in 1960 to 244 million out of a population of 7.3 billion in 2015. However, the flow of migration has changed. The European continent has changed from being a source of migration (due to colonization and push factors) to become a destination for migrants. It attracts 1.5 to 2.5 million migrants per year today, which equates to 0.3% to 0.5% of the entire European Union population.
Forced displacements have occupied a powerful image in the public imagination. However, Europe and the West is not the final destination of all of the nearly 80 million displaced people in the world. According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2019, 45.7 million were displaced internally, and 26 million were considered refugees (being displaced externally). Of the 26 million people, 73% were hosted in neighbouring countries, and 85% were hosted in developing countries. While climate change threatens to create forced displacements, the majority of those displaced will be displaced internally and most of them will be displaced into neighbouring countries.
Finally, additional context about the present discourse around migration and conflict needs to be discussed. While migrants may create some legitimate cultural and structural tensions, it is also important to explore the economic context underlying the recent shift in public discourse about migrants. Research suggests that the inhabitants of regions hit by economic insecurity, due to the 2008 financial crisis and the outsourcing of supply chains, are more likely to be anti-migration. Insecure livelihoods and scarcity revive the well-worn trope of the lazy, but job-stealing migrant, who simultaneously takes jobs from locals but also undermines the welfare state. The migrant has perhaps returned to the position of the scapegoat. These economic conditions contribute to the perception of the conflict-bringing migrant in political discourse.
Migratory movements in the future may lead to conflict; however, we can also imagine and create a future in which migration and conflict are not inevitable. One must escape the confines of the present economic and political context to think more rationally about migration and potential conflict in the future.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the facilitating role of international organizations in migration through his sixth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
International migration is facilitated by pre-existing institutional structures, which guide migratory desires to end destinations. Even illegal migrations are defined as such because they are transgressions against the formal institutional structure. Institutional structures run the gamut from national policy to large political unions like the European Union that enable movement of people and labour.
International organizations serve various roles in this structure. There are organizations like the European Union that serve as a legal and governing framework to manage the flow of migration. There are organizations like the International Organization for Migrants (IOM) that provide services and counselling for governments and migrants, helping potential migrants navigate through dense bureaucratic structures. Other organizations from all different political persuasions try to change the system: an example is the Migrant Rights Network, which advocates for migrant rights and protections. All these international organizations form a relatively stable equilibrium of competing interests that result in small changes and reforms to the structures in place.
However, there are Events in history that overwhelm the status quo. These require a rewriting of the global playbook and a reconstruction of established institutional structures. One such Event that occurred was World War II, which led to a displaced population of over 60 million people. Most of the affected were on the European continent. It is important to note that—according to the UNHCR—our contemporary displacements have only recently overshadowed this number in 2015. (This is only the displaced population of refugees, and does not include the general population of migrants worldwide.)
Confronted with the daunting prospect of accommodating these displaced peoples, international organizations managed migrations through laws like the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which granted the right to asylum and the right to other protections for displaced peoples fleeing from a “well-founded fear of being persecuted.” Moreover, new international institutions were founded, like the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in 1943. This institution is the origin of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that manages international refugees today. These international structures still inform the processes for the current international response to our current migrations.
While the current international structures might seem rigid and slow to change, large-scale crises have created international organizations to radically transform global and national institutional structures to meet migratory exigencies. Our current historical moment provides a cogent example of rapid structural change. In a matter of a few months, the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the previous international logics of globalization. Nation-states are repatriating both citizens and supply chains from abroad, and closing down borders, restricting entry to foreign nationals. While there are hopes for a rapid return to the “normal,” such dreams are yet uncertain: will international flows of people return to levels seen in the past?
Similar crises in the future may prompt a response that is similar in kind. One large question mark looms in the horizon. While we previously critiqued climate change for obscuring the multi-factored nature of international migrations, climate change will create a crisis in one possible future. The mediascape reminds us of this possibility almost daily. For example, a recent The Guardian article title reads “One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years.” Where will these people go if their homes become uninhabitable?
How will the world respond to a scenario like this? A quick read into the past suggests that a response is not confined to limitations of current international structures. If such a crisis does arise, then completely new international organizations and a new institutional structure could emerge to replace the structures of the past. Of course, this does not promise to be a frictionless and conflict-free process.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks multicultural and multiethnic populations shaped by global migrations in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
How do nations control multicultural and multiethnic populations? We need to examine the concept of the nation and nationalism in relation to this question. Control is the word that must be thought through first. The word control implies that the nation-state, through heavy-handed measures, forces upon the migratory population a standard of behaviour to which they must conform. Control can be achieved through devious, circumlocutious tactics as well. A nation can deceive a migrant population to create docile subjects for governance. In the first is governance by repression; in the second, through ideology. Both of these cases rely on an unquestioned assumption. This is the separation of the self, the national population and the other, the migrant population. The boundary between the two is much more porous than they appear. There is no eternal national body with unchanging boundaries and neither is the migrant forever an excluded outsider.
What is the nation? The nation is much more than citizenship and bureaucratic inclusion. As scholar of nationalism Benedict Anderson suggests through the title of his landmark work, the nation is an “imagined community.” It is imagined because it is a constructed collective that relies on an imagined bond connecting members of the nation to other imagined members who they will never interact with. It is a community because the nation is “always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” as opposed to a hierarchical relationship. Nation-states are able to extend this community to migrants, and redefine the borders of national belonging. Construction does not imply invention and falsity. Even though nations and the feeling of national belonging are culturally constructed, it inspires community, belonging, and meaning for its members.
Canada is an example of one nation-state in which the definition of the national subject has changed. Canada is known for its brand of multiculturalism today. This was hardly the case in the mid-20th century, when Canada’s identity was predicated on Britishness and whiteness. White Canada policies excluded non-white individuals as national subjects. However, the boundary that once existed between white Canada and the once unassimilable migrant population has disappeared in the present day.
Other nation-states are going through their own transitions. The foreign population in South Korea was roughly 40,000 in 1990 and has grown to approximately 2.5 million today. Previously, one had to have “pure” Korean blood to claim belonging to the Korean nation, but the growing foreign population is challenging and redefining what it means to be Korean. The South Korean state is an active participant in these redefinitions through mechanisms like multiculturalist policies.
There are several potential incoming sources of migration in the coming years. These range from “pull” factors, such as labour market migrations, to “push” factors, like climate change related migrations. How might these migrants be welcomed into the national body? Thinking about the future is always limited by the ways of thinking in the present. There has been a revival of narrow nationalist discourses in the political landscape in recent years. In these discourses, the migrant is a figure who is completely exterior to the national community. The migrant threatens traditional, eternal ways of life with a strange dress, a strange tongue, and unfamiliar mannerisms.
However, the politics of the present need not be the politics of the future. Just as the national community is constructed, it can be reconstructed anew. The story of migration is in part a story of the reinterpretation of the national community. The migrants of today can be full members of the nation tomorrow.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the effect of migration on international relations in his fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
International migration has the potential to affect international relationships almost by definition. When the citizen of one state travels into the borders of another, they are foreigners and outside the safety of the home country. International embassies and consulates developed to protect citizens who are abroad, and infringements to the rights of a citizen of one state by the host state can lead to a souring of relations. This has happened recently with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. The Chinese government arrested two Canadian citizens and put sanctions on Canadian canola exports in retaliation. However, it is important to note, as is stressed previously, that migration rarely exists without an institutional context. Migration may affect international relationships, but this presupposes an existing agreement that facilitates the movement of people between two or more states.
The influence of individual migrants on international relationships between states is often negligible in comparison to the actions taken on the state level. Migrants present an opportunity – nation-states can use migrants within their borders to advance their interests. Migrants are instrumentalized for economic gain, as in the case of South Korea. The migrant population in South Korea has grown from roughly 40,000 in the early 1990s to about 2 million today through various labour movement programs and marriage migration programs. These migrants have created of a class of multi-lingual and culturally fluid “Kosians” (a portmanteau of Korean and Asian) and naturalized non-ethnic Koreans. The Korean state has used these migrants to bridge economic relationships between Korea and other states.
Instrumentalization happens in other ways as well. Migrants can be used as pawns for international power plays, demonstrated by the E.U.-Turkey deal in 2016. The deal presented a way to put a stop to flows of migration for European states under duress. Turkey agreed to control the refugees going from Turkey to the Greek Islands. In response, the European Union pledged an initial €3 billion to Turkey. Additionally, there was a political component that reconfigured international relationships, such as visa-free travel into E.U. states for citizens of Turkey and new talks for Turkey’s membership into the European Union.
Top-down state policy can instrumentalize migrants to change international relationships, but contemporary events have shown that migrants change international relationships from the bottom-up as well. The response to migrations have led to nationalist movements across the European continent and in the United States by political movements largely categorized as the New Right or the Alt Right. These political movements have gained traction, partially motivated by an anxiety of the international migrant. Contemporary political events like Brexit and the election of President Trump, who campaigned against international free trade deals like NAFTA, are signals of an emerging and contentious vision of the world order. This new vision of the world challenges the normative liberal world order, the latter with its large trade blocs like the European Union that facilitate free movement of capital and labour.
Migrants and migration are able to influence international relationships between state actors, both from the top-down and from the bottom-up. States can actively utilize migrants to advance their interests; however, they are at the same time beholden to their citizens. Migration has proven to be a contentious issue in recent times, and recent political movements have reconfigured international relationships from the bottom up.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the future drivers of migration in his third post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
What are drivers of migration in the future? There is one large difference from the past. This is on the tip of everybody’s tongue: climate change. We will take a critical look at this new driver of migration. It will complicate some of the narratives surrounding climate change related migrations, and we will consider some of the ultimate implications (and destinations).
Climate change holds the threat of ecological devastation and a radical global transformation — it is no wonder that it has occupied the popular imagination and mainstream political discourse in recent years. Climate change has been linked with migrations all over the world, whether in Central America or Bangladesh. Headlines like “Climate Change will Create World’s Biggest Refugee Crisis” litter the contemporary mediascape. The Guardian, in the aforementioned article, suggests that “tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes.” This is a moderate estimate; in the extreme end, there is Vice with the headline “Climate Change Will Create 1.5 Billion Migrants by 2050 and We Have No Idea Where They'll Go” painting an apocalyptic scenario. In response, the first global movements have begun to protect the image of the climate migrant. In a very recent landmark ruling in January 2020, the United Nations human rights committee has declared that it is unlawful for governments to return migrants whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change.
The Syrian civil war has been linked to climate change as well. The Syrian civil war began as Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy protests that were met with violent repression. This was the catalyst for further escalation. What sparked the initial discontentment? From a climate change lens, the narrative points to the drought from 2006 to 2011. This was the most severe in recorded history and decimated the livelihoods of the rural population. The drought led to a rural-urban migration, increasing competition for resources, and leading to conflict that took on an ethnic dimension.
This has not gone without scrutiny. Other researchers have pointed to policies of economic liberalization that cut rural subsidies and ultimately put farmers in debt. Government policies have led to the rural-urban migration in this narrative. It is beyond our scope to recount the play-by-play of academics in their boxing ring. It suffices to say that migratory events are complex and multi-factored. Climate change is undoubtedly an important consideration, but there is no First Cause when it comes to migration. A critical view on other migratory factors like internal politics and wealth concentration in urban areas allows a more nuanced perspective on contemporary migrations.
In the discourse of the climate change migrant in the West, there is mixed in an image of anxiety and fear. How will the West survive the flood of climate migrants? However, the West is far from a stoic Atlas that carries the burden of global migrations on its shoulders. The case of Syrian refugees presents a poignant demonstration.
Despite popular political narratives, most Syrian refugees have been relocated outside of Europe. As with other migrations, most of the migrants were displaced internally. Seven million of the 13 million are still within Syrian borders. In terms of international migration, there are roughly 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey, 950 thousand in Lebanon, and 670 thousand are housed in Jordan. Germany accepted 593 thousand Syrians, and this is followed by Iraq with 252 thousand. While this may not be representative of all migrations, the case of the Syrian migrations seems to suggest that not all roads lead to Europe.
As a conclusion, what are the drivers of future migration, and what are the consequences? In response to popular narratives, the article answered in the negative: climate change is not the Prime Mover in migration, and one must be aware of the erasure of other migratory factors when this occurs. Migrations in the future will not overwhelm the West. As with contemporary migratory patterns, one will expect internal migrations to occupy a large portion. External migrations will be distributed throughout the region, and will not be concentrated solely in the West.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the drivers of migration in his second post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Migration is an overdetermined phenomenon. Unlike a science experiment, we are unable to identify a series of dependent and independent variables to construct a predictive framework. As with many complex, real-world problems, we can turn towards history for inspiration. History may not repeat itself in perfect imitation, but the present moment often sounds out like a variation of the past. With a patient ear, we may be able to detect a melody, a theme, a musical structure - this will help us better understand and contextualize migration in the contemporary world. The melodies of the pre-historic past are too faint to hear out. With this in mind, we can listen to the migrations of the past century for our purpose.
Migration can be roughly categorized into migrations by push factors and by pull factors. This conceptual framework separates the migrations that happen by necessity (the push factors) and the migrations that happen by choice (the pull factors). Push factors include poverty and military conflict. In these cases, migrants find the prospects of the unknown better than the present circumstances before them. An example of the former are the two million Italian migrants travelled to the United States in between 1900 and 1910. One case of the latter is the Vietnam War and spread Vietnamese diasporic populations all across the world. Pull factors include voluntary, long-term immigration for a better life and short-term movements of skilled labour across national boundaries. The former are immigrants to Canada and the latter are expats. However, whether migration happens by push factors or by pull factors, in none of these situations was migration a predictable and foregone conclusion. The historical circumstances that provide the impetus for migratory desires are elusive and they escape hard predictions. One must maintain constant vigilance to multifarious trends. The future is constantly being shaped and reshaped.
Historical circumstances are only one part of the dialectic. Migration does not happen in a vacuum: there is always a political and institutional structure that facilitates and guides the flow of these migratory desires. The German gastarbeiter (guest worker) program in the mid-20th century was created to address labour gaps, leading to the Turkish migration to Germany. One purpose of the European Union was for the creation of a free market for capital flows and labour. While history provides the drivers of migration, the political and institutional framework of the present moment directs to where migrants are driven.
On a more fundamental level, political and institutional structures define the discourse of migration. Above, migration was separated into those by push factors and by pull factors, but even this is an artificial categorization. Intolerable political and economic circumstances may push migrants away from the home country and pull them to one that will improve their situation, but there is no moment when migrants by necessity transform into migrants by choice. Participants of the German gastarbeiter program may have left because of a lack of economic opportunities and because of their desire to earn higher wages. Politics and clever framing play a significant role as an intermediary force. Additionally, institutions, whether national or international, provide the larger structure for migration. Even when migrants do not use these formal frameworks - by crossing illegally, for instance - these transgressions are negatively defined by the established institutional structure. Migration and migrants are ultimately a political category for analysis.
What are the drivers of migration in the past? Above, two separate dimensions that drive migration are discussed. The first are the historical circumstances that create the impetus for migration. While we can make careful conjectures about latent migratory events, one must be nimble and open to multiple possible futures. The second is the institutional and political structure. The institutional and political structure fundamentally defines the discourse of migrants and migration. Through it, migratory desires are directed to a tangible destination.
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.